Friday, April 10, 2009

Parkie Beans (Petai)

Food, food, glorious food… It is petai season here in Sabah, and those beans are amongst my favourite vegetables though not many a western palate appreciates them. In English they are also called ‘bitter beans’, ‘twisted cluster beans’ and ‘stink beans’ – and the latter says a lot about them. It is not so much that they stink when raw, but when they are being cooked there is a definitive methane gas odour in the air. But the most interesting part is when you have digested them. You can immediately tell when somebody has eaten petai from how the washroom is perfumed… Like asparagus, parkie beans contain certain amino acids that give a strong smell to one's urine, an effect that can be noticed up to two days after consumption. And like other beans, their complex carbohydrates can also cause strong-smelling flatulence (this is an understatement, but I don’t want to use gross language here). The effect is so much more interesting when you eat them with a spicy hot sambal, and that’s just how I love them! They can also be consumed raw but they are very bitter.

Botanically speaking stink beans (Parkia speciosa) belong to the family of Fabaceae, the third largest family of flowering plants (soy beans, alfalfa, peanuts etc are part of the same family). Parkie trees are up to 30m tall and produce clusters of long beans that can attain 40cm. The beans contain, when ripe, up to 20 pods with almond shaped, bright green seeds. The beans are leathery and tough and the seeds have to be peeled out with the help of a knife.

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