The Cannellini, Navy, Great Northern, and Butter beans are all types of white beans. Even though each variety can be used in many different ways, they each have their qualities. Large and firm, cannellini beans hold up well in slow-cooking dishes like stews. Small and starchy when cooked, navy beans are often used in baked bean dishes.
Great Northern beans have a mild flavor and aren’t too big or too small, so use them if you aren’t sure which kind to use. Butter beans, also called baby lima beans, are the softest type of white bean, so they work best in dips. Check out guides on our favorite ways to use white beans.
What are White Beans?
White beans are a group of legumes with white shells and starchy insides. They include navy beans, cannellini beans, “great northern” beans, and lima beans. The Phaseolus vulgaris plant grows navy beans, great northern beans, and cannellini beans. The Phaseolus lunatus plant grows lima beans. White beans have a lot of protein and don’t have gluten. They also have a lot of complex carbohydrates, potassium, and fiber. White beans, both canned and dry, do not go bad if they are kept correctly. They can be bought in bulk.
White beans sold commercially as seeds or food are mostly sold under more specific names, like navy beans, Great Northerns, or cannellini. Any white or off-white bean can be called a “white bean.” even though different kinds of white beans taste and look a little bit different and are different sizes, they tend to have very similar nutritional values and can often be swapped out in recipes.
Most white beans have more in common than just being the same color. Few are bigger than a half-inch (0.6 cm), but most are between a quarter-inch and a half-inch (0.6 to 1.3 cm) long. They are usually oval-shaped and taste mild and sometimes a little bit nutty.
Beans that are white or off-white can grow in many different climates. They are common in Central and South America but grow well in North America, including many parts of Northern Canada. They also live in large numbers in Europe and the Middle East. Some varieties have also been known to do well in Africa, though there aren’t wide white bean varieties that naturally grow there.
Like most beans, white beans tend to have a lot of fiber, between 10 and 11 grams per U.S. serving. Most foods in the United States have a “recommended serving allowance” set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For white beans, this is 1/2 cup or about 86 grams. The beans are also a source of protein, making them a good choice for vegetarians who don’t eat meat. Most white beans also have a lot of potassium, folate, vitamins C and B6, calcium, and iron.
Seven Ways to Use White Beans
White beans that have been cooked are a part of the food of many different cultures. They can be boiled in soups and stews, mixed with rice or other grains, or used in casseroles. White beans are almost always used to make baked beans, a popular side dish in the United States.
It is common to boil the legumes and season them, then serve them with other foods like spicy sausage, smoked chicken, roasted vegetables, or grilled meats. You can also mash or blend the beans to make a dip that tastes like hummus and has the same texture.
Here are the Uses of White Beans:
1. Beet and Cabbage Borscht with White Beans
Whether you like them or not, beets are an important part of the Ukrainian kitchen, where borscht came from. You can use carrots if you don’t want to use beets. They will still add sweetness and a pop of color to the dish.
2. Turkey Green Chili
Inspired by Mexican food, this turkey and green chili is made better by a few unusual ingredients, like hominy and beer. Along with white beans and turkey, this soup has a variety of green chiles that you can mix and match to suit your taste. You can learn more about Mexican green chiles by reading our guide.
3. White Chicken Chili
Oregano, cumin, and jalapeo pepper dress up this white chicken chili. Use vegetable stock and a little miso paste for extra umami to turn this recipe into a dish that vegetarians can eat. As for the chicken, there are always soy-based alternatives or tempeh, but we also like the idea of fried mushrooms that have been battered.
4. Cuban White Bean Soup
The ham hocks and salt pork in this Cuban white bean soup bring out the flavors. If you want to change the spices but keep the dish’s original flavor, replace the oregano and bay leaf with chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime.
5. Vegetarian White Bean Chili
If you like vegetarian chili recipes you can make at home, try this vegetarian white bean chili. It has no meat but is still very filling and satisfying. This one will make you want more because it’s full of spices like cumin and cayenne and has a fresh kick of heat from canned green chilis. Like most hearty stews, this one freezes well so you can have a quick dinner ready.
6. White Beans and Smoked Ham Shank
A classic Southern American dish is white beans and smoked ham shank. Since the main flavor in this dish is ham, the quality of your stew dish depends on how good your ham is. To do this, you should try to find heritage-breed pork if you can.
7. White Bean Hummus Recipe
Even if you only like traditional hummus, you should try this white bean version. It gives this kale salad more flavor and can be used instead of yogurt sauce on these lamb sliders. For the smoothest result, use either navy beans or baby lima beans, also known as butter beans.
What are the Types of White Beans?
In the U.S. and Canada, “white beans” are usually navy beans or Great Northern beans. As you might guess from their name, navy beans were the main food source for U.S. naval forces in the early 1900s. The smaller of the two, they are often used in soups and stews. They are easy to break down when heated, which makes them great thickeners.
Great Northern beans tend to keep their shape better than navy beans, but they often take longer to cook and have a nuttier, denser flavor. Because of how it looks, the Great Northern is often compared to a small lima bean. One of Europe’s most common white beans is the cannellini bean, which comes from Italy. People also like “European soldier beans,” similar to navy beans in how they grow and get their name. Botanists think that the navy bean and the soldier bean are the same plants but grow in different places.
4 Types of White Beans
There are many types of white beans. Some of the most popular varieties are:
1. Lima Beans: Lima beans are not white, but some types, like baby lima beans, are. They are named after the capital city of Peru. Lima beans are called “butter beans” because they taste like butter and are starchy.
2. Navy Beans: Some kinds of lima beans, like baby lima beans, are white. They were named for Lima, which is the capital of Peru. The name “butter beans” comes from lima beans that taste like butter and are starchy.
3. Great Northern Beans: Great northern beans have a thin skin and are about the same size as cannellini beans but a little smaller than navy beans. They have a mild taste, so they usually take on the flavor of the food they are cooked with. They keep their shape better than navy beans, which makes them better for soups or roasting—people in France like Great Northern beans, which make cassoulet (a French bean casserole).
4. Cannellini Beans: Cannellini beans are a white bean that is popular and comes from Southern Italy. They are big and oval and taste and feel creamy and nutty. White kidney beans are another name for cannellini beans. These beans are used in many Mediterranean dishes, like pasta e Fagioli, and are often served with escarole, a bitter green.
How to Cooking with White Beans?
4 Tips for Cooking with White Beans
Because they taste and feel the same, white beans are often used in place of each other in recipes. Here are some ideas for how to serve your favorite kind of white beans in the best way.
1. Always wash your beans. Whether you’re using canned or dried beans for cooking, wash them before you start. When cooking with canned beans, strain and rinse them to eliminate any extra sodium in the water used to keep them fresh. Before you soak dried beans to cook with them, you should clean them well to eliminate any dirt or beans that aren’t the right color.
2. Soak dried beans before cooking. Before cooking with dry beans, you should soak them in water for six to eight hours or overnight. Cut down on the time you soak your beans if you want them to keep their shape a little better.
4. Don’t overcook your beans. If you don’t want to make a dip or spread, don’t cook your beans too long. If you boil them for too long, the skins will break, and the beans will lose their shape.
White beans, also called white navy beans, are very good for your health. They have a lot of antioxidants and a lot of molybdenum, which helps clean the body. They are also a good source of fiber and protein, and they make chemicals called alpha-amylase inhibitors that help control how the body stores fat.