For many people in the Pacific Northwest the word “beans” brings to mind coffee, but a new vendor at the Hollywood Farmers Market, The Better Bean Company, is aiming to have us associate beans with “fine cuisine”.
Packaged and sold in a format similar to fresh salsa or hummus, the Better Bean sells three varieties of freshly prepared beans: two types of skillet or refried beans and Caribbean-style black beans.
Keith Kullberg, founder of the company, recognized the gaping hole in the food industry for good beans that didn’t taste like they came out of the can or take hours to prepare from scratch. Wanting a healthful alternative to the lard-fried Mexican beans, Keith started making beans as a vegetarian college student thirty years ago.
He discovered that by sautéing beans in safflower oil, it caramelized the flavor and tasted twice as good. Since that time he says he’s been performing a public service by making tasty beans for friends. Now he wants more people to understand the nutritional and delicious benefit of beans, while also doing it in a way that supports our local food system.
During the almost year and a half of preparation before the first container of Better Beans was produced, Keith and his staff worked diligently to not only perfect their recipes, but also to find ingredients grown regionally. They found black beans in the Oregon Snake Valley, red beans from Idaho Magic Valley, and borlotti (also known as cranberry) beans grown in the Washington Central Valley. Through his research, he discovered that these regions are ideal for bean growing because they have a long warm season to encourage maturation and dry weather in the fall which allows beans to dry in the pod. The cold press safflower oil used in recipes comes from central Oregon and fresh local produce, like onions, from the Northwest is used whenever possible.
Keith emphasizes that being at the Hollywood Farmers Market and in Portland in general is “nirvana” in giving local food companies a chance to sell their products. “There are dedicated foodies who keep coming week after week. [Farmers’ markets] allow for farmers and local food vendors to earn a living making [their] product.”
While the Better Bean is a young company, it takes inspiration from centuries and sometimes thousands of years old Native and Central American civilizations in which beans were vital to the cultural and nutritional life. “Many Americans consider beans to be pedestrian food, but we want to educate people what a gourmet and excellent food they are,” explains Keith. And now that the Better Bean Co. has done all the work to prepare them, he insists you can have a gourmet meal in five minutes with recipes like “PDX Tacos” and others which can be found on their website, www.betterbeanco.com. “People come up to us at the market to tell us they don’t like beans, but they like ours,” explains Keith.
By Nancy Gilkey, HFM Volunteer