You may have heard of baked beans, but have you heard of baking with beans? Thanks to 21st Century Bean in Western Kansas, this just might become a trend.
The company, which has been in business for more than 20 years, processes, packages and ships dry beans from Kansas bean growers. Like many food companies, 21st Century Bean has found ways to innovate. One recent initiative has been milling dry beans to make bean flour for baking.
Part of the inspiration for the experiment came from a talk about the nutritional value of beans. Beans — and their flour — are very healthy.
“It’s all about the protein and the fiber,” Stacey said. “Beans are a low-glycemic food, so baking with bean flour is beneficial to everyone, especially people with diabetes because it doesn’t spike your blood sugar. You digest it more slowly.”
For Stacey, the experiment is also personal. One of her children has celiac disease and his body can’t process gluten. When she saw him making pizza dough using garbanzo bean flour, she wondered what else it could be used for.
She and other employees have been serving as a mini-test kitchen by trying bean flour in different recipes. For the most part, they do a one-to-one swap with other flours.
“I’ve been taking my favorite recipes and substituting bean flour,” she said. “Some get thrown out the window. My favorite has been a pumpkin bread. It uses vanilla pudding, so it stays really moist and I used garbanzo flour for that. One employee took some small red bean flour home and his wife made peanut butter cookies. Those were really good.”
Although the milling is only a fraction of their operation, they’re able to mill any of the beans they process. The volume varies from year to year, but Stacey said they take in about 30 million pounds of beans per year — garbanzo, black, pinto and small red, navy. Two bean varieties you might not be familiar with are Mayacoba and Fremont beans.
Mayacoba beans have a rich, buttery flavor.
“The Fremont beans, that’s a whole other story,” Stacey said.
A farmer came to the plant with a bucket of large, purple beans to see if the plant could process them. He said the seeds were found in a cave in Western Utah where the Fremont Indians once lived. The people who found the seeds gave them to farmers to resurrect. It’s estimated the Fremont beans had been extinct for over 1,000 years.
“I’d never seen anything like it,” Stacey said. “They’re huge. One fills up your spoon almost. They’re good. They really are. They’re purple, white and black. And the color of the seed doesn’t predict what the bean is going to be.”
If you’re planning to bake anytime soon, consider giving some Kansas bean flour a try.