Green beans are popular all the way around the world. They’re easy to grow, tasty, and highly nutritious so it makes sense. Their wide-ranging popularity, however, has led to a long list of pseudonyms.
If you’ve come across a recipe or type of bean in the grocery store that has left you wondering about what makes a green bean different from a string bean, wonder no more.
So what’s the difference between green beans and string beans? Green beans and string beans are often one and the same. String beans are a type of green bean, although not all green beans are string beans. Several varieties of green bean go by different common names, as well, but all are ultimately from the same plant family.
This article is going to look at many other names for green beans and why they have so many names so that you can get to know more about this common vegetable and its many interesting qualities.
Other Names for Green Beans and Why
Shakespeare may think a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, but people around the globe have very strong feelings about what to name their green beans.
If you’re exploring new recipes and you come across any of the following types of green-colored bean, know that you can easily pick up fresh, regular green beans from your favorite supermarket.
Understanding what green beans are called, and why, can help you understand a lot about the qualities of the bean, so we’re going to explore a variety of names and where they come from.
Green Bean Scientific Name
String beans and snap beans are green beans scientifically known as Phaseolus vulgaris. This bean family has many common names, including common bean, French bean, string beans, snap beans or snaps, haricot vert in French, and Baguio beans in Phillippine English.
Phaseolus vulgaris is the scientific term for the green bean plant, but some strains have been bred to have slightly different qualities, even though they’re the same plant. This is partially why there are so many names for the same common green bean.
When plants come up in conversation, you’ll often hear them described in terms of families.
Imagine green beans in this way. You may have two children from the same parents, but one is taller than the other, or one has brown hair while the other has blonde hair.
Some green beans, though they come from the same plant, are longer, thinner, flatter, or just a little bit differently colored than other green beans. They’re not different enough to be neighbors or even cousins, but they’re not exactly the same either.
What Are Green Beans?
When you eat a green bean whole, including the outer pod, they’re actually considered unripe fruit. Even though most people typically eat green beans as vegetables, they grow from the flower of the plant and carry seeds inside them.
Most beans are grown specifically so their seeds can be harvested, which we know more commonly as dried beans (or just ‘beans’) in their many different varieties.
The distinguishing characteristic of green beans is that they are grown specifically to be enjoyed with their outer pod before the seed is fully mature.
There are more than 130 varieties of green beans that are grown to be eaten in this green, unmatured state.
Green Snap Beans
As mentioned, snap beans and many other strains of beans are from the plant Phaseolus vulgaris. To be called a ‘green bean’, however, it must be visually green, regardless of its classification.
Green snap beans are very common, however, there are beans of this plant type that grow purple, red, or even streaked with color. Even though they’re the same plant, they’re simply called snap beans without the ‘green’ distinguishment.
Green String Beans
Historically, green beans had tough, fibrous strings running lengthwise down the pod of the bean, similar to what you may be used to with snap peas. This is where they developed the name string beans.
In the very late 1800s, the first stringless green bean was cultivated and, since then, they’ve almost entirely replaced the stringed varieties.
It is possible to find heirloom seeds that will grow beans with strings, but for the most part, the term is outdated and nothing more than a nickname.
There are also beans called purple string beans, which are simply purple beans of the same variety as green string beans. As before, the “string” designation is outdated since the strings have been bred out of them.
The purple also disappears when they’re cooked, which makes them almost indistinguishable from green string beans. They’re very pretty though and stand out well in a salad or other type of raw dish.
What Are Wax Beans?
Wax beans are the same type of bean as a snap or string bean, Phaseolus vulgaris. However, they aren’t called green beans for the obvious reason that they’re yellow and not green.
If the name is throwing you off, don’t be scared of them. Wax beans are not waxy at all, but rather they’re crisp, snappy, and just a little sweet.
The origin of the name is up for debate but a wise theory suggests they’re named for the color, which is similar to beeswax. Aside from their color and the novelty of eating a vegetable that isn’t green, they can be substituted for green beans and vice versa.
What are French Green Beans?
French green beans, French beans or Haricot vert are all names for the same Phaseolus vulguaris green bean, but of a slightly different type.
The most common green beans are harvested when they’re around 5–7” in length and are called Blue Lake or Kentucky Wonder. French beans, or haricot vert, are bred to be slightly smaller, only around 4” and thinner around.
The smaller the bean the quicker they are to cook. They’ll also be more tender yet still crispy and the seeds inside will be almost undetectable.
French beans are generally thought to be more haute cuisine than “common” green beans, so they’re often priced a little bit higher, even though they’re basically the same thing, just a little bit smaller.
Baguio bean is the Phillippine name for green beans of the Phaseolus vulgaris variety.
In the Phillippines is important to distinguish between green beans and yardlong beans, which are also eaten in their edible green pod but come from a different family, Vigna unguiculata.
Yardlong beans are also known as asparagus beans, Chinese long beans, bodi, long-podded cowpea, and a variety of other names. They are cultivated for use much like the common green bean, but this 1–2.5’ long bean dwarfs the common green bean.
Yardlong beans are grown in South and Southeast Asia as well as China.
If they’re harvested when they’re still green on the vine, they’re eaten in many of the same types of dishes and preparations as common green beans.
Because they grow so large, however, if they aren’t harvested early enough, they’re seeds are equally popular as dried beans.
What Are Italian Green Beans?
Italian green beans, also called flat green beans or Romano beans, are also from a different family than the common green bean plant, Phaseolus coccineus.
Phaseolus coccineus are runner beans, which are generally eaten inside the pod just like common green beans but they may also be grown for purely ornamental purposes.
The beans from this plant are characteristically wider and flatter than the rounded shape of a common green bean. They can grow quite large and, the older they are when they’re harvested, the larger the beans inside the pod will be, altering the texture quite a bit.
Flat green beans can take a bit longer to cook than green snap beans, but they’re thought to have more flavor as well, which is enhanced by alternative cooking techniques such as braising or roasting.
Italian green beans are flat and quite crispy. You can find both green and yellow varieties at specialty or Farmers’ markets. They’re sweeter and juicier than most commonly purchased green beans. They resemble peas, especially with their flat shape, and are often eaten raw.
To add a bit more confusion to the matter, there is a dried bean called a Romano bean as well, and that bean is from the common green bean family, Phaseolus vulgaris.
Bush Beans Vs Pole Beans
Green beans are a very popular vegetable to grow in home gardens, even for beginners, because they’re fairly hearty and don’t require a lot of nurturing to grow successfully.
If this is a new hobby for you, before you get started, it’s useful to understand the difference between pole beans and bush beans.
The one important maintenance project you’ll have to be prepared for is supporting your green beans as they grow, and that is where bush beans and pole beans differ.
What Are Bush Beans?
All beans need a little bit of support for their vines to latch onto, but bush beans, as their name implies, stay closer to the ground and resemble a bush more than a vine.
They will grow up to 2 feet tall though, so they will still need some light support to steady their branches as they fill with delicious beans.
Bush beans tend to grow a lot of beans all at once, providing you with a limited harvest season of only 3 weeks to 1 month.
What Are Pole Beans?
Pole beans, on the other hand, like a lot of support and work well with a system of poles and trellises for them to grow up and around.
Pole beans will grow more steadily than their bushy relatives, doubling the harvest season up to 2 months. Spreading the season out like this takes less of a toll on individual branches, but also gives the plant a lot more time to grow.
There are trellises and teepees designed especially for growing pole beans, and since they can grow up to 6 feet tall, you want to be sure you have the space and system in place before you commit to the plant.
Types of Green Beans [Chart]
|Common Name||Scientific Name||Distinguishing Characteristic(s)|
|Green bean||Phaseolus vulgaris||Beans that are green and cultivated to be eaten with the pod|
|String bean||Phaseolus vulgaris||Historically, green beans with a thick string running lengthwise down the pod – outdated, the string has been bred out of the bean|
|Snap bean||Phaseolus vulgaris||Any bean of the Phaseolus vulgaris family, including colors other than green|
|Wax bean||Phaseolus vulgaris||Beans of the same family as green beans, but they have yellow pods|
|French bean / Haricot vert||Phaseolus vulgaris||Beans of the same family as green beans that are bred to be shorter, thinner and more delicate|
|Baguio bean||Phaseolus vulgaris||The Phillippine term for a common green bean|
|Yardlong bean||Vigna unguiculata||A type of green bean that grows up to 2’ long but is otherwise very similar to common green beans|
|Italian green bean||Phaseolus coccineus||A type of green bean that is flatter and wider than common green beans|
While we’re reviewing beans, we recommend you check out this video by Vesey’s Seeds if you want even more information on green beans – and other types of beans – that you can grow yourself. Although they’re not all green beans, this video was too good to pass up:
Related Green Bean Questions
Phew! We hope that quick ultimate guide to green beans was helpful. But we wouldn’t want to leave out any other questions you might have, so here are a few more for you to check out.
How Do You Trim Green Beans?
The most daunting task of cooking a huge serving of fresh green beans is cleaning and trimming every single one.
There is a relatively simple process to follow that will help you power through this cleaning chore as quickly as possible:
- Wash your beans in a colander, running them under cool tap water and rubbing each one free of dirt.
- Toss them in the colander a few times to shake as much water off as possible.
- Use a large cutting board and a chef’s knife.
- Grab a small handful of green beans and line up all the tips, as if lining up odd sizes of paper so that they’re aligned at the top.
- Chop the tips, carefully avoiding your fingers and holding on to the bundle tightly.
- If you want to trim the bottom ends as well, once the top is trimmed, repeat the process of aligning your beans but to the bottom end.
- Trim the bottoms and transfer your trimmed beans to a bowl, pot or pan.
- Continue with another small handful of beans, trimming until the entire batch is cleaned and ready to cook.
How Long Should You Boil Green Beans?
It should take about 5 minutes to boil green beans, just be sure to add them to already boiling water. Green beans are best cooked so that they’re tender but still have a little crispness to them.
This al dente texture will not only give you something delightful to chew, but it also protects their nutritional content. Over-boiling can result in many of the vitamins leaching out into the water.
How Do You Cook Green Beans in the Oven?
Oven-roasted green beans develop a very different flavor and texture as compared to steamed or boiled green beans. If you grow your own beans or simply buy them fresh often, it’s great to have a few cooking techniques up your sleeve.
Green beans will take approximately 20 minutes at 400 F to cook al dente in your oven. If you prefer them a little softer, add an extra 5 minutes.
The secret to really great oven-roasted green beans is to first toss them with olive oil and then sprinkle them with some fresh ground salt. If you have fresh herbs like dill, rosemary, or thyme, they are also great additions to roasted green beans.
How Do You Cook Green Beans in Microwave?
Green beans are a fantastic vegetable to steam quickly in the microwave because they don’t tend to go soft or soggy and they also don’t take much to cook.
Clean and trim your green beans as normal and then transfer them to a large microwave-safe bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of water and cover with a lid or a plate that will trap the steam inside the bowl.
Microwave for 1 ½ minutes, carefully remove the lid or plate, and give your green beans a toss. Steam will escape when you uncover your dish, so watch your hands.
There should be plenty of water left because the beans will also release water as they steam but if you’re worried about your beans drying out, you can add another few tablespoons of water.
Cook your green beans for 1 more minute. Again, be careful of the steam but your beans should be cooked. Drain any remaining water, add some butter, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and serve.