The Science of Rice and Beans

Photo credit: Ify’s Kitchen

There are many food combinations that have become part of our Food culture. Some of them are Rice and Beans, Beans and Plantain, Pap (ogi) and Moinmoin or Akara, Garri and Groundnuts, Starch and Banga, Rice and Tomato-pepper stew, Banana and Groundnuts, Abula (Amala with Ewedu, Gbegiri and Stew) and so on.


Rice and beans, I’m certain, would bring back many memories to a lot of people. There is a way mothers and local food joints would combine the rice and beans such that the proportion of the two looked like a ratio 10:1 and accompanying it was the usual fried tomato-pepper stew and tiny pieces of fried beef or fish.

Did you know that Rice and Beans as a staple is a global food culture? While it is popular in Nigeria, it is also eaten in many African countries and even continents outside of Africa. In Spanish, it is referred to as Arroz y habas, Arroz con frijoles or Arroz con habichuelas. In Portuguese, Arroz e feijao is what it’s called. To the Haitians, diri ak pwa. Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Caribbean, Korea and US are other countries with their own versions of Rice and Beans.


Scientifically, rice and beans also complement each other especially in terms of the protein content. As protein quality and standards go, protein foods that have all the essential amino acids are complete proteins and you would find them in many animal foods like egg, fish, beef, and soybeans. These have a higher quality of protein that some other protein foods especially those from plants that naturally do not have all the essential amino acids. So most of these foods that have incomplete proteins like beans are usually used to complement other foods that have the amino acid that is deficient in them.


Rice is generally low in protein but it contains methionine which is an essential amino acid that is limiting in beans (cowpea). Beans, on the other hand, contain lysine, the limiting amino acid in rice. So, when you eat rice and beans, the protein quality is greatly improved and made complete. It then makes it okay if you decide not to add any beef, fish, chicken, or snail.


As a meal, rice and beans is basically cereal and legume. Accompanied by tomato-pepper stew, it is a nourishing meal that also has ample amount of starch for energy, Fibre, vitamins, minerals like potassium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, and iron.  The type of rice (white or brown) would determine how much more vitamins and minerals you get from rice. To further increase the nutritional value, leafy vegetables can be added and also fresh fruits can make up the rest of the vitamins that you would not get in rice and beans.


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  1. I had no idea that protein content increases when eating rice and beans. Thanks as always, Yeside. Out of curiosity: do you know if the carb content in rice decreases when combined with beans? This will be good info for those that have to watch their sugar intake/level.

    • The carbs in rice does not decrease when combined with beans however, it is possible that the glycemic index and glycemic load of rice and beans is lower than just eating rice. Glycemic index and glycemic load are indications of how quickly carbs raise the blood sugar and how much glucose it would deliver. White rice raises the blood sugar quickly and delivers lots of glucose when it does while beans is a lot slower and delivers less glucose. Its is best for the food you eat to deliver it slowly whether one has to watch sugar intake or not. For fruits like watermelon that would deliver glucose quickly, the carbs in it is so small that the glycemic load is small.


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