Garden of Eatin' / How-To / Vegetables

Growing, Harvesting and Shelling Fava Beans

Fava beans

I admit it — if fava beans weren’t so good for the soil, I likely wouldn’t grow them at all, edible or not. Hidden inside those fat long pods are handfuls of delicious beans, but they make you work for it. Really work for it.

Shelling the beans is a labor-intensive process, one that should be done on a (not so) lazy Sunday around the kitchen table or on the back porch while you watch your kids play. You might even enlist your kids to help, or bribe a friend to do it with you. It’s a lot of time to spend on a bean.

But despite the seemingly neverending shucking involved, fava beans have a buttery goodness that you don’t find in other beans, making the toilsome undertaking a true treasure hunt.

Fava beans (Vicia faba) are also known as faba beans, broad beans, horse beans, field beans, and Windsor beans. These Old World beans hail from Europe and are among the most ancient crops to be cultivated, dating back to at least 6000 BC.

The fava bean is a prolific, low-maintenance variety grown in cool weather. In my zone 10b climate, I sow seeds in the fall and harvest beans through winter and spring. (They can also be started in spring and harvested through summer.) They are unaffected by cold conditions and clay soils, but are susceptible to rust, a fungal disease of the leaves.

Fava beans grow as rigid, upright plants from 2 to 5 feet tall and often require staking as they mature.

Mature fava bean plants

The young leaves are pale green, tender and delicious. Yes, you can eat them! (And unlike the beans, which are a chore to prep, fava leaves are ready to eat right off the plant. If you want to grow favas for their nitrogen-fixing properties but fend off the guilt of not harvesting the beans, just eat the leaves!)

Trim the tender tops off your plants and make a salad with other seasonal favorites, like spinach and citrus. Fava leaves have a sweet and nutty flavor, just like the beans.

Fava leaves are edible

The beautiful flowers bloom in clusters and are reminiscent of orchids.

Fava flowers

Beautiful fava flowers are reminiscent of orchids

The fruit from these flowers grow as long, dense, bright green pods. Picked early, while the pods are still skinny, fava beans can be eaten whole like any other bush bean.

Immature fava bean pod

But if you wait until the pods reach 6 to 8 inches long, you’ll be treated to the delectable beans favas are known for.

Mature fava bean

Mature broad bean

Harvest the beans when the pods are large and bright, but not over-bulging.

Winter harvest of broad beans

To start shucking the bean, start at the pointy end of the pod and snap back the tip with your finger.

Start peeling the pods on one end of the bean

Peel the broad bean from one end

Peel back the string until the pod is completely split along its seam.

Split the fava bean along its seam

Once the pod is split open, you’ll find a row of beans inside, but these are not the actual beans you’ll eat (trust me, I’ve tried).

Split the pod open to reveal the beans inside

Each bean is covered with a thick, waxy shell that you have to shuck to get to the goods.

Shelled fava beans

Shelled broad beans

The easiest way to do this is to parboil the beans for no more than a minute.

Parboil the beans to remove the waxy outer coating

Strain them, then dunk the beans into an ice water bath to stop them from cooking.

Strain the parboiled fava beans and dunk into a bowl of ice cold water

You may notice that some of the outer shells (now a dull grayish-green) have started to split open, revealing vibrant green beans inside.

Dunk the beans in ice cold water

Now that the shells are soft and pliable, it’s quite simple to squeeze the sides and pop out the bean. You can also slice the top of the shell with your fingernail and squeeze the bean out that way.

Squeeze the bean out of the outer shell

A shucked broad bean

In general, a pound of pods yields around a quarter-cup to a third-cup of shelled fava beans. At that rate, you can see why this process calls for a lot of patience and perhaps a glass of wine while you work!

Shelled fava beans

My favorite way to prepare fava beans is in a risotto with little more than onion and butter. The simple recipe really lets the smooth and rich flavors of the favas shine.

In fact, you can even make an all-fava meal, starting with a fava leaf salad (add sliced oranges, crumbled feta, chopped walnuts, and a drizzle of vinaigrette), a fava leaf pesto for your linguine, and a side dish of fava beans sauteed with garlic and shrimp. I haven’t yet found a way to incorporate fava beans into dessert (fava bean ice cream, anyone?) but I’ll report back if I do!

Linda Ly About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

66 Comments

  • Avatar
    Rozenkruetz
    April 29, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    For fava beans as a desert look to japanese wagashi (tea treats). Fava beans are used to make sweet bean paste for filling the snacks. However it can also be mixed 50/50 with buttercream and used to ice a cake, it is just a sweet and buttery and no one will ever know that it’s healthy(er).

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Philip Gallanders
    March 15, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Last November I planted Fava bean seed in my 3 vegetable boxes, for soil benefits, not expecting any harvest. Most of the seeds sprouted and grew happily up to 3-5 feet. In the box on the sunniest spot, the plants began flowering in January. It has been a warm winter here on the central coast of California. The sunny-side box will give me a harvest starting this week and it has a bunch of pods 4-6 inches long and a bunch more just beginning. Thank you for your website and the helpful information you provide.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      April 26, 2016 at 11:25 pm

      You’re welcome! Thank you for reading my blog and enjoy your fava harvest!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Xochitl
    January 13, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    This winter was my first time planting fava beans and while I get flowers, I get no beans. I was trying to figure out why. Perhaps I spaced them too close together? But thanks for the tip on eating the leaves! Will add some to a salad tonight! I love eating the greens on my winter crops, like romanesco and cauliflower!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      February 8, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      Failure to fruit (produce beans) may be due to insufficient sunlight. While favas can tolerate partial shade, they still need at least 6 hours of direct sun per day. It can also take up to a month for a flower to produce a pod, so maybe yours hasn’t reached that stage yet.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Xochitl
        February 26, 2016 at 4:46 pm

        Thank you! Patience was all that was necessary! At last, some fruit has arrived!

        Reply
    • Avatar
      Jay Piercey
      July 31, 2016 at 9:01 pm

      Broad beans are insect pollinated so with low insect activity in the dead of winter, flowers don’t become beans. Here anyway.

      Reply
      • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
        Linda Ly of Garden Betty
        October 15, 2016 at 1:38 am

        Broad beans are partially self-pollinating. The plants just have greater yields if insects “trip” the flowers.

        Reply
  • Avatar
    Tval
    June 5, 2015 at 6:43 am

    You mentioned that you sometimes get a second crop in the same season…I planted four beans in a container (first attempt so an experiment of sorts) and while all four grew, one one is still spindly and puny; and the other three flowered but I have only one pod growing on each. Did the other flowers not get pollinated, or could there have been some insect or disease at work? And back to your comment – will the stalks flower again? There hasn’t been much work involved thus far apart from sticking the beans in the dirt/compost and keeping the plants watered; but I was hoping for more of a payoff than this. Are these three pods all I should expect?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      June 11, 2015 at 8:35 pm

      Fava beans are fairly large plants (mine grow up to 4 feet tall), so depending on how large your container is, there may not be enough room for them to grow. I space mine about every 8 inches. If you plant them closer than that, then yields will be dramatically reduced.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Renata Sousa
    April 21, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    Just came across your blog today as I was searching for tips on how to grow a variety of vegetables, seeing I’m an organic farmer who has experienced some troubles with a few crops. Anyway, I have to say I’ve been learning a lot thanks to your blog! It’s super helpful and fun to read, so congratulations! I’m commenting mainly because I had never heard of shucking fava beans. They are a very popular crop here in Portugal and I personally love to eat them in stews, but we never take the skin off of the beans. They do become rubbery and a little bitter if the beans are picked too late, but if you pick them early, they are tender and sweet, even with the skin on. Didn’t know the leaves were good to eat either – have yet to try them, but it won’t be this year. My fava beans are still producing at the moment, but the leaves are in quite bad shape since the plants were badly affected by aphids (nasty little things, I truly hate them) and some have a bit of rust, too. Hopefully I’ll manage to get a healthier crop next time. Thanks for all the info and happy farming!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      April 23, 2015 at 1:16 am

      You can certainly eat fava beans whole when they’re young and slender (like green beans). Shucking is reserved for the larger pods, which is what we often harvest or find at farmers’ markets here in the US.

      Thank you for reading my blog, I’m glad you’re finding it useful!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Lrong Lim
    April 9, 2015 at 5:31 am

    Greetings from Japan… just found your blog when I was checking if fava bean leaves were edible… hmmm, looks like I shall be picking off the top, tender leaves this coming weekend…. thanks, and happy gardening…

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      April 13, 2015 at 9:28 pm

      Enjoy them! And the leaves from all bean plants are edible, too. I offer recipes for these in my new book: http://thecsacookbook.com

      Reply
  • Avatar
    twsarah
    August 1, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    can these be dried like a lima bean or navy bean and if so do you leave the last shell on??????????????????/

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      August 1, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Yes, dried fava beans are common in Latin cooking and I’ve seen them shelled, double shelled, and even split. It likely depends on how you’ll want to prepare them later.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Jeri
    July 9, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Love your site. I am hoping you may answer a question for me…I would like to know when to harvest fava beans and if they mature all at once or throughout the season. If they mature all at once I want to plant another crop in their place once finished. I can not wait to try them! I have a sister-in-law who loves them and loves that I am growing them. I don’t think she has eaten the leaves yet, so I will have to make her a salad next time she is over. Thanks for you time.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      July 9, 2014 at 2:49 pm

      I pick mine at 6-8 inches long, just the way you see them in the pictures. They don’t mature all at once, but do so within a few of weeks of each other. Oftentimes I’ll get a second crop from my plants.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Kris Hithgoda
    July 1, 2014 at 3:44 am

    Hi Linda I came across your blog awhile back when looking into whether broad bean leaves were edible. Such a lovely site over all. I grew another crop and tried the leaves for the first time today. Such an interesting flavour raw. Still bean esque. I cooked some garlic creamed spinach style (which is normally what i do with silver beet apart from a yellow silverbeet curry) as a side. Yumo! Anyway greetings from Melbourne and happy gardening and cooking 🙂 Kris

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      July 2, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      Thank you Kris! Happy cooking to you too. It sounds like we share a great curiosity for all the edible crops in our gardens. 🙂

      Reply
  • Linda Ly
    Linda Ly
    May 4, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    You’re welcome! Enjoy the fava leaves in a salad or saute… even a soup. They’re abundant in spring.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Eric
    April 28, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    I did not realize that you could eat the leaves. I will be sure to try this this year as well as blog about it. Thanks for the excellent post and the inspiration!

    -Eric
    http://www.thepeaproject.com

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Brande
    December 17, 2013 at 8:56 am

    I grew favas once, and unfortunately, I didn’t get a good enough yield to justify the effort. But, what I’m wondering is…how many plants do you plant? I don’t have a ton of space and I think my harvest would be a “one and done” (perhaps enough to make the risotto!). I do love them though, and would like to try again. There’s just my husband and me, so how much should I plant?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      December 18, 2013 at 12:05 am

      I plant my favas about 6-8 inches apart, so I get about 6 plants within a 4-foot row in a standard raised bed. That’s enough to yield beans for risotto (with plenty of greens for a fava leaf salad as well). Since the plants grow tall and skinny, I feel they fit better in corners and other unused spaces around the garden, so I stick a seed wherever I have an 8-inch square patch of soil against a wall (or wherever it won’t block the sun).

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Broderick
    September 16, 2013 at 5:39 am

    Hey, thanks so much for this post! I’ve got some broad/fava beans in flower at the moment, and can’t wait till they form pods. Didn’t know you could eat the leaves though! Will have to try those in a salad.

    Reply
  • Linda Ly
    Linda Ly
    January 16, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    You can eat whole fava beans unshelled when they are young, similar to the way you eat green beans. But when the pods are mature, they’re much too tough to chew, even after cooking. Mature beans should be shelled if you want those yummy beans inside.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Nancy Mueller
    January 14, 2013 at 8:24 am

    I have an Italian friend who introduced me to Favas. She gets hers from a friend. She doesn’t shell them, never does when they are fresh. She said that is only necessary when they have been dried.
    My favas are happily growing, even with our cold weather…and I look forward to yummy favas.
    Nancy
    http://wildoakdesigns.blogspot.com

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Brittany
    December 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    You’ve inspired me to buy some fava bean seeds and start my own! I love risotto, so now I even know what to do with them. 🙂

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      January 7, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      Yay!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Melissa
    December 17, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    We call them broad beans here in Oz, although just as delicious I’m sure!

    I grew a beautiful heirloom scarlet flowered variety last winter and the beans that resulted were much smaller and could be eaten young without shucking. 

    The large beans from the taller long pod variety always need peeling.

    My broad beans always seem to be ready along with new potatoes, so Potato, broad bean, mint and fetta frittata (Spanish Omelette) is my favourite way to eat them!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      December 23, 2012 at 10:59 pm

      That sounds delicious! May have to try that!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    James Hodge
    December 17, 2012 at 9:25 am

    When planting the bean, how deep and what is the spacing?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      December 23, 2012 at 10:59 pm

      I sow seeds about 4-6 inches apart and 1 inch deep. Thin the plants to about 8 inches apart.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Sherri Greene
    December 17, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Those actually look delicious to me!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      December 23, 2012 at 11:00 pm

      They are!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Martin
    December 17, 2012 at 8:31 am

    We don’t usually have to remove the waxy shells from Broad Beans in the UK- if you pick them at the right time, the whole bean is soft- older mature beans certainly will be tougher- I guess it is just a matter of keeping an eye on tjeir maturity.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      December 23, 2012 at 11:02 pm

      I can eat fava beans whole (like green beans) if I pick them very young, but I love the texture of the actual bean out of a mature pod.

      Reply
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