Winged Bean: The single species supermarket

By Bhavani Prakash

Many plant species can lay claim to being a ‘single species supermarket’ where several if not all parts of the plant can be used productively for food, fibre and/or fuel. Three that I have grown up with in tropical Asia are the coconut palm, the moringa (drumstick tree), and banana plant which are understandably interwoven into our food culture and tradition.

Winged Bean

As an organic food gardener, it has been a pleasure to discover another ‘single species supermarket’ that delights with its generosity, and demands so little in terms of maintenance by fixing its nitrogen requirements from the atmosphere, and by surviving clayey soils and the alternating tropical heat and torrential downpours. The vegetable I’m referring to is the winged bean or Psophocarpus tetragonolobus.

Winged Bean growing on a fence

It’s amenable to growing in an apartment balcony, as long as there is a railing for support, and a deep and wide pot.  A planter or bed alongside a fence would be ideal. More widely used in Malay cuisine, you may occasionally stumble upon it in the wet markets of Singapore, and more rarely in air-conditioned supermarkets. This article hopefully makes a strong case for reviving this wonder veggie back into urban food gardens of tropical Asia.

A vintage article on the internet (considering the age of the internet, 1982 can be considered as such) by the New York Times claims, “Winged Bean hailed as a potent weapon against malnutrition”  It says:

Winged Bean root sold in Myanmar market Source: Wikipedia

Among those who study it, the winged bean is known as ”a supermarket on a stalk” because it combines the desirable characteristics of the green bean, garden pea, spinach, mushroom, soybean, bean sprout and potato. Save for the stalk, virtually the entire plant is fit for human consumption – from flowers and leaves to tuberous roots and seeds.

Theodore Hymowitz, an agronomist at the University of Illinois who is a member of the Academy’s panel on the winged bean, said, ”it’s like an ice cream cone – you eat the whole thing.”


Wikipedia traces the origin of the winged bean. “Also known as the Goa bean and Asparagus pea, Four-angled bean and Winged pea, is a tropical legume plant native to New Guinea. It grows abundantly in hot, humid equatorial countries, from the Philippines and Indonesia to India,Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka.”

Nutritive value: 

According to Appropedia,

The leaves have a relatively low Iysine content but an uncommonly high content of tryptophan, a nutritionally essential amino acid. Even a small amount of winged bean leaves can thus greatly improve tryptophan-deficient diets- for example, those based on corn.

Winged Bean leaves

Adding cooked winged bean leaves to the diets of weaned infants and preschool children should be beneficial because of the favorable content of minerals, and especially of the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene. The amount of vitamin A equivalent in winged bean leaves (up to 20,000 international units per 100 g of edible portion) ranks among the highest ever recorded in green leaves of tropical plants.” This is important; in some developing nations many children go blind because of vitamin A deficiency.

Winged Bean Flower

A variety of greens including winged beans should provide malnourished children with Vitamin A, rather than exotic solutions such as the genetically modified Golden Rice which has Vitamin A injected into the DNA of the rice. As famed pro-organic farming activist Vandana Shiva points out, “Golden rice genetically engineered to increase Vitamin A produces 70 times less Vitamin A than available alternatives such as coriander leaves and curry leaves.”

Recipe Ideas:

Here are some dishes I’ve tried out with organically grown winged bean, straight out of my balcony garden. I cook out of intuition mostly, so would be hard-pressed to give exact proportions for the ingredients. Let the list give some cues at least as to what have been used.

1. Winged Bean Curry

Winged Bean Curry

Toss into cooking oil some sliced red chilli and garlic, and then once they are sauted, add chopped winged bean, some salt, and a dash of soy sauce. Stir fry very quickly. Optional: turmeric while frying and a touch of lime juice at the end.


2. Curry with tender Winged Bean leaves

Curry with tender leaves of Winged Bean

Steam tender winged bean leaves for a few minutes, then add sauted cumin seeds, onions, chopped ginger, garlic, green chillis, salt and pepper to taste. Use coconut shavings as dressing. Optional: turmeric on the greens to retain colour.


3. Salad with Winged Bean flower 

Salad with Winged Bean flower

You can use winged bean flower in any salad of your choice. Here I’ve used purple cabbage, cucumber, red peppers, cherry tomatoes and alfafa sprouts, with winged bean flower as a pretty contrast to the array of colours. The flower is gently sweet to taste. My favourite salad dressing: olive oil, salt, pepper, flax seed powder and nutritional yeast, with a capful of organic apple cider vinegar for the tanginess.

4. Paratha/flat bread with tender leaves

Winged Bean tender leaves in Paratha/Flat Bread

Make a dough for paratha/flat bread with a bit of sesame oil and water, and knead in chopped winged bean leaves, and any flavourings of your choice. I normally use cumin and coriander powder, chilli powder, turmeric, carrom seeds (Ajwain), and salt to taste. Then roll out the paratha or flat bread and cook on a pan over the fire with or without a little oil.


Do let us know if you have grown or cooked winged bean, and if there’s an insight or recipe that you can share with us. We’d love to hear from you!



Bhavani Prakash is the Founder of Eco WALK the Talk .com.  She is a sustainability speaker, trainer and writer can be contacted at bhavani[at]ecowalkthetalk.com. Follow Eco WALK the Talk on Facebook, TwitterLinked IN and YouTube



Further links you may be interested in:

YouTube: Forgotten Foods: Cooking with Amaranth

EWTT: Reading Food Labels: Food Additives 


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Posted by on May 1 2012. Filed under Food. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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