History & Growing
Mung beans are native to India, then spread to China, Southeast Asia, and eventually made their way to the United States where they are mostly grown in the southern states such as Oklahoma.(1) They require temperatures between 80° to 90°F, and can handle drought like conditions.(2) They make a beautiful plant with white flowers; and, according to one mung bean gardener extraordinaire, they grow well with all other beans, cilantro, cucumbers, radish and spinach but don’t like to be near tomatoes, potatoes, onions or garlic.(3)
Mung beans are very nutritious. They are an excellent source of protein and dietary fiber, and also contain vitamins A, C and E, folacin, phosphorous, magnesium, iron and calcium. They are also a source of phytoestrogens.(4)
According to Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, mung beans are considered a cooling (yin) food, with sweet and astringent tastes, and have a nourishing and cleansing effect.(5) Again, they are considered very easy to digest, especially if prepared with digestive herbs and spices (see below). They are pacifying to the body and mind (i.e a sattvic food)- and are considered the most balancing legume for all of the mind/body constitutions (doshas – vata, pitta, kapha).(6)
Cooking With Mung Beans
Many say that whole mung beans do not need to be soaked prior to cooking. Which is true. However, I find that they are even easier to digest, and faster to cook, if soaked the night before. A tip from macrobiotics is to soak them with kombu – a pacific seaweed – which is believed to further activate enzymes helpful for digestion (this is true for all legumes). Regardless of whether you soak them, rinse thoroughly before preparing. You can slow cook them on the stovetop (if presoaked, it will likely take just about 30 minutes), prepare them in a pressure cooker (the fastest option), or cook them in a rice cooker (the least maintenance).
Mung beans are great in soups, and are particularly renown as the key ingredient in kichardi, a nutritious and balancing soup of mung, rice and spices. Even on their own, they are best prepared accompanied with digestive herbs and spices such as ginger, cumin, black mustard seeds, coriander, turmeric, basil, rosemary, sage, tarragon, black pepper, and bay leaf.(7) The beans have a mild flavor and very much absorb whatever flavor you cook them in. So spice away!
Sprouting Mung Beans
Sprouting your own mung beans is quite easy – the only difference is that your home made sprouts will have curly tails.(8) Use untreated and organic mung beans for sprouting. Soak them overnight in cold water, and rinse them in a strainer the following morning. Place a layer of moist paper towels or a damp cloth over the base of a flat bottom tray or seed-sprouter then spread a layer of mung beans about 1/2 inch deep. Cover the container with a towel and put it in a dark cupboard with temperatures of 55°to 70° F. Rinse the sprouts daily, morning and night. They should be ready in about 3 days. You can probably purchase a simple seed sprouter at your local natural food store, or online from Mountain Rose Herbs, as it makes it much easier for daily rinsing.
Buying and Storing
Whole organic mung beans are generally available in the bulk section of natural food stores. The organic split mung – or mung dhal – are much harder to find. While the non-organic form can easily be found at most Asian food stores I would be leery of buying them there. I can’t tell you how many strange things I’ve found in packages from the local Indian market – from peanut shells to rocks – not to mention that most foods sold in these markets are highly assaulted upon entering U.S. customs through irradiation and other “food-safety control” measures (not to the fault of these speciality stores). My husband and I purchase our organic mung dhal from Ferris Organic Farms in Michigan – they come in 5 lbs or 20 lbs bags. It’s top quality, and highly worth it – unless, of course, you grow them yourself – which I look forward to trying this summer in the Pacific northwest (I’ll keep you posted). Like all grains and legumes, store your mung in airtight glass jars in a cool, dark place. They will last up to 6 months, but the sooner you eat them the easier they will be to digest. As for the mung sprouts, they can turn brown and go bad fast, so you’re better off munching those down as soon as you can, which shouldn’t be hard to do 🙂
- Wikipedia – Mung Bean
- Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit: An Illustrated Encyclopedia – Biggs, Matthew (2009)
- Oklahoma Craigslist posting
- Shreelata Suresh, Cooking with the Mung Bean the Ayurvedic Way
- Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants – National Geographic (2008)