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Moth beans are the seeds of the Vigna aconitifolia plant. They are grown in arid parts of Asia, where they are extremely popular in dishes like curries, and they are also sometimes utilized in Western cuisine, especially in the form of a garnish. Many South Asian markets stock moth beans, typically in dried form, and if you live in USDA zones 9-11, you can try your hand at growing moth beans at home.
By the way, despite the spelling, it's pronounced “moat beans,” not “moth beans.” Moth beans are also known as dew beans, papillons, muths, mot beans, mat beans, Turkish grams, and mat grams. The “moth” is believed to be derived from a Hindi word, “mat,” and these beans are incredibly popular in Indian cuisine, suggesting that the Hindi word origin may well be true.
Moth beans can be found under cultivation throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East. They are also sometimes cultivated in the Mediterranean, in places like Italy. The hardy creeping plant favors arid conditions, and neutral to acidic soils. The plant produces bright yellow flowers which turn into elongated seedpods, which will ultimately produce small seeds around the size of a grain of rice. These seeds can be dried and cooked, or saved for planting next year.
Depending on the climate, some moth beans establish themselves as perennials, and they will return year after year. In other cases, the plant dies out as the dry season approaches, with most gardeners simply leaving the pods on the vine to dry out and then threshing them later. The plants are also used as a source of forage for domesticated animals like goats and cows.
Moth beans have a rich, nutty flavor which can complement an assortment of dishes. The young seed pods are often eaten whole as vegetables, and they can also be spices in chutneys and used in pickled foods. When allowed to dry, the beans are cooked and then used in curries, salads, and other dishes. They are reasonably nutritious, making them a good addition to the vegetarian diet, and many people enjoy the nuttiness of moth beans in foods like risotto, couscous, and soups.
If you want to grow moth beans, start by preparing a patch of soil in a warm, dry part of the garden. You may want to amend the soil with sand to promote good drainage, and avoid the use of excessive mulch, which will retain water. You can either start seedlings indoors or plant the beans outdoors in the early spring; keep them lightly watered until they sprout and establish themselves, and then allow the soil to dry between waterings. Provide runners to encourage the plant to grow up off the ground, reducing the risk of mold, mildew, and rot.
Really interesting and informative article, thanks! I've been interesting in moth beans as a "survival" protein product, and plan to try growing in zone 5A (Denver), as our weather continues to grow hotter. This is the best article I've read!
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