Last weekend I got an unexpected lesson in food science when Puja and I went for lunch at her parents house.
Sometimes I feel like a freak because I not only read ingredient lists on food packaging, but I make an effort to understand what the more mysterious products are and why they are in there. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but when Puja’s mom served us a “green bean shaak” and asked me if I knew what guar gum was, I could confidently say yes. A vivid picture of the white powder popped in my head with no effort.
Then she explained that the “green beans” we were about to eat were called “guar beans” or more correctly “gawar beans.” Gawar means cow food in Hindi as it used to be so cheap and common that it was most often used as cattle feed.
80% of the world’s guar comes from India. Today there are so many uses for guar gum that it is no longer used for domestic cow feed, but is exported as a cash crop. It is used frequently as a thickener, stabilizer, emulsifier, anti-staler, or as fat-substitute in food, or in some similar roles in non-food industrial applications.
In fact, the controversial oil-extraction method of fracking has pushed guar prices through the roof. Fracking companies are currently researching efficient ways to grow the guar plant domestically to push the price back down to affordable levels.
I love to learn about the interplay between various seemingly unrelated fields. Here I am writing an article about Indian green beans and next thing I know, I’m talking about fracking!
Guar As Food
“Indian green beans” are a pretty good description of guar beans. They remind me most immediately of french style green beans (baby green beans), because they are kind of flat and stringy. So if you picture french green beans, you know where the seeds are. Guar gum is made from the gel that is formed between the seeds and the outer pod. Guar Shaak is made with all of the bean, the green part and the seed. In order for the proteins in the bean to be digestible, the guar is first toasted, then you can cook with it.
The beans are slightly bitter, but not in an overpowering sort of way. Bitterness is an important element in the Ayurvedic Diet which seeks to balance all flavors.