Just as its name suggests, the kidney bean is shaped like a kidney. Since these dark red beans hold their shape really well during cooking and readily absorb surrounding flavors, they are a favorite bean to use in simmered dishes. Kidney beans that are white in color are known as cannellini beans.
Both dried and canned kidney beans are available throughout the year. Dried beans are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as in bulk bins. True to their name, these popular beans are kidney shaped and are especially good in simmered dishes where they they absorb the flavors of seasonings and the other foods with which they are cooked.
Kidney beans and other beans such as pinto beans, navy beans and black beans are known scientifically as Phaseolus vulgaris. They are referred to as “common beans” probably owing to the fact that they all derived from a common bean ancestor that originated in Peru.
From Peru, they were spread throughout South and Central America by migrating Indian traders. Beans were introduced into Europe in the 15th century by Spanish explorers returning from their voyages to the New World.
They were subsequently spread to Africa and Asia by Spanish and Portuguese traders. As beans are a very inexpensive form of good protein, they have become popular in many cultures throughout the world. Today, the largest commercial producers of dried common beans are India, China, Indonesia, Brazil and the United States.