Cranberry beans can be used to flavor soups, stews and sides of all sorts.

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Next time you are looking for a pretty shelling bean for the pot, try the creamy, slightly nutty cranberry variety. This medium-sized legume gets its name because of the red streaks that decorate the shell. Use it in soups, stews, side dishes or even mixed into a gift-worthy dried chili mix.

Where it’s from: Also called romano or bortotti bean, this variety, like most beans, was first cultivated in South America, specifically in Colombia. Over time, the beans spread across the world and remain popular in Italian, Portuguese and Greek cooking. You can actually find these legumes not just in red and white, but speckled with black, dark brown or magenta. They have a delicate taste and prove sweeter than your average pinto or kidney bean.

When it’s in season: Fresh cranberry beans are harvested in the early fall, around the beginning of September.

What to look for: Pick out the cranberry beans that have full, brightly colored pods. This pretty much ensures that the contents will match the packaging, and give you the best beans.

How to store it: If you buy fresh cranberry beans, you can store the pods in a paper bag in your refrigerator for up to a week. To keep them longer, freeze the legumes in their pods, or shell, and cook them before storing in the freezer. For dried beans, keep in an airtight container (mason jars work well) placed in a cool, dry place like your pantry. They will last this way for about a year.

How to prepare it: Unfortunately, this festive coloring doesn’t last once it’s cooked, but that shouldn’t deter you from playing with them. Chef Chris Jaeckle uses cranberry beans in the seafood salad he sells at his restaurant All’onda in New York. To prepare these legumes, he says, you need to start by soaking them overnight. Then, the next day, you should bring them to a low simmer in salt-free water for about 30 to 40 minutes. If you want to add ingredients to help flavor the beans, Jaeckle suggests using whole aromatics like carrot, shallot, celery, thyme and bay leaf. “Once the beans are almost fully cooked, remove from the heat and season the liquid to taste with salt,” the chef says, adding that the beans won’t absorb water properly if they are salted at the beginning. Then, allow them to cool before you use them in a dish.

This post is brought to you by our friends at Whole Foods Market

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