A couple of years ago, we ran into some friends at the Festival of Nations. They had already eaten, so we asked if they had any favorites, and they quickly recommended the African honey beans from the Nigerian food stand.
We took their suggestion, thoroughly enjoyed our honey beans, and started counting down the days until the next year’s festival so we could get our fix. In the meantime, of course, we played with the idea of making our own, but neither of our go-to international grocers (Jay’s and Global) carried the beans, a variety of black eyed peas that are inherently sweet.
This year, we visited the Nigerian stand again and asked the proprietor where we could purchase the dried beans. She directed us to Worldwide International Foods and African Grocery, a small store on Olive (just east of I-170) in UCity. The store in question is decidedly outside our normal walkable/bikeable radius, and it’s also not an area we frequent in the car (unlike the suburbs where my in-laws live and the TJ’s/WF shopping area).
Anyway, I attempted a bean pick-up back in early November, when I visited a friend who lived not too far away, but they weren’t open. Still no honey beans.
They fell of my radar until then I saw the article on honey beans in last month’s Sauce Magazine. Interest renewed. I wrote down the store address, called to check the hours, and jotted down the Yoruban name for the beans, “ewa oloyin,” in case that would make my quest easier.
Yesterday, with plans to look at a few houses just off of Olive, I made a second attempt, this time successful (well, sort-of). They were down to two bags of “oloyin” on the shelf, a two-pounder and a ten-pounder. We eat a lot of beans, and it had taken me FOREVER to actually get to the store and buy the beans, so I opted for the ten-pounder. When I checked out, I confirmed with the store clerk that the beans in the bag were, in fact, honey beans, since the label just said “oloyin.” He assured me they were.
With limited time until dinner, I used the quick soak method on the beans and worked on my rendition of the sauce while they cooked. When I tested the beans for doneness, they surprised me with their lack of sweetness — not a good sign.
Either a) the beans I purchased were, in fact, NOT honey beans, or b) they prepare the dish sold as honey beans at the Nigerian food stand with significant added sugar. (The annoying part is I don’t know how to find out if I bought the wrong beans.)
Anyway, I try to keep sugar consumption fairly minimal, especially for Gabriel, so the last thing I wanted was to dump a ton of sugar into the bean pot. I compromised by adding some dates (sugared, not what I usually buy, but this seemed like a good place to use them) to the sauce. The resulting dish, while not identical to what we had at Festival of Nations, was mildly sweet and quite flavorful.
AFRican honey beans
Recipe by Melissa, adapted from recipe in Sauce Magazine
3 c. dry honey beans*
1 c. bean cooking liquid (for the sauce)
1/3 c. chopped sundried tomatoes
1 c. chopped red bell pepper
1 t. onion powder
1/4 c. dates
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 T. butter
2 t. peanut oil
1 T. coconut oil
Soak beans, either overnight or using a quick soak. Drain, rinse, return to pan, add water just to cover, and simmer until tender but not mushy (about 45 minutes for this batch).
When beans are cooked, pour off most of the cooking liquid into a measuring cup and salt the beans. Combine one cup of the liquid with the sundried tomatoes, bell peppers, onion powder, and dates. Blend to a smooth, thick sauce using a hand or regular blender.
Combine all three oils in a small saucepan over gentle heat.** Add bouillon cube, cook for a few minutes, then add the sauce from above. Stir to combine well, then pour over the beans in the pan.
*The beans I was using may or may not have been actual honey beans — I may never know. The good news, if you, too, have trouble locating honey beans, is that you can probably replicate this dish with other beans (perhaps black eyed peas or a small white bean, like navy beans).
**Palm oil would be traditional in this recipe, but the labor and environmental practices around farming palm oil are pretty atrocious. The blend of oils/fats I used here was quite flavorful and worked well in the dish.
This was such a fun read and the recipe sounds so good, especially with the added dates! I recently purchased Honey Powder at Global Market soon to find out it did not contain a speck of honey! It is actually powdered agave nectar so I’ll find some fun use for it.
The dates were definitely a good call for getting some sweetness into the dish.
Yes, the international groceries can be tricky, even for people used to reading labels (and especially when there isn’t much of a label to read/the label is in a language I don’t speak). Powdered agave sounds like it could be interesting — I didn’t even know it existed in that form.
I enjoyed reading your article. The beans you have in the picture above are indeed African honey beans. No one adds sugar to it. They are naturally quite tasty; even sweet. The difference is in the preparation. Next time you cook a portion of your ten-pounder, try this approach: soak them overnight, boil them for about 25 minutes and throw out the dirty water using a strainer and wash them, grind a couple red onions, if you have ginger root, throw it in there. If you enjoy spicy food, throw in one habanero pepper and grind all of them in the blender until fine. Then pour palm oil (the same African Store where you bought the beans should have palm oil). The one that comes from Malaysia doesn’t have cholesterol in it. Buy that one. Pour the blender contents into the oil and bring that to a boil. The amount of water in the pot should only be about a third of the entire content of the pot. Add salt slightly to improve the taste. You may in lieu of salt add three chickened flavored bouillon cubes. Cover and cook on low heat until soft to your liking. If you prepare it this way and it doesn’t come out right, I will hang my head. In fact, you can use the same recipe to prepare other beans as well. All who have tasted my beans have given nothing but unabashed accolades.
I have been cooking the beans for many decades and can be immensely helpful if you need further assistance.
Does honey beans have sugar which is not good or healthy for diabetics?
Should those who have diabetes eat it?
Hello, I have a similar dilemma, I tasted this beans for the first time in 2007 and ever since I have been hooked on it, until early this year when the huge bag I purchased in 2012 ran out. Right now, I buy bits from African stores in New Jersey and to my shock this recent purchase was a mixture of two different types of bean with perhaps only 10% of beans being the honey “Oloyin” quality I was looking. I am so upset, I feel like jumping into the plane and going there to get the real deal myself. Thanks for sharing your experience. I have to find a way to solve this situation and I not sure what to do yet.
I’m Nigerian. I came across this while looking for a place to buy honey beans. Just wanted to say, Nigerians usually do not cook their food with any kind of added sugar. There are many cultures in Nigeria and I can’t speak for everyone. But I’m Ibo and lived almost all my life in Lagos which is a Yoruba region and adding sugar to food is not usually done. My point is that yes, these beans are naturally sweet but I had the same problem. I bought honey beans at an African market in Chicago, and I couldn’t taste any sweetness either. They looked just like the honey beans I ate all my life so I’m not sure what’s up with them. I suspect that either a) they are a different breed and are being sold as honey beans because of the similarity, or b) they’ve just stood on the shelf so long and lost their sweetness. I don’t think I’ll buy them again if I can’t confirm they are really sweet honey beans. One way to get natural sweetness in beans is to boil them with very ripe plantains. I’m curious, how did you get interested in Nigerian/African food?
Ada, good to know that adding sugar would not be traditional in Nigerian cooking. It sounds like we had a similar experience buying “honey” beans in the U.S.
I got interested in Nigerian cooking (and this dish specifically) after trying some Nigerian food at an international festival. I also enjoy Ethiopian food, and I imagine I would enjoy other African cuisines as well.
My Ibo friend and Ada:
I also live in Chicago and there are many African stores here. I buy my beans at Lefruteria at 89th and Commercial. When you go there, you will see one that has a distinctive aroma called African brown beans which is very similar to the African honey beans. The honey beans are sort of whitish when soaked and are definitely sweet. I have three types of beans in my pantry and the honey beans is what I had for dinner tonight. Definitely a thrill.
Forgot to say that I enjoyed your article. I really did. And yes palm oil tastes great in honey beans. I don’t know what you meant about the labor and environmental practices around farming palm oil.
Agree with Ada, Nigerians typically don’t add sweeteners to food, unless occasionally coconut milk to the rice. Those look like honey beans in the picture, but I have those too and they don’t taste like honey. Guess Ive never tasted the real deal. . . I think they taste kind of like a black-eyed pea, which is what my husband uses to make his beans (He’s also Ibo from Nigeria)
Yes, I agree with Ada 100%. Typically, Nigerians do not cook beans with sugar or wine or BUTTER. What is dry sun-dried tomatoes, dates, butter, peanut oil, coconut oil and onion powder doing in beans in the name of sweetness? The common mistake with a lot of people in this society is thinking that sweetening addictive such as sugar, agave must be added to every food. It is problematic and unhealthy. They will have a better result by cooking with herbs and spices.
Peace, all! Melissa, thanks for the shout out on Nigerian Beans. It is possible that you may have ‘cooked the sweetness out of the beans.’ You do not remove the water from the beans to make an alternate sauce. The water dries up with the beans. In removing the water, you removed the sweetness that drained into the water from the beans. The proper sauce for stew is to blend tomatoes, red bell pepper, onions, habanero peppers (as hot as you can stand) in a blender. I usually add garlic to the blend. Blend this to the consistency of canned tomato sauce. Then fry the sauce in any oil you desire or your conscience and fair trade practices allow, definitely not butter. When the stew is thickened to the point where it doesn’t run off your spoon, it is cooked. You can add pre boiled meats, fish, or tofu to the stew, if you are vegan. Your options with the stew are to (a) When the beans are almost cooked to your desired level of softeness, add it to the stew, do not drain the water. Cook some more for stew and beans to marry well or (b) spoon the stew onto the beans, loosen your belts, and chow down!
Hi I once was a visitor to Texas where I stayed with some Nigerians .Their meal on a Thursday was honey bean which they taught me to cook .I learn how to cook this menu and love the taste it fills me up I don’t gain much weight and I love this bean with a passion .Right now I am in Miami I want some but don’t know where to find the store where it is .Please can some one direct me to a store nearby .thank you .
You may want to order it from La Fruteria located at 8909 S Commercial Avenue, Chicago, IL 60617. Please call them and inquire. Their telephone number is 773-768-4969. Good luck and Happy New Year.
I’ve lived in Texas all my life, so maybe I haven’t had the real deal, but Nigerian cuisine doesn’t actually have a ‘sweet’ outside of fruit imo. Oloyin beans are what my family likes to call ‘Nigerian sweet,’ i.e. not bitter, not savory, not plain lol. Without (ripe) plantain, it’s not what I would think any American would recognize as sweet. I’ve had it without plantain, and it was nice but not noticeably sweet to my American palate.
This might explain why your beans were not sweet:
Interesting read. Am presently in Nigeria and I must confess it is hard enough to buy ‘oloyin’ beans without being sold the dud. You have to be quite experienced to be able to tell that what you are buying is the real deal and not substitutes. My dad told me some days ago that some people do eat the raw beans just to be sure it is the authentic. I have not tried it and I do not know what to expect when you do that.
To also add, it is not a usual practice to add sugar to food in Nigeria.
Very Interesting indeed. my father grew this beans and i have eaten them all my life. a real Yoruba man eats no other beans than “Ewa Oloyin” . and Yes! identifying the real thing is like knowing my own fingers. what the writer got was probably what we call ” ewa Sokoto” or simply “Sokoto” it looks exactly like Oloyin but taste differently.
I presently Buy in Nigeria send to a couple of friends in UK and Canada.
The problem is that you soaked it and didn’t use palm oil
there are 2 types of honey beans. the sweet one is the smaller of the two. the second type, though also called honey beans, is not sweet. the one in the picture def looks like the second type. it took me a lot of going back and forth from the local market to figure this out.
You cook honey beans with a lot of fresh onions. And you salt and season the beans while they’re boiling, a few bay leaves and dried mixed herbs with A few cubes of maggi seasoning and salt to taste. When they’re cooked you don’t drain the liquid, the beans will be mushy in the liquid. That’s why it didn’t taste the same. And palm oil bought from West African shops are environmentally friendly, palm oil is native to West Africa and its grown sustainably in most areas there. Look for West African branded palm oil.
That’s why your beans didn’t taste the same. Could have looked on Nigerian food blogs to see what was missed out. The beans you photographed are honey beans so they’re correct and no one in their right minds will add sugar to cooked ẹwà oloyin, we don’t eat sugar like that in west African
They look just like our sweet beans! Use a tried and true recipe, using coconut oil, and bell pepper, bouillon, garlic, hot scotch bonnet (or similar) pepper, and blend those up to stew with the cooked beans.
Hi, came across this blog late but just want to add a few tips.
Now Oreofe is quite on point here. I also checked out d link posted and was disappointed to see honey.
Well if u know ur herbs n spices, u don’t need any sweeteners PERIOD. I’ve been cooking for over 30 years for over 10 pple everyday so I can say that the quality of raw food stuffs changed slightly perhaps maybe to become healthier and also for more yields. So also is the quality of the seasoning.
Nonetheless, to cook a delicious beans (whatever d kind from Nigeria with exception to devil beans) u don’t need any sweetener and are not supposed to throw away the bean water. Now for particular reasons like constipation , gassing etc pple do this things but u can change cooking methods. For instance pple add all ingredients into d beans after initial boiling that gets it softened and stir until it’s done. Personally I find that this method worries my stomach but not my wife. By first frying the tomatoes/peppers/onions paste in d oil till we’ll done b4 adding to d already cooked/soften beans, eliminates this for me.
With d 2nd method u can sweeten d beans as well. Before adding d Paste to d oil, try frying some chopped onions in d oil first till it dries but not charred, then add d tomato paste and see what d taste will be like.
Other recommendations are to try different onions cause some r sweeter than d others. Ball peppers r other sources of sweetness and also for added health benefits- antioxidants. Some one already mentioned garlic, ginger, turmeric- whilst r not needed for great tasting beans, they r very healthy additions.
For d amount of water u need, try bringing d beans to ur required softness with d level of water say just below beans. The best way is to start initially with double d level of beans and check for softness b4 adding more with ur final target level Of water just below d beans. If u do fry the pepper paste separately, then when u combine both it shouldn’t take much time to get d beans ready
Finally some salt and seasoning- the Nigerian maggi/knorr provides remarkable results. U can try different options but remember to add very little and increase to ur liking after tasting. U shouldn’t need more than a cube say to for a family of 4-5 but it should b delicately balanced with salt to ur taste.
One more thing, admittedly d honey beans taste sweeter, any of d Nigerian beans if cooked right especially frying some chopped onions and then d pepper paste in d oil, and balancing d seasoning/ salt, will turn out right. The honey beans being sweet just requires less effort because it is sweet.
IMO, u don’t need honey, dates, sugar etc. Hope this helps.