The fava bean is a springtime legume, it is delicious and very popular in Rome, but in the ancient times it was often connected with superstitions and with the world of the dead.
The fava bean inspired horror to the Pythagoreans because the black stains on the fava flowers were believed to be a sign of the presence of dead people souls; the Egyptians avoided the contact while the Romans offered them to the dead as a gift.
The reasons of this bad consideration are in the botanical characteristics of the plant and in the difficulty of digestion. The plant is the only one with a stem that comes out from the ground without any knot so it was believed to be a sort of thread of communication with the underworld, used by the dead to take possession of the souls of living people. The fava been is in fact a little bit hard to digest giving a sense of psychic and physical heaviness.
It can also be mortal and provocate an anaphilactic shock in people affected by favism, a quite diffused allergy in Southern Italy. All this of course increased the fame of the fava bean as an impure and dangerous food.
Still nowadays we keep memory of this funeral aspect with some biscuits prepared for the feast of the dead falling on November, 2nd: though they’re made with almonds, they’re called “The dead’s fava”. The best period to eat this highly proteic food is May/June when you can find it fresh and eat it raw with Roman Pecorino cheese or in a typical Roman recipe called “Vignarola“.