Nutritious Beans Take Flight

Elmer and Ailyn Viernes grow fruit and vegetables on 40 acres at Kilohana Plantation. Sustainable farming techniques include seed saving, crop diversity, crop rotation, chicken manure as fertilizer and no chemical pesticides.

What’s growing: Apple banana, beets, bitter melon, bok choy, cherry tomatoes, chicken eggs, eggplant, herbs, Chinese ginger, green onions, jicama, long beans, okra, peanuts, pineapple, pumpkins, GMO-free sunrise papayas, sweet potatos, wing beans.


Winged beans have four delicate and ruffled “wings” and are commonly called wing beans. Wing beans are versatile and highly nutritious, so it’s surprising that outside of some Asian cultures they are relatively obscure. The bean has been grown for generations in Papua New Guinea and Southeast Asia. More than 500 types of winged beans have been collected in Thailand, 200 in Bangladesh and more than 100 in Indonesia.

Considered the soybean of the tropics, wing beans may do more than any combination of foods to counter malnutrition. Known as “a supermarket on a stalk,” it combines the desirable characteristics of the green bean, garden pea, spinach, mushroom, soybean, bean sprout and potato. Virtually the entire plant is edible, from flowers and leaves to tuberous roots and seeds. Its various parts are rich sources of protein, vitamins, minerals and calories.

Season: Wing beans take three months from seed to table, and can be grown year-round. Wing beans are grown as a cover crop, protecting the soil beneath coconut, banana, palm, rubber and cacao trees. It can be grown with corn, which matures first and leaves behind a stalk up which the wing bean can twine.

What to look for: Wing beans should be lawn green and plump. Some stem ends have a brown casing, which is dried leaf matter. Just trim and discard.

Ailyn, Chloe and Elmer Viernes of Elmer’s Farm | Daniel Lane photos

Winged beans have four delicate and ruffled ‘wings’

Storage: Wrapped in plastic, wing beans will store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Tip: Like the soybean, wing bean seeds, or beans, can be pressed to extract an edible, mostly unsaturated oil that is rich in vitamin E, leaving behind a protein-rich flour suitable for making bread or cereal. Also, like the soybean, the wing bean can be sprouted, made into curd (tofu) and tempeh (an Indonesian fermented bean cake), or made into a nutritious milk-like drink.

Preparation: Leaves are similar to spinach in taste and nutritive value; flowers, sweetened by nectar, taste like mushrooms when sautéed; immature pods are like green beans; immature seeds are like green peas; mature dry seeds are like soybeans. The roots of many varieties produce tubers like potatoes, and are much richer in protein than potato, yam or cassava.

Wing bean tubers can be boiled, steamed, baked, fried, roasted and even made into chips. The immature pod, the plant’s most popular part, can be eaten raw, pickled or cooked in water, coconut milk or oil.

Health benefits: Wing beans are an especially good source of vitamin A, deficiencies of which cause blindness in many children in tropical countries. The wing bean seed rivals the soybean in quantity and quality of its protein: 54 grams in 1 cup of mature, raw seeds compared to 33 grams in raw soybeans.

Elmer’s Farm produce can be found at: Restaurants: Hanamaulu Cafe. Farmers markets: Kukui Grove Mondays at 3 p.m.; Kapa’a Wednesdays at 3 p.m.; Vidinha Stadium Fridays at 3 p.m.; Kaua’i Community College Saturday at 9:30 a.m.; Hanalei Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. Call 652-4201 for details.


When wing beans are blanched in salted water for no more than five minutes, they take on a pleasing texture and their sweetness intensifies. Once shrimp are prepped, this recipe comes

together quickly. If using shrimp that’s already peeled, use 8-ounces. Makes two servings.

* 10 wing beans, blanched and sliced
* 1 pound Kaua’i shrimp, peeled and deveined
* 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
* juice of 1 lemon plus zest
* 2 tablespoons chicken broth
* 1 tablespoon soy sauce
* 2 teaspoons sugar
* 3 tablespoons oil
* 1 tablespoon minced ginger
* 3 garlic cloves, minced
* 2 scallions, minced
* 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Combine lemon juice, zest, broth, soy sauce and sugar in a small bowl and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, add ginger, garlic and scallions. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a hot, large skillet and sauté shrimp over medium-high heat until pink, about 1 minute per side. Remove shrimp from pan and add bell pepper. Sauté until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Add wing beans and shrimp and toss through. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and garlic mixture and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in liquid mixture, toss through and cook for about 30 seconds, until it thickens slightly. Divide between two bowls and garnish with cilantro.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit