substitute for butter beans
Ingredient Substitutes

Substitutes for Butter Beans: 7 Easy Swaps

With a soft, velvety texture and creamy, nutty flavor, butter beans are a popular ingredient in savory dishes including casseroles, soups, and even salads. As well as being versatile, they’re also highly nutritious – low in fat and high in fiber and protein.

If you’re confused by the name, butter beans are actually mature lima beans, however, they are not interchangeable with the small, green baby lima beans. The good news is that there are plenty of ways you can replace these beans in recipes. Here are seven great substitutes for butter beans.

1. Cannellini Beans

Cannellini Beans
Cannellini Beans

Cannellini beans are the largest of the white beans and are commonly used in Italian cooking. You might see these sold under names including haricot blancs, fagioli, or white kidney beans.

These beans have a mild, nutty flavor, and a soft creamy flesh that pairs well with a wide range of dishes. Compared to other white beans they have a slightly thicker skin that allows them to hold their shape when cooked. This makes them a popular choice for stews and soups, such as minestrone, or for use in salads.

Cooking time (pre-soaked): 60-90 minutes

2. Borlotti Beans

Borlotti Beans
Borlotti Beans

These dappled red and white beans go by many other names, most commonly cranberry beans, but also Romano or saluggia beans. Related to kidney beans and pinto beans, they originate from Colombia but are now more commonly grown in Italy.

You’ll find the borlotti bean in many Italian, Portuguese, Turkish, and Greek recipes. They have a mild, nutty flavor, but with more sweetness than you find in other white beans, and impart a rich flavor into any cooking liquid. They can be used in almost any dish where butter beans would be used, including soups, pasta, casseroles, and salads.

Cooking time (pre-soaked): 45-60 minutes

3. Great Northern Beans

Great Northern Beans
Great Northern Beans

Despite what the name might suggest, these are only medium-sized beans, smaller than cannellini but larger than the closely related navy beans. Originating from South America, they’re a popular bean in American cooking but can be hard to find outside the USA.

With a very delicate taste and a thin skin, Great Northern beans tend to take on the flavor of anything that they’re cooked with. This makes them a great addition to stews and soups, where they provide a filling texture. You’ll find them in dishes like baked beans, pork and beans, or French cassoulets.

Cooking time (pre-soaked): 50-70 minutes

4. Navy Beans

Navy Beans
Navy Beans

These small white beans have been a staple of American cooking since the mid-1800s. Their low cost, long shelf life, and dense nutrition value saw them become a standard ration for US sailors. For this reason, they’re most commonly called navy beans, but they’re also known as pea beans, Boston beans, or Yankee beans.

Navy beans have a mild flavor and very soft texture, which means they break down easily when cooked. This makes them ideal for adding thickness to soups, but they won’t hold their shape for dishes such as salads. Navy beans are often served as southern-style baked beans or Boston baked beans.

Cooking time (pre-soaked): 90-120 minutes

5. Pinto Beans

Pinto Beans
Pinto Beans

Named from the Spanish word meaning “painted”, pinto beans are instantly recognizable for their brown speckled color when dry. After cooking, these markings disappear and the beans turn completely brown.

Pinto beans have been cultivated in Mexico and Peru for thousands of years, and are now the most popular bean in the USA. You’ll usually find them in Mexican or Tex-Mex dishes such as refried beans, burritos, or chili.

They can be used anywhere that you might use butter beans, though the texture is a little different. Butters beans are more creamy, whereas pinto beans have a slightly powdery texture.

Cooking time (pre-soaked): 90-120 minutes

6. Red Kidney Beans

Red Kidney Beans
Red Kidney Beans

With a history going back 8,000 years, red kidney beans have spread to use in cuisines all over the world, including Indian red bean stew and New Orleans red beans and rice.

Compared to butter beans, kidney beans have a slightly sweeter flavor, but a similar shape and texture. The main thing you have to consider with this substitute is the color, which will give a very different look to your dish.

Raw kidney beans contain higher levels of lectin than other beans and can be dangerous if not prepared correctly. When using dried kidney beans, make sure to soak them well, and boil them on high for at least 10 minutes before reducing the heat. For this reason, kidney beans are not suitable for slow cookers.

Cooking time (pre-soaked): 90-120 minutes

7. Garbanzo Beans

Garbanzo Beans
Garbanzo Beans

Unlike the other beans on this list, garbanzo beans originate from the Middle East, later spreading to Europe and India. Also known as chickpeas, these beans are the star of dishes including falafel, hummus, and chana masala. Garbanzo flour is used to make pancakes, breads, and fritters.

Garbanzo beans aren’t an exact swap for butter beans, but if you don’t have any other beans to hand, they can work well in some dishes.

Due to their firm texture, garbanzo beans make the best substitute for butter beans where the dish requires them to be served whole, such as in stews or salads. Alternatively, garbanzo beans can be substituted when making any kind of bean dip.

Cooking time (pre-soaked): 60-90 minutes

How to Substitute Beans in Recipes

Despite the wide variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors, most beans are generally interchangeable when cooking. But there are a couple of things you need to take into account before you make the swap.

To get the best results for any bean substitution, try to use the same format. So if the recipe uses canned beans, swap for another kind of canned beans, and likewise for dried beans. For a recipe using dried beans, just be aware that you may need to adjust the cooking times.

If you do need to swap canned for dried or vice versa, you’ll need to make some changes to the recipe. If the recipe asks for canned beans, but you need to use dried ones, you’ll have to soak and cook the beans separately before adding them to the dish.

If the recipe requires dried beans, but you only have canned, you’ll need to skip all of the cooking instructions and add in the drained canned beans 5 minutes before the end. Be aware that canned beans have added salt, so you might need to adjust the amount of seasoning in the recipe.

The swaps we’ve outlined above will work for either dried or canned beans. These aren’t suitable alternatives if your recipe asks for fresh or frozen beans.

AboutKashmir Brummel

As a former restaurant reviewer, I’m now dedicated to exploring the story behind the foods we eat, whether it’s the history or a dish or the origin of the ingredients. When I’m not writing about food, you’ll find me on a terrace in Barcelona.

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