The Dente di Morto bean

25 February 2021

We’re in the countryside between Brusciano and Somma Vesuviana. It’s here that Vincenzo Egizio grows the Dente di Morto bean according to a long-held family tradition.

Both his parents were farmers, as were his grandparents. Vincenzo has lived in close contact with nature since infancy. He learned to recognize it, listen to it, and respect it.

This respect has transformed over time into a sense of duty to protect. It’s a form of love for the land and the riches it provides, among them Dente di Morto bean.

A life mission

Safeguarding and promoting the bean became the mission of his life, as he explains: “When I was a child, I accompanied my grandmother in the fields to work the land. I loved watching her and learning from her. We met a lot of other farmers along the way, all very busy. The lands alongside ours were full of hard workers. They, like my grandparents, used their harvest of grain to make bread for themselves. Nowadays on those same paths I don’t see too many other farmers. There’s just a handful of us left. It’s almost impossible to live from agriculture alone nowadays. The market isn’t encouraging either; it really squeezes people like us. All this could have even more serious consequences: if nobody cultivates and protects this land, we run the risk of losing the extraordinary variety of quality of many of our products.”

This is where the story of Vincenzo begins. A man on the slopes of Vesuvius who’s inherited the knowledge, tradition and passion of these highly-fertile, volcanic soils. These lands produce unique products both in terms of their flavor and their nutritional qualities. Vincenzo is a tenacious custodian of this biodiversity, and has dedicated his life to cultivating it, protecting it, making sure it doesn’t disappear. He does it according to the principles of sustainability and love for the environment, inspired by an extreme sense of solidarity and and desire to motivate others like him. All this to ensure that the nobility of this work is not forgotten, so they may continue to live off the land.

Community and complicity

The Dente di Morto bean

Vincenzo has been carrying forward this mammoth task with the support and complicity of all the people that he’s met over the year; those who share the same ideals and with whom he feels a familial bond. “There was a precise moment in my life where I understood the value of what I had in my hand. Unique fruit and vegetable varieties. Little understood and definitely put in the background by the globalized food industry. And that’s what makes them unique. Thanks to Slow Food, when I took part at the first Salone del Gusto, I realized the linchpin of my work: the importance of protecting and continuing to produce and spreading the word of our products and their story.”

“I saw a great interest for food cultivated in the traditional manner, with respect for the environment. I met a lot of people with whom I’ve formed a network of solidarity and cooperation so we can support each other and fly a common flag for our principles. I’d like to name them, because this wasn’t done alone. With mutual support it’s possible to make the greatest dreams come true. So I’d like to thank Gaetano Castaldo, Bruno Sodano, Luigi Turboli, Marco Russo, Annamaria Taliento e Gianfranco D’Angelo. We’re all part of the Slow Food Presidium for the Dente di Morto bean. This bean is one of the products that Vincenzo grows. As he says himself, in order for a product to raise interest and capture a market, you need to tell its story. 

The Dente di Morto bean, then and now

This bean, whose strange name literally means “Tooth of the Dead”, has ancient origins. The areas where it grows were rich in burial sites since the early Christian era. The legends goes that the inhabitants, when they saw these opaque white beans popping out of the ground with their small but elongated form, mistook them for the teeth of the buried corpses. In reality, this small seed tells the story of this land, its economy and traditions.

Up until the 1970s it was a flourishing crop, a means of sustenance for many local people. Great boats departed from Naples for America loaded with Dente di Morto among the cargo. The volcanic nature of the terrain gave rise to a unique product, a reflection of the land it comes from. But as food habits changed, with the import of new varieties and globalization, the demand for this bean practically collapsed.

Educating ourselves on biodiversity

Vincenzo explains: “What’s needed is a real effort to educate people on the importance and peculiarity of this bean, and all the other precious local products. Beans are good for us, good for our health and good for the soil. They’re a great alternative to meat, a natural remedy against cholesterol, and help prevent cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. They’re rich in fiber, delicious, and can be used in a wide variety of recipes. The environment benefits from their cultivation too. They’re a natural fertilizer. It’s important that we eat these beans for the good of society and the good of the land itself.”

He continues: “Being able to share these principles, tell this story… it’s fundamental for our efforts to raise awareness among the public. We must communicate the true value of the Dente di Morto bean. It’s essential that we promote knowledge of the land and give these the importance and attention they deserve. All this is necessary to safeguard biodiversity, and to restore dignity to the work of farmers. We need to promote this as a valid career, so it doesn’t get left by the wayside in this ever-accelerating world. I ask myself how we can do it, and often. We definitely need political intervention.”

Vincenzo dedicates his life to this mission. He’s always looking for a way to reinvent himself, adhering to numerous initiatives that reflect his own principles. He enriches his network with solidarity among producers and farmers. This is the story of the Dente di Morto bean and a beautiful land. A land of passionate people who hard work and pass their traditional knowledge down across generations, and with an extraordinary wealth to protect.

by Carolina Meli,

The Dente di Morto bean is among the exhibitor showcases of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, together with over 600 other producers! YOU CAN FIND A SELECTION OF PRODUCTS TO BUY (DELIVERY WITHIN THE SCHENGEN AREA ONLY), AT OUR ONLINE MARKETPLACE.