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4 Types of White Beans: What’s the Difference?

4 Types of White Beans: What's the Difference?

What are White Beans?

Have you ever seen the term “white beans” and wondered if it was referring to Navy beans, Great Northern beans, Cannellini beans, or Baby Lima beans? Well, it could be referring to any and all of them. There are so many types of white beans, it’s easy to confuse what differentiates one from another. Let’s break it down:

Navy (Pea) Beans

Also called pea beans, Navy beans are small, oval-shaped, & quick-cooking. Because of the creamy consistency when cooked, they’re perfect for pureeing in dips, thickening soups & more. They have a mild flavor & are the bean of choice for classic Boston baked beans, Navy Bean Chowder & South Louisiana-Style White Beans & Rice. Interestingly, the Navy bean name comes from its use as a food staple by the U.S. Navy in the early 1900s. While all beans are high in fiber, Navy beans have the most — 19 grams per cup!

Great Northern Beans

Larger than Navy beans but smaller than Cannellini beans, medium-sized Great Northern beans are known for their mild, nutty flavor and firm flesh. Great in soups and stews, they hold their shape better than Navy beans. They are medium in size & take on the flavors of the foods they’re cooked with. Great Northern beans are most commonly used in French cassoulets.

Cannellini Beans

Cannellini beans are the largest type of white beans. Because of the traditional kidney shape, they can also be referred to as White Kidney Beans. Meatier than Navy or Great Northern beans, they have a nutty, earthy flavor with tender flesh, and are often used in Italian dishes like Minestrone. They retain their shape and texture well, so they’re perfect to use in salads, soups, stews, and chili.

Baby Lima Beans

Also called “butterbeans”, Baby Lima beans are small, smooth, and creamy with a rich, buttery texture. They’re starchier than other beans and are often used in soups, stews, succotash, and casseroles, or just cooked simply with herbs and spices. In the south, they’re often cooked with ham or bacon and served over rice.

Substituting One Variety for Another

The reality is that even though the different varieties of white beans have slightly different flavors and sizes, (and everyone has their personal favorites), they’re often used interchangeably in recipes. So, for example, if a recipe calls for Cannellinis, and you only have Great Northerns on hand, your dish will still come out fine and taste delicious. So try them all to see which you like best, and enjoy.

Categories: Bean Love