HomeCultureRed Beans and Ricely Yours: The History of a Dish Best Served on Mondays

Red Beans and Ricely Yours: The History of a Dish Best Served on Mondays

Red beans and rice is as culturally rich a dish as it is flavorful. In fact, the recipe is so iconic that it has earned itself a statewide celebration.

On the second anniversary since Red Bean and Rice Day’s inception on March 22, we’re going to give you an in-depth look at the dish that, with just one taste, will have you signing your letters like Louis Armstrong: red beans and ricely yours.

Louisiana’s Favorite Bean: An Origin Story

indexKacang Merah ( Red Kidney bean )” by Masnarang is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Louisiana wouldn’t be able to function without its sacred red kidney beans, but neither would most of the region or the world at large. Outside of being soaked with hambones and thrown in rice, red kidney beans are a staple for dishes like the western U.S.’s iconic chili, Mexico’s sopa de frijoles and India’s most delectable curry recipe.

Despite their worldwide regard, red kidney beans’ original home is in South America. But when and how did these wonder beans find their way to New Orleans and South Louisiana?

There isn’t a definite answer to this question. The red kidney bean is so imperative to New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s culture that its origins are hard to pin down. However, the most popular theories are that the beans were grown with careful farming methods of the Acadians or that Haitians brought red kidney beans with them to New Orleans alongside recipes for beans and rice that had the Caribbean flare for spices.

No matter the story, it is generally agreed the red kidney bean has been filling the people of New Orleans ’ stomachs and hearts since the 1700s.

On Mondays We Eat Red Beans

While there is no way to verify how red beans and rice found their way to New Orleans, no one can deny the importance the dish garnered in the city once it found its way on Southerners’ plates.

Red beans and rice isn’t only delicious; the ingredients required to make this delectable Southern tradition are cheap, and the recipe is incredibly easy to recreate for anyone no matter their cooking experience.

The easy factor is particularly important to how red beans and rice became so highly regarded in New Orleans. 

For New Orleans, Monday was traditionally wash day. Without the technology we have now, the act of washing up an entire family’s clothes, hanging them on the line to dry and then folding and putting them back in their respective places was no easy or quick task.

People would have no time to prepare an elaborate dish on Mondays, but they would have leftover ham bones from Sunday’s dinner. Red beans and rice was a simple prep it and leave it dish that required little pre-cooking and made ingredients already in the house stretch. These factors, combined with its great taste, made it a recipe for the perfect no-fuss Monday dinner after a long day’s work.

Ingrained in the Culture

While no one needs to hang their laundry on the line on their hectic Monday afternoons anymore, it should come as no surprise that the people of New Orleans, a city that prides itself on its traditions, still find themselves soaking red beans on the stove on Mondays.

“The dish is something that most people have traditions around,” Vince Hayward, CEO and owner of Camellia Brand—the oldest dried bean company in the U.S. that finds a home in New Orleans—says. “And so it’s sort of synonymous with being in community with the people that you love.”

Even without its die-hard tradition and cheap, easy to come by ingredients, red beans and rice is a dish that represents New Orleans. It’s a recipe that has come together with the hands of many different cultures, from Haitian Creoles and African-Americans to French Acadians, and so it only makes sense that it fuels the heartbeat of the city.

“It’s literally woven into the fabric of our culture,” Hayward says. “It crosses all economic and social boundaries.” 

On this Louisiana Red Beans and Rice Day, it’s time to show love for a dish that has brought so many together. Make sure to partake in an easy-to-make meal at home or at your favorite Louisiana restaurant to celebrate a recipe made to be shared.

Happy Red Beans and Rice Day

Red beans and ricely yours

Southern Bright Spar
'None But The Righte
  • Robert Dupré / April 1, 2023

    Would y’all stop identifying the St. Domingue migration to Louisiana as “Haitians”. Haiti was created after the St. Domingans left the island and they never identified as Haitian. St. Domingue was the French colony that existed in the land that later became Haiti. Also, a third of the St. Domingue refugees to south Louisiana were whites of French descent, a third of them were mixed race people of French and West African origin and a third of them were blacks of West African origin. I’m a descendant of some of the white St. Domingans.

    Red beans and rice has an initial Spanish origin, leaving Spain as judías pintas con arroz blanco aboard Spanish galleon ships to the Caribbean and Latin America where it became part of the cuisine of every part of those areas. The beans and rice then came to Louisiana with the St. Domingue migration of 12,000 people (2,000 from 1791-1808 and 10,000 people from 1809-1810) in which a third of them were white people, a third of them were mixed race people of white and black mixture and a third of them were black people. Acadian descendants like other ethnic groups, adopted the dish in Louisiana after it became widespread in the 1800’s. It’s now part of south Louisiana food culture through and through.

  • Sandra S McCollum / January 24, 2024

    Interesting article except that your theories about Acadians farming the Red Bean are incongruent with history. It is well documented that the Red Bean came to New Orleans after 1804 with Haitians as they sought refuge in New Orleans after the revolution in Haiti. It was commonly eaten among enslaved people. It became a favorite among the New Orleans population which did not boast of having a sizable number of the displaced Acadians living among them. The Acadians lived in 64 parishes in Louisiana which were very remote from the sophisticated city of New Orleans. Though they were equal to slaves in poverty and lack of education, the Red Bean must have certainly have taken a while to tease the palate of the Acadians who were unfamiliar with its taste and not in close proximity to its abundance.