Tiger's Eye Beans

Tiger’s Eye

by | Jan 12, 2022

There are many pretty beans in the world, the speckled varieties in the “cranberry” group such as Mediterranean borlotti types come to mind. But how many beans are really “beautiful”, visual candy to the eye. Tiger’s Eye bean, also known in Spanish as Ojo de Tigre or “Pepo de Zapallo” fits that category. I could stare at a bowl of its seeds for many minutes and enjoy the feeling of them running through my hands. Best of all this bean is delicious and an easy cooker. I received my Tiger’s Eye seed from my colleague Gavin Hanke. He and his wife Jeannette Bedard have grown this bean in their Victoria back yard for years.

Tiger's Eye Beans
Figure 1. A dish of dried Tiger’s Eye bean produced by a 1 m row of plants grown on the Saanich Peninsula, Vancouver Island, BC in 2021. Photo by Richard Hebda, January 8, 2022.

Tiger’s Eye is a leggy bush bean. In my garden the typical plant grows to about 60 cm tall and then forms a short vine about 85 cm (34”) long (range 55-100 cm, 22-40”) when mature. The typical white to pale lilac flowers develop into straight green pods which mature to a pale tan or straw beige colour. Pod length averages 12 cm (about 5 “) and varies from 10-14 cm (4-5.5”).  There are 3-4 seeds per pod often with one empty spot. Seeds are large and elongate usually 1.5 to nearly 2 cm (0.6-0.8”) long. Mature seeds are amber to tan coloured with long dark red-brown or magenta markings (Figure 1). In some pods all the seeds are almost completely reddish brown and speckled with tiny yellow or white spots (Figure 2). The name Tiger’s Eye is said to reflect the resemblance of the seed to striping on a tiger or the colour of a tiger’s eye.

Tiger’s Eye bean seed showing the pale amber skin with reddish brown “tiger eye” markings.
Figure 2. Tiger’s Eye bean seed showing the pale amber skin with reddish brown “tiger eye” markings. Several examples of the uncommon reddish brown seed type are also visible. Photo by Richard Hebda, January 8,2022.

In 2021 I planted a short row of Tiger’s Eye beans (7.5 cm apart=3”)  in a small, raised bed along with several other varieties. The rows of bean plants were spaced closely to suppress weeds. I sowed on May 5th, then covered the bed lightly with a 6 mil polyethylene sheet. The first seedlings began to emerge on May 11th and by May 14th most seeds were up. I hand watered about once a week. Flowers appeared by late June to early July. I harvested at one go on August 20 (107 days). Most pods were dry though some plants remained green and leafy. A few internet sources suggest harvesting in several passes, but I pulled the plants and let them dry for a couple of days before picking off all the pods and putting them in a large paper bag. By this time, the pods were firm and dry. I extracted the dry beans by hand in early December. The harvesting style depends on whether you are shelling them for immediate eating or drying them to store (my purpose). My short row (1.1 m) yielded .2 kg of dry beans (=.18 kg/m).

The cooking quality and taste of these beans keeps folks growing and eating them. They can be prepared as green beans, shelled beans or stored and cooked dry. Cooks love these beans because of their thin tender skins that nearly disappear upon preparation. The result is a creamy and smooth texture ideally suited for soups, refried beans, chili, and other bean dishes. The beans tend to fall apart when ready. In Ecuador these types of beans are often prepared in “menestras de porotos” a type of bean stew (Figure 3, see web address for recipes in the caption).

Ecuadorian bean stew with rice.
Figure 3. An Ecuadorian bean “menestra” or stew served with rice. Source https://www.laylita.com/recipes/menestra-de-porotos-or-bean-stew/. This is Layla Pujol’s website and includes comprehensive instruction for preparing a “menestra de porotos” and serving suggestions.

Gavin and Jeannette use the bean as follows:

“We love the look of the Tiger Eye – it is a treat to harvest each autumn. A bowl of dried Tiger Eye beans is like an art installation in the kitchen. They are productive, they cook up well, and I use them in a variety of meals from Chilli to Lasagna, pasta salads, in pasta sauces. We dry beans each autumn and then in winter, reconstitute beans in a crockpot, and freeze them in meal-sized portions.  A series of frozen tubs of beans means that we have just the right amount for a meal”

The best I can determine is that Tiger’s Eye originates from either Argentina or Chile, some sources say probably Chile, so it is one of the Andean bean types. The Chilean plant food biodiversity web site http://www.biodiversidadalimentaria.cl/poroto/#chiquillano has an informative entry on a bean called “Chiquillano” which appears to be a pole version of Tiger’s Eye. In Chile beans are called “porotos”.  The name “Chiquillano” refers to a group of indigenous people associated with growing this bean variety.

If you are looking for a beautiful bean to grow, consider Tiger’s Eye. It is productive, tasty and above all beautiful to look at.

Special thanks to Gavin Hanke and Jeannette Bedard who gave me the seeds of this variety and for sharing their cooking tips. Thanks also to Jennifer Rodriguez who searched out the South American origins and names of Tiger’s Eye and made me aware of the Ecuadorian bean stew “menestra”.