Hyacinth Beans

November 7, 2007 at 12:07 PM (hyacinth beans/val/avarekalu, legumes/pulses- whole or split)


While on a canned green jackfruit hunt this past spring, I found myself patiently waiting in line to check out at a Thai-Lao grocery and happened to glance on the checkout-counter at a basket containing small plastic bags of various seeds for planting. Most I recognized: bitter melon, bottle gourd, basil…but one package in particular attracted my interest. I thought, “My gosh, these look just like val with that tell-tale stripe on the seam, but…but, they’re black!” Fascinated, I added a packet to my pile to purchase.


When it was my turn at the check-out, I inquired what these beans were called and what they were used for. The owner of the shop didn’t know what they were called in English, but stated that, in her culture, they were usually used while green, and that they had very beautiful flowers that were often used for tucking into hair-do’s and for fresh decorations for use around the home and for festivals.


Indeed, a little research on the internet when I returned home confirmed my suspicion. I immediately had inflated fantasies of growing these beans to their dark-hued maturity and proudly displaying them here and featured in traditional dishes in place of their pale sisters. But no…after they were planted, wily vines began to grow and grow. The vines bore beautiful purple-tinged leaves. And it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that the flowers came: a mass of pale violet that collected much admiration from my mother and the neighbors. May I pick a few? I sighed and consented of course. At this time of year very few blooms are to be seen: marigolds mostly. Dark, dark violet pods did indeed develop though, and though I kept checking, the beans inside were still young and green with not enough time to mature and be used to fulfill my blackened fantasy. Because, my dear readers, the first frost that is the deadline for tender harvest here in the bay of green will be tonight. (October 27th) Finito.


So… something valuable can be learned, and perhaps it is this: if you live in a place where the winter is long and you wish to grow a tropical legume, do start the seeds early indoors if you’d like an impressive fall harvest of endless pods and, with hope, some mature beans. However, if all you’d like to enjoy are the beautiful leaves and flowers, and maybe a few green/unripe pods, then do as I did and plant them casually…


At left on the ground are dragon’s tongue beans; white bitter melon vines twine over the left trellis and part of the right, mixing with a stray cucumber vine and hyacinth beans (which eventually take over). Globe thistle tries to stay out of the party in the center, but is harrassed by both the bitter melons and hyacinth beans.


Although the first name that I learned for these beans was the Marathi term val, I later learned that these were known variously in English as hyacinth beans, Bangalore beans, Indian beans, Egyptian beans or lab-lab beans, and avarekaalu in Kannada. More information can be read here and here, and seeds for planting (both purple and white) may be ordered here.

Shilpa of Aayi’s Recipes has a beautiful entry in her glossary with more information and names in other languages which may be found here, as well as a rather tasty-looking dosa recipe  and a fortifying chitranna– both of which use these beans.

Asha of Foodie’s Hope  has posted a lovely recipe here.

I also found a marvelous-looking saaru recipe and informative post here from Suma of Veggie Platter, and Srivalli of Cooking 4 All Seasons even has a fan club devoted to this time-honoured dish from a family friend!




  1. Asha said,

    I love these beans,I have a recipe too with these. Beautiful photos. So healthy and gorgeous looking plants. Thanks for posting these!:))

    I looked over your recipe and thought it sounded quite delicious- added a link to it on the post! 😉 Thanks for the compliments, but truthfully, they mostly took care of themselves!

  2. Anita said,

    Just made some sem-phali yesterday. I remember when my dad used to grow this in his garden – we would get them by basket-fuls everyday! We were so sick of their sight that later, for years I could not bring myself to pay for them (as opposed to harvesting them free and not wanting).

    Some of the seeds are looking quite ripe…how did you cook them?

    (OMG – no recipe!)

    I can’t slip anything past you can I? 🙂 I had exactly 1/2 C…there were lots of tiny pods that in a longer growing season would have given me heaps, but alas… they were fun to grow anyway! I had very good intentions of taking that 1/2 C and making Shilpa’s dosas. I had them nestled quietly in a little bowl in the fridge. When I remembered them and looked, they had all shriveled; those few ripe ones I saved for planting next year! 🙂 So… I guess I didn’t make anything; I lost my whole crop!

    Sounds like you’ve had an overdose of these! Wait a few years… 🙂

  3. Suganya said,

    Those flowers are pretty. And they anatomically very clear. Remember using them in High school botany dissection class :). Val tastes good in sambar, apart from other gravies. Here so called lima beans are the closest I cud get to val. Indian stores..hopeless in my area 😦

    Same here…loads of frozen paranthas, but no frozen veggies. 😦 It’s unfortunate, but so many Indian grocers seem to cater more to the northern cuisines. I’ll try using green lima beans in some of these recipes…even those green soybeans- edame?- would work I suppose; not exactly, but the general idea. 🙂

    I have always wanted to take a botany class; was it fun?

  4. Puspha said,

    Lovely looking bitter gourds.

    Thank you very much…

  5. shilpa said,

    Yay..you finally posted this…I was waiting for it….beautifully written. I had not seen the black ones before… My favorite is Avrekalu Chitranna ( these beans in lemon rice). Its very mild and tastes great. I will be posting more with this because hubby eats anything made with these.
    Not sure how you got so much patience to shell those :(. I always buy frozen ones…

    Much wiser to do so I think! 🙂 I shelled them during a phone conversation… 😀 Avarekalu chitranna sounds delicious! I look forward to the post and will use what beans I can! Thanks for sharing your info about these beans last week!

  6. Padmaja said,

    Hey never had those beans, i am a picky one u see. But those beans look absolutely delicious!! and growing your own adds a new taste to all those veggies!! Love those hanging bittergourds!!

    I have just three little ones left now.. 😦 Thereafter I have to deal with the so-so karelas from the grocers. I did eat a few of the beans raw- quite delicious, and would have eaten the remainder that way until I read that they are poisonous until cooked. I’m still here though! 😀

  7. bee said,

    i am tempted to burgle your home for those bittergourds.

    Too late! Devoured already… 😉

  8. Srivalli said,

    wow..these are our favorite…when its in season we only have these for breakfast..the garden looks great..and the bitter gourd too…if you are interested check my one


    thanks for sharing the pictures..they are so lovely..!

    Thank you so much for sharing the link and for the kind comments as well! I’ll add your recipe to the links.

  9. shilpa said,

    Its already posted Pel. You can checkout here. I am also curious to see what you created with these :).

    Unfortunately, my small amount dried up before I got to them…however, I just bought some green soybeans so…I’ll use these instead; not the same flavour, but green beans none-the-less! 😉 Thanks for sharing the recipe- will add it in!

  10. musy said,

    Aha! Hyacinth beans…..wish i cud get some here 😀 and you have home grown karelas!! Oh wait, they are bitter melons 😀

    Hey and the language is Kannada 🙂

    yeah and like Anita i am protesting: why no recipe :-D.

    Why no recipe? Sheer laziness! 🙂
    Thanks for the correction dearie!

  11. shilpa said,

    I thought I had left a comment here, but anyway…
    Avrekalu chitranna is already there on my blog, try it, you may like it.

    Sorry, your previous comment was caught in spam, but I retrieved it!

  12. Diane said,

    My gosh, where do you live that you have such luscious growth! I live in northern CA and it is too foggy and a bit too shady in my yard (big trees) to grow bitter melon. But I am might tempted by that val. Those photos are amazing. I love vines and sprawly plants so much, and my garden is rather wild.

    I am lucky in that good bitter melon is widely available here – both the chinese kind and karela, so I tend to make it about once a week. And I cook a lot of thai food, so I will have to keep an eye for val when I next make a visit.

    Cheers – I love your site!

    Hey, thanks for visiting Diane! I, too, love vines…these last few years I’ve experimented with training squash vines to grow in unusual places: I saved a beautiful 10′ branch from a tree-pruning and trained “amber cup” squash to grow up and about this; by late summer it looked like this dead branch had come back to life with golden fruit bobbing from its branches. Because of space limitations, I have several plants- herbs and such- growing in pots. I allow vines to glide and twine amongst these as well…and then up a potted hibiscus raised on a pedestal to the roof! So, I say there is always space for a few vines of any kind! 🙂

    I am also a big fan of bitter melon/gourd/karela, and tend to try new recipes for them often enough…so feel free to check out my other recipes using them (click “bitter melon, etc” on the sidebar index), or plunk in some words here to search through a comprehensive gathering of the Indian food blogs. Thanks for your comment and happy cooking!

  13. Meera said,

    Wow! What a beautiful garden you’ve got. Karelas and val both look delicious.

    Thank you.

  14. Ramya said,

    I got white Hyacinth Beans seed this year. I am going to try this. After seeing your post I am thinking of trying the PURPLE HYACINTH BEANS also. The purple flower looks so good.Did you put any fertilizer on these and other veg. plant? Thanks in advance.

    Hi Ramya! I save all my kitchen veggie scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells…and use these as compost, as I don’t like to use synthetic/chemical fertilizers…any kind of bean actually adds nutrients to the soil, so oftentimes farmers will plant a crop of beans every 3-4 years to do this.
    Hyacinth beans are extremely easy to grow- even for me way up in the north of the US- the vines somehow sense objects nearby and wrap themselves around and climb up and up… But, they are different from most other beans in that they flower very late in summer, and thus produce fruit late as well. I don’t know where you live, but I assure you that you will at least get gorgeous vines and leaves, and gorgeous flowers if only they are watered regularly.

  15. Big Bang Theories « City-city-bang-bang said,

    […] the beginning, long before Heinz or Gandhi even, there was a jungle. And probably a number of beanstalks, because when the lost Chola king drifted past her cottage, the old woman whipped up a fresh meal […]

  16. Vinh said,

    hyacinth bean, a lovely plant indeed. how do you cook the dried seeds? do you soak them overnight & cook them like regular dried kidney beans?

    • Elaichi et Cetera said,

      Yes, exactly! Some people like to peel them after soaking, some don’t. There are links (highlighted in blue) at the end of the post to recipes, if you like.

  17. Linda said,

    Isn’t it time for you to start posting on your blog again Pel? 😉 Nice photos… and happy birthday! I read on the internet that today is your birthday — so it must be true eh? 😉

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