For many people in the Pacific Northwest the word "beans"
brings to mind coffee, but a new vendor at the Hollywood Farmers Market, The
Better Bean Company, is aiming to have us associate beans with "fine cuisine". Packaged
and sold in a format similar to fresh salsa or hummus, the Better Bean sells three
varieties of freshly prepared beans: two types of skillet or refried beans and
Caribbean-style black beans.
Keith Kullberg, founder of the company, recognized the
gaping hole in the food industry for good beans that didn't taste like
The Better Bean Company samples their product at the market.
came out of the can or take hours to prepare from scratch. Wanting a healthful
alternative to the lard-fried Mexican beans, Keith started making beans as a
vegetarian college student thirty years ago.
He discovered that by sautéing beans in safflower oil, it
caramelized the flavor and tasted twice as good. Since that time he says he's
been performing a public service by making tasty beans for friends. Now he
wants more people to understand the nutritional and delicious benefit of beans,
while also doing it in a way that supports our local food system.
During the almost year and a half of preparation before the
first container of Better Beans was produced, Keith and his staff worked
diligently to not only perfect their recipes, but also to find ingredients
grown regionally. They found black beans in the Oregon Snake
Valley, red beans from Idaho Magic
Valley, and borlotti
(also known as cranberry) beans
grown in the Washington Central Valley. Through his research, he discovered
that these regions are ideal for bean growing because they have a long warm
season to encourage maturation and dry weather in the fall which allows beans
to dry in the pod. The cold press safflower oil used in recipes comes from
and fresh local produce, like onions, from the Northwest is used whenever
Keith emphasizes that being at the Hollywood Farmers Market
and in Portland in general is "nirvana" in giving local food companies a chance
to sell their products. "There are dedicated foodies who keep coming week after
week. [Farmers' markets] allow for farmers and local food vendors to earn a
living making [their] product."
While the Better Bean is a young company, it takes
inspiration from centuries and sometimes thousands of years old Native and Central
American civilizations in which beans were vital to the cultural and
nutritional life. "Many Americans consider beans to be pedestrian food, but we
want to educate people what a gourmet and excellent food they are," explains
Keith. And now that the Better Bean Co. has done all the work to prepare them,
he insists you can have a gourmet meal in five minutes with recipes like "PDX
Tacos" and others which can be found on their website, www.betterbeanco.com
. "People come up
to us at the market to tell us they don't like beans, but they like ours,"