Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere

Lima Beans

Phaseolus lunatus

By Jeremy Trombley


Lima beans are native to Peru, and have been cultivated for over 9,000 years. They are among the largest of the beans, and provide a tasty and nutritious food resource. The latin name lunatus refers to the half-moon shape of the bean itself, and the common name Lima refers to the capital of Peru, although the two are pronounced differently. Limas were an important staple, along with potatoes and quinoa, during the period of the Inca empire in the Andes.

Lima beans were brought to Europe by traders, and were quickly adopted there. They were also brought to the Philippines, parts of Southeast Asia, and Africa and they became an important crop in all of these regions. They have become so common in many of these places that they have taken on names such as Madagascar bean and Rangoon bean.


Lima beans are generally served as a side dish in conjunction with meats, starches and other vegetables. They must be cooked (see Toxicity below), but afterward they can be served cold in a salad or salsa or hot in a variety of dishes. They are very nutritious, containing an abundance of fiber and iron and providing a good supply of protein and complex carbohydrates.


It is important not to eat any lima beans raw. Most of them contain cyanogenic glucosides which can cause illness and even death. Modern varieties in the U.S. and Europe contain only negligible levels of these toxins, and proper preparation techniques including changing of soaking and cooking water will eliminate the poison. There is no way of telling which varieties contain high concentrations of toxin although those with red or black testa are more likely to. Environmental factors can also play a significant role in determining toxicity.


The World's Healthiest Foods – Lima Beans

Albala, Ken. Beans: A History. New York: Berg Publishers, 2007.

Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food 2nd Ed. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006.