Foodie Firsts: Orca Beans (AKA Calypso Beans and Yin Yang Beans)

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Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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There I was strolling through the store, all set to pick up the final couple of items I needed for dinner that night, when I spotted something beautiful and unfamiliar to me.

I love it when this happens.

in bowl - edited

The item I had spotted was in the bulk food section.  Included among the rows and rows of bins filled with nuts, seeds, and pastas, were the bins of beans.  There were your usual suspects – kidney, black, pinto, cannellini, navy – but there was also a variety I had never seen or heard of before . . . . orca beans.  These beans are gorgeous.  Boldly patterns of black and white swirl across the surface of these beautiful legumes, just as they do on their namesake.  I took home several scoops and set about learning more about orcas (because last week, I learned the importance of research!).

It turns out that orca beans hail from Mexico.  They are also commonly called calypso or yin yang beans.  Through various Internet trolling, it is noted that they are a fairly rare variety and are often paired with corn or other traditional Mexican ingredients.

I decided to cook up these beans with corn, but instead of going with tried and true Mexican flavors, I was inspired by a recipe celebrating the flavors of Native America.  Granted these two cuisines have a lot in common, so many of the ingredients here can be found in both.   You can see the recipe that I used for inspiration here at Vegetarian Times.  I followed the sage pesto portion almost to a tee (except for subbing half the oil with vegetable broth – a little trick I learned to lighten things up a bit).  Then, I combined the pesto and orca beans with cooked brown rice, zucchini, corn, garlic, onion, and peppers.

in bowl close up - edited

I soaked my orca beans overnight and, in true food-nerd fashion, got excited peeking at them glistening in the water.  They really are appealing little things!   Cooking these beans was a cinch.  After their fairly long soak, they only needed about 45 minutes before they were tender, ready to be drained, and added to the rest of the dish.

Interestingly, the black on the beans lightens in the cooking process, turning to a shade of brown.  I found that these beans held their shape and form quite well, not breaking down as much as, say, a navy bean might do.  The taste was pleasant enough, but fairly unremarkable.  That’s not to say they weren’t tasty, they just didn’t necessarily stand out as exceptionally different from their bean cousins.  I read one description of orca beans that commented on their potato-like taste.  I suppose that I would say that they did have a somewhat starchy quality to them, which is reminiscent of a white potato, though I wouldn’t go as far to say that they tasted like potatoes (but, seriously, someone should get on that – a bean that tastes like potatoes would be amazing).  I could see them working in just about any recipe that called for kidney or cannellini beans quite well, adapting to whatever spices and herbs may be added to them.

cooking with beans added in - edited

Overall, these beans were quite fun to try.  They seem very versatile and I can imagine picking them up again in the future when I want a bean that will stay somewhat firm through an extended cooking process, without distracting from a specific desired flavor profile.  Plus, they are visually very interesting and can add a playful appearance to an otherwise standard dish.

I know there are loads of bean varieties out there that I’ve never tried before and this gave me an excellent starting point from which to keep experimenting.  I am certainly going to keep my eyes peeled to see what else pops up in those bulk bins!

Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  Use the recipe that I linked to above if you like.  The sage pesto was quite delicious and offered a nice change from a more traditional basil pesto.  Orca beans can also easily be substituted for black beans or kidney beans in soups, stews, or chili.  I also imagine they’d be excellent stuffed into peppers and baked with your grain of choice and chopped vegetables.

I’m curious as to how they would work in a bean burger.  My feeling about their texture and taste is that they could make a pretty fantastic vegetarian burger patty, maybe combined with oats, rice, corn, or quinoa, as well as a binder and plenty of seasoning.  I might try this in the future.

Lessons Learned:

Visual appeal is important in food.  I knew this already, of course, but the value of it really stood out when I came across these beans.  Like a child taken in by shiny objects, I was so drawn to the color and pattern of these beans that it made cooking them all that much more engaging.

Pay attention to cooking times with different beans!  I had expected these to take somewhere between 1-1 ½ hours to cook, but they were done in 45 minutes!  They were pretty small which may have had something to do with it.  Either way, I’m lucky that I checked on them when I did, because letting them go unchecked could have led to a mushy bean disaster of epic proportions! 

20 comments on “Foodie Firsts: Orca Beans (AKA Calypso Beans and Yin Yang Beans)

  1. EcoGrrl says:

    Lovely and they do resemble the whale 🙂 What store did you find them at in the bulk aisle? Never heard of ’em but they remind me of scarlet runner beans in pattern which I grew last year 🙂

  2. Cindy says:

    Very interesting! I’ve never seen those before, strange that they describe them as having a potato-like taste. haha
    I agree when food is visually appealing it seems to taste better 😀 Your dish looks very delicious!

  3. They are so cute! I tried two new kinds of beans this year – mung beans and aduki beans – they look almost identical except one kind is green and the other red!

  4. Pretty food is such a bonus. 🙂

  5. Red Hen says:

    Never thought of the orca bean/whale connection.Duh!to me!Got to try eating proper beans instead of baked ones in tins!

  6. I’ve never seen those beans before! Those are awesome. I’m going to be on the lookout from now on because I love any beans with shorter cooking times!

  7. MikeW says:

    Persistance Over Perfection said it well. Cool beans! Nice find.

  8. Gigi says:

    I came across your blog after I googled orca beans. Thank you so much for posting your experience. I bought some today for the same reason you did, they are so pretty, and I’ve never heard of them. Now I’m going to check out the rest of your work. Nice writing!!

  9. Yzzy O'Cronin says:

    I got some orca beans as a Christmas gift a few years back (BEST Christmas EVER, I also got some powdered buttermilk that year . . . had never heard of either of them before) and have been an addict ever since! But I can only get them a couple times of year because I can’t find them in a store and by the time I pay shipping for mail order, they are twenty bucks a pound. But OMIGOSH are they worth it!! LOL. Thank you so much for the positive review.

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