The Cultural and Culinary Voyage of the “Gourgane”

par Gauthier, Serge and Harvey, Christian

Fresh gourgane beans and pod

The broad bean or fava bean goes by the name “gourgane” in the Charlevoix and Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean regions. This bean has a long history, and was once a common staple in the diet of the inhabitants of New France. Long associated almost exclusively with the Charlevoix region, especially since the late 19th century, it has been virtually forgotten elsewhere, except in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region. It was introduced there by settlers from Charlevoix starting in 1838 and is now grown as a commercial crop. Despite the legume’s remarkable nutritional value, it is rare in the diet of Quebecois today. It is primarily known for its use in “soupe aux gourganes” (gourgane soup), a regional dish featured in traditional cooking in the Charlevoix, Saguenay, and Lac-Saint-Jean regions. 



Article disponible en français : La gourgane : parcours culturel et gastronomique de la fève des marais

Bus at the Albanel Festival de la Gourgane, July 2006

In Quebec, the gourgane (Vicia Faba major) or broad bean is known mainly in the Charlevoix and Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean regions, where traditional recipes for “soupe aux gourganes” are handed down orally over the generations and therefore rarely found in cookbooks. This is likely another reason the gourgane is not a common crop and is not distributed on a wide scale. The Lac-Saint-Jean region is the only area where these beans are produced commercially—there is even a gourgane festival in Albanel that has been running since 1974, and that pays tribute to this giant legume.  


Ancient Origins

Beans are one of the oldest cultivated plants around; their earliest use dates back to prehistoric times in Europe. However, it wasn’t until the 17th century that references to “broad beans” appear in the literature. A number of handwritten documents note that in New France this “big bean” was eaten mainly as a vegetable side dish (NOTE 1). The widespread introduction of the potato in the late 18th century nearly spelled the end for the gourgane in the diet of French Canadians, with the exception of the Charlevoix and, later, the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean regions.

Shelling beans in Pointe-au-Pic, 1959

The reason for the gourgane’s ongoing popularity in the Charlevoix is a matter of some debate. Some say it stems from the region’s maritime heritage, as the words “gourganier” and “mangeur de gourganes” (literally, bean eater) in Old French allegedly referred to an old sailor who was fed with soup made from beans usually given only to livestock. Others, like ethnologist Marius Barbeau, attribute the legume’s regional survival to the long-time isolation of the Charlevoix. Another theory is that the area’s relatively poor soils meant it made sense to keep growing broad beans, while other regions turned instead to more commercially viable crops. Then again, maybe the simplest explanation for the lasting appeal of the gourgane is that local people enjoyed the taste of these big beans, which they used almost exclusively to make a salt pork soup.


In the “Land of the Gourgane” (Charlevoix)

Excerpt from a map of the province of Quebec: detail of the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and Charlevoix regions, 1887

Sociologist Léon Gérin (NOTE 2) conducted a study in the 1920s on the inhabitants of the village of Saint-Irénée in the Charlevoix, in which he observed that the gourgane was one of the most common vegetables grown by the villagers. But it was ethnologist Marius Barbeau who suggested a strong link between the gourgane and the Charlevoix region, even referring to the pays des gourganes” (land of the gourgane) (NOTE 3) in a 1917 article he penned on the regional specificities of Quebec’s linguistic, cultural, and agricultural traditions. He pointed to the gourgane as a telling example, describing it at length and stressing that the legume was grown almost exclusively in the Charlevoix:

These beans are likely also familiar in the surrounding areas, particularly along the Côte de Beaupré and wherever there are seafarers. We are told that farmers sometimes sell them at the market in Quebec City’s Lower Town. In some cases they may go by a different name. But the fact remains that most of the other regions have never heard of the gourgane (NOTE 4).

Barbeau was correct on the last point, but he failed to mention that gourgane crops were already widely grown in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region by 1917, planted by people who moved there from the Charlevoix. The famous ethnologist did, however, report that the gourgane was used as an ingredient in a soup that was very popular in the region: “Gourganes—coloured beans—are in this land (Charlevoix) grown more widely than any other legume. They are harvested just before they are fully ripe, to make a soup that is very popular with the local people.” (NOTE 5)

Bowl of gourgane soup, made according to a Charlevoix recipe, 2008

Gourgane soup, it must be said, is a simple and rather plain dish. It contains “more water than beans, along with vegetables, salt pork, salt and herbs, and barley, flour or oats.” Other vegetables commonly added to the soup include green or yellow beans, carrots and, occasionally, finely sliced cabbage (NOTE 6). Sometimes the soup is topped with fresh herbs like parsley or chives. More rarely, it is served as a creamy potage.

Although gourgane soup enjoys widespread popularity in the Charlevoix, the link between the legume and the region’s identity is somewhat tenuous, despite the claims of Marius Barbeau. In reality he was alone in referring to the region as the “pays des gourganes” (land of the gourgane). Gourgane soup remains primarily a homecooked dish that is rarely featured on the menus of local dining establishments, with the exception of a restaurant located on the main road descending into the village of Baie-Saint-Paul from the west that once bore a large sign proudly advertising “Soupe aux gourganes” to passing tourists. In the end it was in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region that the legume became most well established.


A Crop that Migrated Almost Exclusively to the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean

Gourgane crop in La Malbaie, 2010

The Charlevoix residents who settled in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region starting in the mid-19th century took with them their gourgane beans and traditional gourgane soup recipes. The legume experienced more commercial success there, primarily due to the larger population. The humble gourgane even became something of a source of regional pride.

In other regions of Quebec, the gourgane has been much slower to catch on. In 1987, for instance, the food multinational Catelli launched its Habitant Gourgane Soup, but the product was a commercial flop (NOTE 7). Although broad beans are a common side dish in many countries, they are not nearly as popular in Quebec. In fact, to remain competitive, producers in Lac-Saint-Jean must sell part of their crop outside the country, notably in Israel.


A Culinary Heritage Worth Rediscovering

Freshly shelled gourgane beans ready for cooking

Although largely forgotten in contemporary Quebec, the gourgane is a highly nutritious legume that is rich in protein and gluten free. More than just an ingredient in soup, it can also be made into bread flour, and is sold at a number of specialty markets throughout the province. Quebec chefs use the bean to make béchamel sauce and even to concoct low-calorie soups, minus the traditional salt pork, of course. There’s a good chance the gourgane will become more popular among Quebecois in the future, notably with the influence of ethnic communities that already use the bean as a side dish, albeit in a different form than most Quebecois are familiar with. The rediscovery and promotion of Quebec’s food heritage will no doubt spark renewed interest in this one-time New France staple, both in the traditional gourgane soup of the Charlevoix and Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean regions and in other forms. 


Serge Gauthier, Ph.D., Ethnologist and Historian
Christian Harvey, M.A., Historian
Researchers at Centre de recherche sur l'histoire et le patrimoine de Charlevoix




1. Tremblay, François, “La gourgane,” Géographie sonore du Québec - Charlevoix région 03, 1983, p. 22–23.

2. Gérin, Léon, Le type économique des canadiens, Montréal, Fides, 1948, p.21.

3. Barbeau, Marius, “Le pays des gourganes,” Royal Society of Canada, Mémoires, Section 1, 1917, p. 193–225.

4. Barbeau, op. cit., p. 220–221.

5. Barbeau, op. cit., p. 220.

6. Mongrain-Dontigny, Michelle, La cuisine traditionnelle de Charlevoix, La Tuque, Les Éditions de la Bonne Recette, 1996. p. 20–21.

7. Société Radio-Canada, L'Épicerie program:

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