Mr Organic: making beans the star of the show

Beans have long played second fiddle to meat and fish, often eaten as a side or confined to beans on toast,  but Mr Organic has set out to prove they are much more versatile. We take a look at why beans should be the main event.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

It’s fair to say that beans haven’t always been the star of the culinary show. Often relegated to a side dish or used to bulk out a meaty stew, they are limited to supporting roles, their potential overlooked. But that’s fast changing. Cooks are beginning to realise that not only are beans relatively affordable – an increasingly important factor in these turbulent times – but they also deliver in the health stakes, providing a rich source of fibre, vitamins and protein.

The wider shift in our diets means it's the perfect time for beans to shine. Whether it's adopting a plant-based diet, moving towards flexitarianism or simply giving greater thought to the environmental impact of our choices, many of us are reconsidering our diets in some way. A hearty, filling alternative to meat that isn't an imitation product, beans are fast being elevated to the mainstream, whether it's in burgers, rich chillis or nourishing soups. 

And let’s not forget their versatility – from cannellini to butter and haricot to borlotti, beans are essential to countless dishes made all over the world (there are said to be over 400 varieties grown around the globe, the majority of which are eaten as part of local diets), with recipes to suit every taste, budget, and occasion. In Mexico, families tuck into a bowl of frijoles de la olla stew; in Japan, sweet red bean paste fills pastries and desserts, and in Ghana, black beans are turned into crispy fritters.

Mr Organic knows this well – the natural food brand is dedicated to encouraging people to fall back in love with the power of beans. Founded by third generation tomato farmer Valerio Simonetti in 2009, Mr Organic takes beans seriously. Its range – including twenty different types of legume – is produced and its recipes developed at its organic farm in Pontinia, south of Rome, where Valerio first started working for his father aged just fourteen.

Today, Mr Organic has grown into a thriving business, which produces pasta, Italian tomatoes, oils, rice and much more – including, of course, beans and pulses. There’s red kidney, cannellini, borlotti, black, butter and haricot beans amongst others, as well as flavoured varieties, such as Greek-style butter beans, which are coated in a rich tomato sauce with delicate Mediterranean herbs. Despite its growth, Mr Organic’s focus on both sustainability and quality remains the same – in fact, its resident bean expert Giovanni, affectionately dubbed Mr Bean, assesses the beans to make sure they reach Mr Organic’s high standards.

Now a completely vegan business, Mr Organic provides people with natural plant-based options. In recent years the meat alternatives market has exploded, with supermarket shelves now lined with products imitating everything from fried chicken to delicatessen meats. After all, we know more people are opting for a plant-based diet; around 3% of the UK is estimated to be vegan, while sign-ups to Veganuary, which encourages people to go vegan for January, reached a record high in 2022. But Mr Organic says beans are a filling, satisfying and, most importantly, natural way of replacing meat which doesn’t rely on these products.

And while it welcomes anything that encourages people to try a vegan diet, Mr Organic is keen to see more of us embrace the joy of natural produce, appreciate beans all year round and make sustainable, realistic choices that go beyond January. To begin with, that might involve simple swaps, perhaps replacing meat with beans in one or two extra meals a week, for example. As previously mentioned, there’s no denying the health benefits of beans – they are brimming with dietary fibre, protein and vitamins, and there is evidence they can play a part in boosting heart health and reducing blood sugar.

But not all beans are created equal. Sustainability is at the core of Mr Organic, which aims to make it easier for everyone to enjoy the benefits of an organic lifestyle. Over the last decade, Valerio has ensured production at the farm is entirely organic, which not only increases biodiversity, but also reduces the level of carbon dioxide emissions in comparison to conventional farming. It also ensures the beans are free from artificial fertilisers, contain fewer pesticides and boast more antioxidants.

The attention to detail doesn’t end there, though. Bean connoisseur Giovanni has over thirty years of experience in legume production and specialises in analysing the Mr Organic beans. Each batch is examined for size, absence of contamination and humidity, and any defects of the grains are analysed on dried raw material after a rehydration and cooking test. After that, beans are graded as first, second or third rate, with Mr Organic only using first rate beans. Then, the beans are blanched, sorted, sealed and sterilised at the Pontinia factory, a process which helps the beans maintain their nutritional profile, before they begin their journey to supermarkets, farm shops and delicatessens.

Incorporating beans into your recipes is simple – with tinned beans in particular, it only takes a few minutes to turn them into a complete meal which is packed with nutrition. Simmer them in a warming Tuscan soup, sauté them with garlic and tomato, add them into a rich ragu or whip up a butter bean stew with kale, with garlic and parsley toasts on the side.

Ultimately, as we all become more health and planet-conscious, beans strike a reassuringly positive balance. Not only do they do us good, but are an eco-friendly decision, too – and won’t cost the earth the stock up on. There’s so much more to beans than the dishes we are already familiar with, and now is the perfect time for them to take a starring role.

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