Yes, broad bean is another name for fava bean, which is sometimes known also as a faba, or even as horse bean. The scientific name of fava beans is Vicia faba.
Broad beans or fava beans are large flat beans that are somewhat like a Lima bean in appearance. They have been cultivated as staple food sources for many thousands of years, including by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks; as well as in Britain, Sicily, and Spain. They have long been a part of Mediterranean cuisine and the cuisine of the Middle East. They most likely originated in Western Asia but spread outwards. They were the principle bean eaten in North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe long before the discovery of the New World. Fava beans were also brought to Mexico and South America by Spanish explorers.
The name “fava bean” is a curious tautological occurrence. The word bean itself may have stemmed from an Old English, Old High German, and Old Norse word which referred to the broad bean. However, the word fava is an English version of the Latin word faba, which made its way into Spanish. This word also means the same thing as bean. Therefore, the name fava bean or faba bean means ‘bean bean.’ Broad been, of course, refers to the size of the beans, which are quite wide in the largest varieties, although there are smaller ones as well.
They are sometimes also called English beans, European beans, pigeon peas, tick beans, tick peas, and Windsor beans. Pigeon pea and tick pea refers to smaller varieties that are sometimes fed to pigeons, but there is another pea called Pigeon pea. In Europe, smaller varieties are sometimes known as field beans or common beans. This is not to be confused with field beans in the U.S.
Many of these different names reflect different varieties and different uses, in Europe, where not all varieties are considered fit for human consumption. However, in America, fava bean always refers to the large bean used for human food.
The pea family name Fabaceae comes from the name faba. Peas are also sometimes placed in the family Leguminosae. Faba beans are sometimes placed in the genus Faba, but also in the genus Vicia.
Broad beans grow on annual (although some are biennial) plants that can be anywhere from one to seven feet tall, depending on the variety, with clusters of flowers with white, black, dark brown, or purple coloring. Pods can vary in their length but can be up to 18 inches long. Plants that bear large seeds have pods that grow two pods from each node, while smaller seed varieties grow 2 to 5 pods per node. Larger seeded plants grow considerably fewer pods than smaller seeded. The beans can be green, a red tinged yellow, dark brown, or red. Sometimes the beans come in a combination of colors. The beans inside the pods are enclosed in a second skin, which is usually removed before cooking and eating. They are used both fresh and dried. Very young pods can be eaten like green beans, pods and all.
Fava beans can cause severe anemic reactions in certain people with an inherited hemolytic syndrome called favism. This trait occurs in people of Mediterranean heritage such as Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Southern Italy, Cyprus, or Sardinia; and in Iran and China. Compounds in fava beans, vicine and convicine, cause red blood cells to be broken down in these individuals, which, in severe cases, results in potentially fatal anemia. What causes the problem is a relatively low amount of an enzyme in red blood cells called glucose-6-phosphatededydrogenase.
The vicine, present in amounts up to 0.35% in the beans, inhibit this essential enzyme. Since those with favism already have such a low amount, inhibition of the enzyme causes the cells to burst, which may be fatal. Even the pollen from the flowers contain this compound, so just being near the plants at the right time of year can cause reactions.
Since this trait was so common, the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras vehemently believed that broad beans were beans of death. He taught his disciples to never eat, touch, or even go near the plants. It is said that when he and his disciples were cornered by an angry crowd looking to do violence, there only escape was through a field of broad beans, but they stuck to the teachings, and avoided the plants, to be killed by the mob.
Curiously, the hemolytic anemia that favism causes when fava beans are consumed may have a protective affect against malaria. When the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria, which is spread by mosquitos, enters the body, the parasites invade red blood cells and multiplie within them. In those with favism, instead of supporting the reproduction of these parasites, the red blood cells simply die. The result, of course, is dangerous, but it may provide some protection against the disease. Sickle-cell anemia, which originated in Africa, may have similar protective effects.