Black beans and rice history and fun facts

Beans are a staple in many Latin American cultures and around the world. Rice and beans and beans and rice are two very different dishes.

Black beans
Black beans. Photo by Dixie Sandborn, MSU Extension.

Dry beans, including black beans, are a staple in many Latin American cultures and many cultures around the world. If you have spent any time traveling in Latin America or the Caribbean, you know beans in some form are served at almost every meal. Beans are a great source of inexpensive protein and dry beans store well for a long period of time.

Just as a point of interest, rice and beans and beans and rice are two very different dishes, with the latter being more preferred. Rice and beans are a one pot dish, usually white rice and kidney beans cooked together with onions, garlic, maybe a few other spices and a little coconut oil. Beans and rice, on the other hand, are beans that are slowly stewed with onions, garlic and other spices, maybe even a pork hock for flavor. I like to add cumin, bay leaves and some Marie Sharp’s Habanero Pepper Sauce. This combination creates a delicious sauce to be eaten over a bed of rice.

I have been experimenting with several bean recipes as my son prefers beans to meat and will eat beans and rice every day if I let him. Black beans are by far our household favorite.

Fun facts about black beans

  • Black beans are botanically known as Phaseolus vulgaris.
  • Beans and legumes are the fruits or seeds of a family of plants called Fabaceae (also called Leguminosae).
  • Black beans have several common names including turtle beans, caviar criollo and frijoles negros.
  • These beans were and still are a staple food in the diets of Central and South Americans, dating back at least 7,000 years.
  • Black beans have a satiny black skin (technically dark purple) and a white center.
  • When cooked, the beans have a creamy texture and slightly sweet flavor.
  • Black beans are an excellent low-calorie, low-fat source of energy and fiber.
  • One half-cup serving of black beans gives you 8 grams of protein. Aside from meat products, dry beans are the highest source of protein available.
  • Dry beans have more fiber than any other unprocessed food at 15 grams per cup.
  • One cup of cooked black beans contains less than 1 gram of fat and only 227 calories.
  • Black beans are also a great source of folic acid, magnesium, potassium and iron.
  • Adding black beans to your breakfast food will also help your mood because it helps to stabilize your blood sugar. This means that including beans in your breakfast or lunch can help prevent that mid-afternoon slump.
  • Michigan is the leading producer of black beans, with 58% of the nation’s total production.
  • Michigan’s Thumb counties, known for its rich farmland, produces more beans than any other place in the state.
  • Huron County is one of the top dry bean-producing counties in the nation.
  • Mexico is Michigan’s largest export market for dry beans, especially black beans.

Recipe for Black Beans and Rice

I was recently at a Cuban restaurant in Key West. They serve black beans and rice called Moros y Cristianos, translated literally to Moors and Christians. It is presumed the dish gets its name from the time when the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula. The black beans represent the Moors and the white rice represents the Christians.

This flavorful bean and rice dish, representative of Spanish occupation, is popular in Cuba. Every Cuban cook has their own version of the recipe. I’m not Cuban, but here is my version.


  • ½ pound dry black beans cooked with 6 cups of water for 6 minutes in pressure cooker. One option is to use 3 cups water and 3 cups chicken broth.
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 4 large garlic cloves, chopped (or 1½ teaspoons garlic powder)
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup or tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon Marie Sharp’s Habanero Pepper Sauce (now readily available in the U.S.)


Heat oil in heavy, large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic and sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of beans to pan. Using back of fork, mash beans coarsely.

In a crock pot, add bean and vegetable mixture along with remaining beans, the water/broth from cooking, cumin, bay leaves, tomato paste and pepper sauce. I leave the cover off or slightly ajar as the beans thicken and flavors blend, stirring occasionally.

Season beans to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over white rice and enjoy.



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