French beans are thought to have originated from Central and South America where they were grown as an indigenous crop for at least the past 5,000 years. Spanish and Portuguese explorers introduced the legume to Europe and Africa, and by the nineteenth century the slim pods became common in France as haricot verts, hence being referred to as “French” beans.
The slender, less stringy, delicate bean with tiny seeds earned its status as a sophisticated side to entrées in French haute cuisine by the twentieth century. Today, French beans are a common alternative to green beans or other legumes, and are grown around the world including India and Africa where they are a staple.
Types & Varieties
French beans, Phaseolus vulgaris, come in two types: climbing pole beans and bush beans (also called snap beans, and formerly known as ‘string beans’ due to their fibrous strings, which are nearly nonexistent now due to selective breeding). Within these, varieties include green, cream, yellow, flecked, and purple French beans.
Unlike runner beans, this legume only produces pods once and must be replanted. The primary difference between French beans and other green beans is the narrow pod and less string. For more information on snap and lima beans, please see our separate profile.
French beans should be planted in late May or early June after the risk of frost. More delicate than standard green beans, French beans are harvested manually rather than mechanically. Pods should be harvested before seeds bulge, strands become tough, or color begins to wane.
Delayed cooling after harvest will contribute to quality and weight loss, as well as shorter shelf life.
Pests & Diseases
Common pests include slugs and snails that feed on seedlings. Green and black aphids may appear in early summer and their honeydew secretions can create mold, though it may not damage plants enough to affect harvest. Other threats include anthracnose, mosaic, root rot, rust, blight and leaf spot.
Storage & Packaging
Beans should be stored at 37°F to 45°F and 95% relative humidity and should maintain quality for 7 to 10 days. French beans are sensitive to ethylene exposure, which can cause pods to yellow. Chilling opens the door to various fungi and decay, especially with damaged or broken beans.
References: Cornell University, North Carolina University Cooperative Extension, Royal Horticultural Society, UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, University of Illinois Extension, USDA.