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Vicia faba L.

Contributors: F.J. Muehlbauer and Abebe Tullu

Copyright © 1997. All rights Reserved. Quotation from this document should cite and acknowledge the contributors.

  1. Common Names
  2. Scientific Names
  3. Uses
  4. Chemistry
    1. Quality Parameters
    2. Traditional Medicinal Uses
  5. Origin
  6. Botany
    1. Taxonomy, Morphology and Floral Biology
    2. Ecology
  7. Crop Culture
    1. Field Cultivation
    2. Harvesting
  8. Yields and Economics
  9. Biotic Factors
  10. Germplasm
  11. References
  12. Selected Experts

Common Names

Broad bean, Faba bean, Horsebean, Windsorbean, Tickbeans (small types), Bakela (Ethopia), Boby kurmouvje (former USSR), Faveira (Portugal) Ful masri (Sudan) Feve (French) and Yeshil Bakla (Turkey).

Scientific Names

Species: Vicia faba L.

Family: Leguminosae


Cultivated faba bean is used as human food in developing countries and as animal feed, mainly for pigs, horses, poultry and pigeons in industrialized countries. It can be used as a vegetable, either green or dried, fresh or canned. It is a common breakfast food in the Middle East, Mediterranean region, China and Ethiopia (Bond et al., 1985). The most popular dishes of faba bean are Medamis (stewed beans), Falafel (deep fried cotyledon paste with some vegetables and spices), Bissara (cotyledon paste poured onto plates) and Nabet soup (boiled germinated beans) (Jambunathan et al., 1994). "Feeding value of faba bean is high, and is considered in some areas to be superior to field peas or other legumes. It is one of the most important winter crops for human consumption in the Middle East. Faba bean has been considered as a meat extender or substitute and as a skim-milk substitute. Sometimes grown for green manure, but more generally for stock feed. Large-seeded cultivars are used as vegetable. Roasted seeds are eaten like peanuts in India" (Duke, 1981). Straw from faba bean harvest fetches a premium in Egypt and Sudan and is considered as a cash crop (Bond et al., 1985). The straw can also be used for brick making and as a fuel in parts of Sudan and Ethiopia.


Quality Parameters

Wide variation of protein content (20-41%) has been reported (Chaven et al., 1989). When spring and winter faba beans are compared, winter beans have slightly higher concentrations of protein than the latter (Bond et al., 1985). Protein concentration is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors and it has been reported that inheritance of this trait is additive with some partial dominance (Bond et al., 1985). Amino acid content as mg g-1 of nitrogen varies from 36-69 mg for methionine, 44-94 mg for cystine and 333-400 mg for lysine (Chevan et al., 1989). Legumin is the predominant globulin and has a larger proportion of arginine, threonine and tryptophan (Hulse, 1994). Utilizable protein, protein digestibility and biological value are reported to vary from 14.8-15.5%, 82-92% and 45-55%, respectively (Hulse, 1994). Faba bean contains small amounts of several possible antinutritional factors; however, their effects are less acute, and protease inhibitors are at much lower (2%) concentrations compared to soybeans (Lawes, 1980; Bond et al., 1985). Inhalation of the pollen or ingestion of the seeds may incite the condition known as favism, a severe hemolytic anemia, perhaps causing collapse (Smart, 1990). "It is an inherited enzymatic deficiency occasional among Mediterranean People (Greek, Italian, Semitics); The genetic disorder occurs in about 1% of whites, 15.0% of blacks" (Duke, 1981). The main factors responsible for favism, which can occur in susceptible people, are believed to be glucoside vicine and convicine and their hydrolytic derivatives divicine and isouramil, respectively. These anti-nutritional factors render the red blood cells of glucose -6- phosphate dehydrogenase deficient patients vulnerable to oxidation and destruction (Bond et al., 1985; Hussein and Saleh, 1985; Smart, 1990) which are uncommon in cooked beans (Lawes, 1980). "The whole dried seeds contain (per 100 g) 344 calories, 10.1% moisture, 1.3 g fat, 59.4 g total carbohydrate, 6.8 g fiber, 3.0 g ash, 104 mg Ca, 301 mg P, 6.7 mg Fe, 8 mg Na, 1123 mg K, 130 m g b-carotene equivalent, 0.38 mg thiamine, 0.24 mg riboflavin, 2.1 mg niacin, and 162 mg tryptophane. Flour contains: 340 calories, 12.4, % moisture, 25.5 g protein, 1.5 g fat, 58.8 g total carbohydrate, 1.5 g fiber, 1.8 g ash, 66 mg Ca, 354 mg P, 6.3 mg Fe, 0.42 mg thiamine, 0.28 mg riboflavin, and 2.7 mg niacin. The fatty acid composition of broad bean oil has been reported as 88.6% unsaturated" (Duke, 1981). The amino acid content except for methionine is reasonably well balanced (Bond et al., 1985).

Haemagglutinins (lectins), although found in many legumes, concentration is higher in faba bean and can be troublesome. These substances are destroyed during the normal food preparation process (heat) (Hussein and Saleh, 1985). Similarly, oligosaccharides mainly stachyose, raffinose and verbascose are also more prevalent in faba bean; these molecules contain glucose and galactose residues which can persist in sugar metabolism pathway in digestive tracts. They ferment and produce methane and other gases causing discomfort and abdominal pains. Faba bean contains other objectionable factors including, cyanogens, favogens, phytic acid, tannins, and tripsin inhibitors (Williams et al., 1988).

Traditional Medicinal Uses

As a folk medicine, it can be used as diuretic, expectorant, or tonic.


Faba bean is assigned to the Central Asian, Mediterranean, and South American centers of Diversity. Cubero (I974) postulated a Near Eastern center of origin, with four radii (1) to Europe (2) along the North African coast to Spain, (3) along the Nile to Ethiopia, and (4) from Mesopotamia to India. Secondary centers of diversity are postulated in Afghanistan and Ethiopia. However, Ladizinsky (1975b) reported the origin to be Central Asia. The wild progenitor and the exact origin of faba bean remain unknown. Several wild species (V. narbonensis L. and V. galilaea Plitmann and Zohary) are taxonomically closely related to the cultivated crop, but they contain 2n = 14 chromosomes, whereas cultivated faba bean has 2n = 12 chromosomes. Numerous attempts to cross the wild species to cultivated faba bean have failed (Bond et al., 1985).


Taxonomy, Morphology and Floral Biology

Vicia faba is an annual herb with coarse and upright stems, unbranched 0.3-2 m tall, with 1 or more hollow stems from the base (Bond et al., 1985; Duke, 1981; Heath, et al., 1994). The leaves are alternate, pinnate and consist of 2-6 leaflets each up to 8 cm long and unlike most other members of the Genus, it is without tendrils or with rudimentary tendrils (Kay, 1971; Bond et al., 1985). "Flowers are large, white with dark purple markings, borne on short pedicels in clusters of 1-5 on each axillary raceme usually between the 5 and 10th node; 1-4 pods develop from each flower cluster, and growth is indeterminate though determinate mutants are available. About 30% of the plants in a population are cross-fertilized and the main insect pollinators are bumblebees. There is a robust tap root with profusely branched secondary roots" (Bond et al., 1985). Based on seed size, two subspecies were recognized, paucijuga and faba. The latter was subdivided into var. minor with small rounded seeds (1 cm long), var. equina with medium sized seeds (1.5 cm) and var. major with large broad flat seeds (2.5 cm) (Kay, 1971; Bond et al., 1985). Cubero (1974) suggested four subspecies, namely: minor, equina, major, and paucijuga. Taxonomically the crop belongs to Section Faba of the Genus Vicia (Bond et al., 1985; Smart, 1990).


Faba bean requires a cool season for best development. It is grown as a winter annual in warm temperate and subtropical areas; hardier cultivars in the Mediterranean region tolerate winter temperatures of -10°C without serious injury whereas the most hardy European cultivars can tolerate up to -15°C (Robertson, 1996). "It can be grown anywhere and does not winterkill. Well-adapted to wetter portions of cereal-growing areas of western Canada and elsewhere. Tolerates nearly any soil type; grows best on rich loams. Moderate moisture supply is necessary" (Duke, 1981). They are considered to be the least drought resistant of legume crops; however, cultivars with high water use efficiency have been developed at ICARDA (Robertson, 1996). "Moisture requirement is highest about 9-12 weeks after establishment. Faba bean is more tolerant to acid soil conditions than most legumes. Can be grown in nearly all parts of the United States without liming. Growing seasons should have little or no excessive heat, optimum temperatures for production range from 18 to 27°C (65-85°F)" (Duke, 1981). Rainfall of 650-1000 mm per annum evenly distributed is ideal (Kay, 1971). The maturity period ranges from 90-220 days depending upon the cultivars and climatic conditions (Bond et al., 1985).

Crop Culture

Field Cultivation

Eventhough faba bean has been cultivated in many countries, 60% of total world production comes from China (FAO, 1994). The date of introduction of Vicia faba var. minor to China is believed to be around 100 BC (Bond et al., 1985). In localities having no hard frosts, most cultivars can be sown in fall and survive the winter. In northern localities or at high elevations farther south, faba bean should be planted in early spring, when ground can be worked, at the same time as the earliest ordinary spring crops. Large-seeded cultivars are sown with planters used for lima beans, while small-seeded cultivars can be sown with a common corn planter. In some areas, such as Ethiopia and Sudan, broad bean seeds are broadcast. At seeding time, fields are plowed shallow and seeds are dropped into every second or third furrow. "Seeds are usually sown 5-10 cm deep in rows 75 cm apart, with seeds 15 cm apart in the rows. Rows 60 cm apart, or even closer, give good results under favorable conditions. Small-seeded cultivars are planted at 90-122 kg/ha, and large-seeded cultivars at 78-90 kg/ha. In United Kingdom, 450 kg seed/ha produces maximum yields. Yields are economically optimal at a seeding rate of 225-340 kg/ha for large seeded cultivars, and satisfactory at 190 kg/ha for small-seeded cultivars" (Duke, 1981). For green manure or forage, small-seeded cultivars are usually broadcast. Murinda and Saxena (1985) reported that faba bean fixes more nitrogen (135 kg N ha-1) than lentil and chickpea. Inoculation is not always practiced if effective strains of Rhizobia are present (e.g. Europe in general and Middle East) (Murinda and Saxena, 1985; Bond et al., 1985). Applications of P and K in southern United States (Duke, 1981), and Nitrogen in Africa and Middle East (Murinda and Saxena, 1985) as starter fertilizers before or at seeding time have been reported to be beneficial for vigorous early growth. "Early deep sowing into a well-drained firm seedbed gives best results. Faba beans should be cultivated during their growing period. When planted in 60 cm rows or closer, special machinery is necessary for cultivation. When planted in 90 cm rows, ordinary cultivators can be used. In United Kingdom, thiram and captan are recommended as fungicides; chlorpropham plus diuron or fenuron, or simazine, as pre-emergence herbicides, and dinoseb-acetate as a post-emergence herbicide" (Kay, 1979; Duke, 1981).


When the crop is meant for dry seed, it is harvested when fully mature, and when grown for consumption as a vegetable, it is harvested green. The most common harvesting system is to pull and thresh the crop by hand; however, hand harvesting is costly compared to mechanized harvesting (Diekmann and Papazian, 1985). Time of harvest depends on whether hand or mechanical methods are used. Beans mature 90-220 days after planting based on localities (Bond et al, 1985). Harvest can be delayed a little longer for hand than for mechanical harvest. In either case, the crop should not be cut until the lower pods are matured and the upper ones fully developed. "If harvest is delayed until the upper pods are ripe, there can be great losses from shattering. The crop should be cut on cloudy days and may be cut at night. Large seeded cultivars are threshed with a common bean thresher with special adjustments to the cylinder" (Duke, 1981). Small-seeded types can be threshed without difficulty using a cutter bar and stationary thresher (Diekmann and Papazian, 1985). After threshing, the seed is cleaned with ordinary fanning mills. For canning, beans are soaked and allowed to swell and then are picked by hand to avoid hard seeds (Duke, 1981).

Yields and Economics

The lack of adequate pollination and reduced seed setting can be major constraints to yield. Flower drop and seed abortion and pests such as Botrytis fabae, Ascochyta fabae, Uromyces fabae, Orobanche crenata, and Aphis fabae are also major constraints to yield. Abiotic factors such as drought, high temperature, inadequate supply of nutrients, salinity and excessive moisture also play an important role. Yields are closely correlated with the number of pods per plant. China was the largest producer with estimated annual production ranging from 2.4-2.6 million MT (1161-1447 kg/ha) from 1979 to 1994 (FAO, 1994). Argentina reported the highest yield record of more than 9000 kg/ha from 1992 to 1994, followed by Switzerland (3350-4375 kg/ha), France (3000-3900 kg/ha) and Belgium (3350-3750 kg/ha) during the same years (FAO, 1994). In the past, faba beans for human consumption, feed for horses (commonly known as "horsebeans"); green manuring and feed for other stock were important uses in southern United States and along the U.S. Pacific Coast. Faba beans are grown in home gardens and mostly used as a green vegetable when the seeds are still succulent.

Faba bean production in the world is concentrated in nine major agroecological regions, namely; northern Europe, Mediterranean, the Nile valley, Ethiopia, Central Asia, East Asia, Oceana, Latin America, and North America (Bond et al., 1985). There has been a 50,000 tons increase in production in Australia, a 50,000 tons increase in EEC, and a 210,000 tons increase in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) from 1982 to 1992 (Oram and Agcaoili, 1994). However, the same authors reported that there was a 25% decrease in area sown to faba bean in China alone, the largest producer, and a decrease in production of 201,000 tons in Africa during the same period (Oram and Agcaoili, 1994). Large seeded green types are canned. It is the second ranking food legume in Europe (Picard et al., 1988).


Germplasm with specific resistance to chocolate spot, ascochyta blight, rust, stem nematode, bean leaf roll virus (BLRV), bean yellow mosaic virus (BYMV) and Orobanche crenata have been developed (Robertson et al., 1996). Some faba bean cultivars are reported to exhibit tolerance to high pH, insects, low pH, slope, and viruses (Duke, 1981). Probably native to the Near East, faba bean is now cultivated in temperate North America, including Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and in South America, especially the Andean region. The crop is widely distributed in the Mediterranean region, the Nile valley, Ethiopia, Central Asia, and northern Europe (Bond et al., 1985). Thus, the crop is grown from the equator to almost the Arctic circle and from sea level to very high altitude which demonstrates its wide genetic diversity (Bond et al., 1985). Bond et al., (1985) reported that the storage space for large seeded types and intercrossing leading to genetic impurity to be the two main problems in maintenance of faba bean germplasm.

Biotic Factors

Fungi, viruses, and insect pests attack faba bean. The most important diseases and their casual agents include: chocolate spot (Botrytis fabae and B. cinerea), rust (Uromyces viciae fabae), black root rot (Thielaviopsis basicola), stem rots (Sclerotina trifoliorum, S. sclerotiorum), root rots and damping-off (Rhizoctonia spp.), downy mildew (Pernospora viciae), pre-emergence damping-off (Pythium spp.), leaf and pod spots or blight (Ascochyta fabae), foot rots (Fusarium spp.), bean yellow mosaic virus, bean true mosaic virus, and bean leaf roll virus (van Emden et al., 1988).

Among the insect pests, ground nut aphid (Aphis cracivora), Black bean aphid (Aphis fabae), pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum), pea thrip (Kakothripsrobustus), cowpea bean beetle (Callosobruchus macculatus), seed weevils (Apion spp.), bean weevil (Sitonia lineatus), and Egyptian leaf worm (Spodoptera littoralis) are important. Bacteria that cause disease in faba bean include Bacterium phaseoli, B. viciae, Erwinia phytophthora, and Psuedomonas viciae. The Important nematodes include Meloidogyne incognita, M. javanica, Pratylenchus spp., Trichodorus spp., and Xiphenema spp. Broomrape (Orobanche crenata) may be a serious problem in the Mediterrannean region.


Selected Experts

F.J. Muehlbauer
Research geneticist, USDA-ARS
Pullman, WA 99164-6439
Tel: (509) 335-9521
Fax: (509) 335-7692

W.J. Kaiser
Regional Plant Introduction Station
59 Johnson Hall, WSU
Pullman, WA 99164-6402
Tel: (509) 335-1502
Fax: (509) 335-6654

R.M. Hannan
Regional Plant Introduction Station
Washington state University, 59 Johnson Hall
Pullman, Washington 99164-6402
Tel: (509) 335-3683
Fax: 509-335-6654

A.E. Slinkard
Crop Development Center
University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan S7N 0W0, Canada
Tel: (306) 966-4978
Fax: (306) 966-5015

Contributors: F.J. Muehlbauer and Abebe Tullu

Copyright © 1997. All rights Reserved. Quotation from this document should cite and acknowledge the contributors.

Last update Tuesday, February 24, 1998 by aw