Beans are not just for nourishment, no sir. There is a long history of beans in our folklore. In choosing a specific area of discussion for this post on beans the first thing my artsy daughter spouted out was “Beans, beans the musical fruit the more you eat the more you…”, and, well you know where this is going. It is true though that the high amount of oligosaccharides along with bacteria in the gut produce, in some cases, large amounts of carbon dioxide and hydrogen, which we know as flatulence or farts. Aside from nursery rhyme fame there are several examples of this tune made famous on television and in the movies, most notably by Bart Simpson, the infamous son, in not one, but two episodes of The Simpsons.
Also, who can forget the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk? Once upon a time a young boy works tirelessly for his poor mother on their family plot of dirt when one day his mother asks Jack to sell the cow, but instead, he trades it for some beans an old witch said were magic. He returns home where his mother, in anger at Jack for doing this, carelessly throws the beans in the dirt. The next day a giant bean stalk appears which is begging to be climbed and there he sees a golden goose which he takes knowing that will solve all their family problems, except for the giant, who chases him around the heavens until our hero Jack finally gets away and all is well. There are many variations to this tale and even a reference in the Book of Jonah, where it is not beans, but a gourd, that grows so tall that it becomes a metaphor for the connection between heaven and earth. I interpret this all to mean that beans and any plant for that matter that helps to sustain life, was so important, it was to be remembered and that they wrote songs and stories about it to teach the next generation. Oral history was the internet of its day and the best way to remember something is to tell a tale or sing it in a tune.
Lastly, beans were valuable as a commodity and used in business. Counting is necessary in commerce and beans were often traded or used as a source of money. When things were measured on scales bags of beans were used as counter weight. In China and other parts of Asia ancient adding machines, also known as abacuses, used beans or stones to calculate cost as a tool for business and trade, today many people still prefer an abacus to a calculator. In the Aztec world, which is estimated to be between 1156 and 1520 before being conquered by the Spaniards, the cacao bean was used as a source of money. Back then fifteen cacao beans would buy you one rabbit or you could purchase five green chilies for one cacao bean. The marketplace was huge and on busy market days history claims 60,000 people would gather there every time at the height of the culture. So next time you travel to Mexico City, where Tenochtitlan known as the capital of the Aztec world is buried under the city, consider how another culture used its beans.