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A variety of dry beans, including pinto, great northern, black, and kidney Beans are one of the staple crops that feed people all over the world. This photo shows the diversity of dry beans, including pinto, great northern, black and kidney. The Agricultural Research Service works to develop beans with faster cooking times, disease resistance and other various traits.

Citizen Scientists Needed for Beans and Pulses-Cooking Project

ByJan Suszkiw
February 6, 2020

Karen Cichy, a plant geneticist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in East Lansing, Michigan, needs your help.

Over the past several years, she's worked to breed dry bean varieties that take less time to cook. Kidney, pinto and other dry beans contain protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients critical to human health. However, Cichy doesn't want consumers to skip preparing the beans as part of a healthy meal plan because of the inconvenience of a long cooking time or other considerations—such as using extra wood, charcoal or other fuel sources that households in some regions of the world may find hard to obtain. 

This is where you come in. Cichy is seeking citizen scientists who can provide valuable data and insight she can use to breed faster-cooking varieties of dry beans and other pulse crops, such as lentil and chickpea.

Toward that end, she has teamed with the Global Pulse Confederation (GPC), which has created a dedicated website where citizen scientists can enter information about which type of pulses they chose to cook, what cooking methods they used (e.g., boiling and pressure cooking), how long it took and how often they eat pulses.

The project runs Feb. 1 through Feb. 29, after which Cichy will download all the data entered onto the GPC server and start analyzing them. 

"I hope to gain an understanding of real-world cooking methods and actual cooking times for beans and other pulses," explained Cichy at the ARS Sugarbeet and Bean Research Unit, which is located on the Michigan State University campus. "I'm developing fast-cooking beans through plant breeding, and the information from this study will help inform my bean variety selection traits and methods."

Cichy said the GPC site will ask participants whether they soaked the beans before cooking and where the participants are located (city, state, province or country only). Geographic location is important because elevation and climate can strongly influence cooking time.

Previously, Cichy had done all the cooking experiments in the laboratory, using edible dry bean seed specimens shipped from locations in the United States, Caribbean and Africa. The data provided by citizen scientists will significantly expand her efforts and findings. 

Cichy emphasized that the project is open to everyone worldwide, whether they're regular pulse consumers or not. Citizen scientists who would like to participate but don't know how to cook pulses can click on a link for standard cooking instructions on the GPC survey page. 

Once her analysis is complete, Cichy will publish her findings in a scientific journal and summarize them on the GPC site for participants to view and learn how their valuable feedback was used.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.