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Cannellini & Great Northerns: What’s the Difference?

Cannellini & Great Northerns: What's the Difference?

White beans come in many shapes and sizes, and when a recipe calls for simply “white beans,” it can be challenging to figure out which kind to use, especially when deciding between Great Northern beans and Cannellini beans. Although these two types of white beans are similar, they have crucial differences regarding flavor and texture. Luckily for you, we’re experts on all things beans. Here’s what you need to know to decide which beans to use and when.

White Bean History

Cannellini beans originated in Argentina but are much better known for their use in Italy. In central and southern Italy, Cannellini beans are a staple in countless traditional dishes. Great Northern beans gained popularity in the Pacific Northwest region of America and took their name from the Great Northern Railway. This now-defunct railroad helped to distribute these beans across the United States.

Great Northern Beans

Great Northern beans are highly versatile with a delicate, nutty flavor and delicate, creamy texture. Camellia Brand CEO Vince Hayward likes Great Northern beans for their creaminess, stating, “One of my most favorite dishes is shrimp and white beans – a creamy, thick, delicious shrimp-flavored dish that brings back memories of my mother’s home cooking and warm bowls of beans on cold winter nights.” Great Northerns work well in American classics like baked beans, chili, and succotash, although they can be used in almost any recipe calling for white beans.

Cafe Reconcile’s White Beans and Shrimp

a close up of a plate of cafe reconcile white beans and shrimp

Cannellini Beans

Cannellini Beans are larger and heartier than Great Northerns and are sometimes referred to as “white kidney beans” because of their traditional kidney shape. You’ll often find them mixed with pinto beans. Cannellini beans are commonly used in Italian dishes like cozy minestrone, and because they hold their shape well when cooked, they’re a favorite in soups and stews. Like Great Northerns, Cannellini beans cook creamy and smooth with a nutty flavor.

Which ones should I use?

Both options are great for almost any white bean recipe, but we like using Cannellinis in a pasta e fagioli, while we prefer Great Northern beans for dishes like shrimp and white bean soup or white beans and ham hock.

Pasta e Fagioli

a bowl of Pasta Fagiole

Shrimp and White Bean Soup

Shrimp and White Bean Soup

Great Northern Beans and Ham

Cooked great northern beans with ham dish

Camellia CEO Vince Hayward clarifies the difference:

“It rests primarily with the heartiness of the Cannellini over the Great Northern,” he explains. “Because of its thicker skin and slightly bolder bean taste, the Cannellini lends itself better towards soups and stews. The Great Northern is a bit more delicate, and breaks open more easily, lending itself towards bean dishes consumed directly from a bowl, or to using as an ingredient in baking, or just simply when a lighter texture is desired.”

Ultimately, the main differences come down to their origins, subtle differences in appearance, firmness and flavor, and how they are traditionally used in regional cuisines. Both Cannelinis and Great Northerns are tasty, nutritious white bean options!


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