Fresh, young runner beans are a gem amongst the many wonderful vegetables available during the British summer. At their best they are at once tender, succulent and bursting with flavour. There can be few better ways of serving runner beans than piled onto a plate alongside meltingly soft roast lamb, roast potatoes and gravy, with a good glass of claret or perhaps a Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon to wash it all down. Or so we thought until we discovered Runner Bean and Chilli Salsa (see recommended recipes) - a dish with the uncanny ability to be a perfect match with practically any barbecued food.


Native to the cooler, high-altitude regions of Central America, runner beans have been known as a food crop for well over 2,000 years. They were brought to the British Isles in the seventeenth century by John Tradescant (gardener to King Charles I) and were grown as a decorative plant before being used as a food in Britain.

Today they are a very popular food in the UK, Italy and Mexico, and are grown and eaten in each of the five continents.


Phaseolus coccineus has long been a favourite with gardeners due to its beautiful flowers and fast-growing nature. Most of the beans grown in the UK are of the scarlet runner variety.


Look for pert well-coloured pods that snap easily with a crunch to reveal a fresh and juicy inside. The smaller and younger the better; oversized or withered beans aren't worth bothering with.

Runner beans will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days but, as with all legumes, the beans' sugars start turning to starch after picking and they are best eaten as soon as possible.

Wash the beans, top and tail, and remove the stringy bits running up both sides using a small knife or vegetable peeler. Some sources recommend soaking the beans before cooking. Very small and young beans can be served whole, either raw or briefly cooked. The majority of runner beans on sale are larger and need to be finely sliced (diagonally) so that the skin cooks relatively quickly, before the seeds have become too soft. Slicing is easiest with a bean slicer or similar hand-held gadget.

Runner beans can be boiled, steamed or stir-fried. They are best cooked until on the soft side of al dente (particularly when larger) for maximum flavour.


In many rural areas of Mexico it is common for the starchy roots of the runner bean plant, as well as the beans, to be used in cooking.