The snake bean, also known as the yardlong bean or the asparagus bean, is part of the legume and pea family of flowering plants known as Fabaceae. Snake beans come from the subspecies Sesquipedalis which translates to ‘1.5 feet’ in reference to the size the bean pods can reach.
It is believed the vegetable originated in Southern China or Africa before it spread across South-East Asia and beyond. It is now a popular ingredient in India, the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Caribbean. The snake bean is grown here in Australia across the Northern Territory and in Queensland.
Growth and harvest
Tropical and subtropical climates with humidity and regular rain are best for snake
beans — they should not be planted in areas prone to frost. It’s best to grow snake beans during the warmer months, however the annual plant can be grown at any time of the year.
Snake bean plants are climbers, and it is recommended they are planted alongside
a tall trellis, fence, or shrub. Snake bean seeds should be planted about 1cm deep
in slightly damp, warm soil about 30cm apart. It is important not to water the seeds
until they germinate to avoid rotting, which typically occurs three to five days after
sowing. Seedlings should appear between 10 and 21 days after planting and the
beans can be harvested eight to 10 weeks after sowing.
The beans are ready to be picked when the outline of the seeds are visible from
the outside of the pod. Pods should always be picked before they harden and swell.
Snake beans are white–green in colour, have brown seeds inside, and can reach
30–120cm in length.
Flavour profile and culinary uses
Snake beans are longer and lighter in colour than regular beans but can be used in similar applications. They have a crunchy texture with a nutty flavour akin to
asparagus. Snake beans are commonly used in stir fries and curries to add texture, and are also a popular addition to omelettes and salads.
In Cantonese cuisine, snake beans are staples in classic stir fry dishes with minced proteins alongside garlic, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and fish sauce. In India, snake beans are called phali or chavali and are used in curries, fried rice, stews, sabzi (a
vegetable dish), and rice pilaf.