The winged bean, also known as the goa bean, four anchors bean, and asparagus pea, is a climbing vegetable with large, twisting leaves that can reach heights of more than 13 feet (4 m). It is a type of legume related to soybeans that looks like a pole bean. It has white, pink, or pale blue flowers and rectangular, four-sided pods with winged edges. The pods can be red, purple, or green and will usually grow up to 8 inches (about 20 cm). The roots of the winged bean produce carrot-sized tubers with white pulp.
Every part of the winged bean is edible. The pods have a sweet taste similar to green peas. The leaves taste like spinach when cooked. The flowers of the winged pea taste like mushrooms and can be used as food coloring. Its roots produce tubers that taste like nut-flavored, early-season potatoes.
Recipes include stir-fried winged beans, tempura, and salads. If refrigerated and wrapped in plastic, winged beans can last up to three days. They can serve as an alternative to more popular vegetables like asparagus, soybeans, and spinach.
The cultivation of winged beans is straightforward given the right conditions. The plant can be grown in backyard plots, between fields, or over fences. The seeds grow quickly, especially when planted at the start of the wet season. Stakes or supports will allow for more plant growth and multiply yields. Winged beans are largely resistant to weeds and pests and make good cover plants for large plantations.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, farmers and agricultural scientists hailed the winged bean as a wonder crop because of its high concentration of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Almost all parts of the plant have been studied and proven to have abundant nutritional value. It has been dubbed a supermarket on a stalk by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.
The exact geographic origin of the winged bean is unknown. Authorities have speculated that it may have come from Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, or India. Most winged beans are now grown in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. Some varieties are grown as far west as India and Bangladesh. The humidity and abundant rainfall in these tropical countries are conducive to winged bean growth.