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Read: to learn more about this research in Agricultural Research magazine.

Heart-Healthy: Red Wine and Beans

By Don Comis
September 11, 2000

WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2000--Beans could claim a place among red wine and colorful fruits, berries and vegetables as nutritious cancer- and heart disease-fighting foods, U.S. Department of Agriculture research has shown.

“The discovery that beans have some of the same 'anti-aging' agents or antioxidants as those other foods is inspiring scientists to find ways to boost the already high nutritional value of beans and could lead to more iron and other vitamins and minerals, as well as more antioxidants, in beans,” said Floyd Horn, administrator of the Agricultural Research Service, the USDA agency where the research was conducted. “This should help farmers sell more beans.”

George L. Hosfield, an ARS food quality geneticist and plant breeder on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., discovered the antioxidant potential in certain flavonoids found in the bean coat. Flavonoids are the colored pigments that may be the protective factor in red wine and other foods.

Hosfield made the discovery while studying bean color, a quality factor for which industry has exacting standards. He found eight flavonoids in the bean coat, six of which were particularly strong antioxidants. He also found a link between one of the flavonoids, a color gene, and resistance to bean mosaic disease, which is a major threat to bean farmers. This is the first time such a link has been made. Hosfield and his colleagues are searching for more links and are trying to identify and learn the function of all the genes for canning quality, disease resistance and nutrition.

Beans come in a mosaic of colors that can rival those of fruits and vegetables. Their varietal names often reflect their attractive hues--like Jaguar. It’s one of the latest black beans to emerge from the Michigan State University-USDA breeding team, which includes Hosfield and MSU breeder Jim Kelly.

Bean colors range from the plain white great Northern through the cranberry bean’s cream with red streaks and flecks to the maroon-red adzuki--and all the way to the totally black bean.

“Hosfield has been upgrading bean quality, including color and canning quality, for the past 24 years, giving support to private and public breeders throughout the United States and Canada,” Horn said. “Now he and his university colleagues have begun to break the genetic codes for flavonoids. His support is crucial to the industry’s success and results in giving consumers attractive additions to their tasty and disease-fighting menus.”

To learn more about this research, see “Bringing You Better Beans” in the September issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Hosfield's research is part of a nationwide program of horticultural research within ARS. For more information on ARS research programs that affect horticulture, see the list of "Crop Production, Product Value and Safety" national programs at

Scientific contact: George L. Hosfield, ARS Sugarbeet and Bean Research Unit, East Lansing, Mich., phone (517) 355-0110, fax (517) 337-6782,