Beans no longer bear the well-worn mantle as a “poor man’s food,” though they’re still one of the most economical of foods. And it’s hard to think of a protein-rich plant food group that’s as versatile as beans. This rundown of common bean varieties (and a few that are less common) will inspire you to them a more frequent part of your repertoire.
If you’re among the uninitiated, the following guide will introduce you to some of the most-used bean varieties. If you’re a bean aficionado, take a look for new ideas on how to use them.
Beans are powerhouse plant foods, rich in protein and fiber, and low in fat. They provide a slew of vitamins (B vitamins in particular) and essential minerals (notably iron).
A favorite in Japan, these small red beans are relatively new to the western food market. Because adzuki (also spelled aduki) beans are considered among the easiest to digest, they’re a good choice those who might find other varieties harder to digest.
Adzuki beans cook faster than most beans; their flavor is comparable to red or kidney beans, but more delicate. Their texture is less grainy than larger red beans, too.
Common uses: The Asian origin of these beans may inspire cooks to flavor them with Asian seasonings, such as ginger, tamari and miso. They also can be mixed with grains in pilafs and cold salads. Substitute adzuki beans for red or pinto beans in Mexican dishes like chili. They can be used in all kinds of soups and stews.
- Adzuki Bean Bowls
- Adzuki Bean Coconut Curry
- Adzuki Beans Soup with Pearl Barley and Kale
- Zesty Adzuki Beans Salad
These little beans are famous for their role in black bean soup and in the simple Cuban classic, black beans and rice. They’re a flavorful part of Mexican, Southwestern, and Mediterranean cuisines. Their pleasantly bold flavor holds up well to strong seasonings.
Common uses: Lavish black beans with chili powder or herbs such as thyme, oregano, parsley and cumin. Black beans love lots of onion and garlic and are wonderfully enhanced by olive oil and lemon juice. Excellent as a salad base, combined with diverse ingredients such as bell peppers, corn, tomatoes, and scallions. They’re also a favorite bean in Southwester
- Here’s a roundup of 39 Tasty and Versatile Vegan Black Bean Recipes on this site.
As the name suggests, these white legumes have a black “eye.” Their use is prevalent in Africa, where they originated, in the American South, and in Persian cuisine. They’re also used in regional Indian cuisines.
Black-eyed peas, and their smaller, browner cousin, field peas, have a distinctive fresh, slightly green flavor. Though they’re called peas, they’re closer to beans botanically.
Common uses: Use them in marinated salads and in tossed salads using flavorful tender greens. Add black-eyed peas to dishes that highlight collards or other greens. They combine well with rice, as in the Southern favorite, Hoppin’ John, and their flavor is enhanced by tomatoes, garlic, onions, thyme and basil.
- Texas Caviar (Marinated Black-Eyed Peas)
- Spicy Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas with Fresh Tomatoes
- Vegan Hoppin’ John
A two-toned multi-named bean (Jacob’s cattle bean, trout bean, Appaloosa bean) is about the size and shape of kidney beans. It cooks up to a firm plumpness and holds its shape well. It’s one of the earliest bean varieties grown in the America, first cultivated by ancient Andean peoples.
It’s surprising that this bean hasn’t become more common, but interest in heirloom produce has increased its profile. Cattle beans have been described as nutty, fruity, rich, and dense. Seems like a great bean to discover!
Common uses: Like pinto and red beans, cattle beans are a good choice for stews, chilis, soups, as they stand up to long cooking and bold seasoning. Since you’re unlikely to find them in a can, you might appreciate directions on how to prepare them as savory-sweet baked beans in an Instant Pot®, first link below, which lists them as an option along with other varieties.
CANNELLINI AND GREAT NORTHERN BEANS
The mild flavor and creamy texture of these large white beans make them a useful kitchen staple. Because their taste is neither distinct nor bland, they’re equally at home in subtly or boldly seasoned dishes.
Cannellini are well loved in Italian cuisine, and are the type of bean often used in the classic pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans.) Though they’re not the same variety as Great Northern, they taste quite similar and can be used interchangeably.
Common uses: Well mashed, these beans make an excellent basis for dips or sandwich spreads. Pureed, either of these beans make a fantastic soup thickener thick, creamy soups. Use whole, they can be combined with pastas and used in soups and stews.
- Romano Beans with Tomatoes and Cannellini
- Skillet Broccoli Rabe with White Beans and Mushrooms
- Caramelized Onion White Bean Dip
- Vegan Baked Beans with Plant-Based Bacon
CHICKPEAS (GARBANZO BEANS)
Even those who aren’t keen on beans might make an exception for tasty chickpeas, a.k.a. garbanzos. Americans have come to appreciate them in popular Middle Eastern, Indian and Mediterranean dishes (such as hummus— here are 12 ways to make this popular dip/spread).
Chickpeas are as versatile as they’re flavorful. If they have a drawback, it’s their long cooking time, when cooking in the old-fashioned way (of course, cooking them in an Instant Pot® is much quicker). Keep a stash of canned chickpeas in your pantry, and that disadvantage disappears.
The liquid from canned chickpeas, dubbed aquafaba, has been discovered to be an amazing substitute for egg whites when whipped. Discover more in this guide to aquafaba.
Common uses: Mashed and seasoned, chickpeas make an excellent sandwich spread. They’re welcome in all manner of soups, stews, and pilafs. Chickpeas make a good base for dips (hummus and others), and are delicious in all types of salads.
- Here’s a roundup of lots of Easy and Tasty Vegan Chickpea Recipes on this site.
CRANBERRY BEANS (Borlotti)
Cranberry beans may have originated in South America, but they’ve made their way back to North America by way of Europe. In Italy, they’re beloved as borlotti beans and used, similarly to cannellini beans, in classics like pasta e fagioli and other classic dishes. They’ve become a well-loved bean in Portuguese and regional Mexican cuisines, as well.
Smooth and thin skinned, cranberry beans cook up to a creamy texture and are about as versatile as you can get. They’re a bit bigger than pinto beans and have been described as rich and nutty. Find more information on cranberry beans here.
Common uses: Cranberry beans are used in soups, stews, pasta dishes, and salads.
- Pasta Fagioli with Cranberry Beans and Kale
- Cranberry Beans Kurma (Vegan Cranberry Beans Curry)
- Fresh Cranberry Beans with Olive Oil and Garlic
EDAMAME (Fresh Green Soybeans)
Edamame, or fresh green soybeans, resemble lima beans, but that’s where the comparison stops. They’re smoother, more flavorful, and richer in nutrients. If you’ve ever dined in a Japanese restaurant, edamame in the shell are frequently offered in the appetizer section.
Edamame can be found fresh in some groceries, but are most commonly available frozen. You’ll find them in the frozen vegetables section of well-stocked supermarkets. They’re sold both in the pod, which is best for snacking, or shelled, which is easier to use in recipes. See lots more in this site’s Guide to Edamame.
Common uses: In addition to being served in the shell, salted, as an appetizer, edamame are fantastic combined with corn as a succotash dish, in pilafs, pureed into a wholesome dip or spread, and as a protein-booster in salads and bowls.
- Colorful Quinoa and Edamame Pilaf
- Spring Grain Bowls with Edamame, Bok Choy, and Oranges
- Corn and Edamame Succotash Salad
Also known as broad beans, fava (or faba) beans are members of the pea family, and one of the world’s most ancient of cultivated plants. They grow in large, lumpy green pods and are most seasonal in spring.
Fava beans have a more “green” flavor as compared with other beans. In flavor, they’re perhaps most comparable to edamame, just above, as they have a delicate, fresh taste, rather than a hearty, nutty one like red beans, for example.
They can be consumed raw (when young) or lightly cooked. They’re also available dried. You’ll find lots more information on fava beans here.
Common uses: Fava beans are the basis of a classic pureed Middle Eastern dip called ful medames; occasionally they’re used in place of chickpeas in falafel. They’re often simply sautéed, either on their own or with other spring vegetables (like asparagus) so that their delicate flavor can be most appreciated. And they’re fantastic in salads.
- Slow Cooker Ful Medames
- Fava Bean and Asparagus Salad
- Rice Salad with Fava Beans and Pistachios
- Egyptian Style Falafel
KIDNEY AND RED BEANS
These related varieties (red beans are a bit smaller and rounder than kidneys) are among the most widely used beans in North America, but they can be a bit more difficult to digest for those just starting to use beans; make sure they’re well cooked.
Common uses: Kidney and red beans lend themselves well to spicy seasonings: chili powder, cayenne pepper and paprika, hence their wide use in chili, other Mexican dishes and the New Orleans classic, red beans and rice. Use them in marinated bean salads and pasta salads. Mash and season them to make burgers.
- Mushroom and Kidney Bean Burgers
- Barley Salad with Red Beans and Cucumber
- Quick Lentil and Kidney Bean Curry
Lima beans, a favorite in the American South, are also called butter beans or fordhooks. They’re common in both fresh and dry form. Green baby limas have a delicate, almost sweet taste. Dry lima beans have a rather bland flavor.
Dried lima beans may be found in bulk sections as well as 1-pound packages shelved near other beans in well-stocked supermarkets. Look for green baby lima beans in the frozen vegetables section.
Gigantes, a large, creamy white bean popular in Greek cuisine, are sometimes mistakenly called giant lima beans, but they’re not the same. They can, however, be swapped into recipes calling for dried lima beans.
Common uses: Lima beans are particularly good in highly seasoned tomato-based soups or casseroles, and sweet-and-sour dishes. Lima beans are also prepared Persian-style, with rice and lots of fresh herbs.
Small, round, olive-green mung beans are the source of the most ubiquitous type of bean sprouts. Though widely used in Asian cuisines, particularly Indian, they’ve yet to catch on in a big way in western markets.
That’s surprising, since mung beans don’t require presoaking, cook up quickly, and have a mild, pleasant flavor. They’re also easier to digest than larger legumes. Look for these little legumes in Indian and Asian groceries. Larger natural foods stores might carry them too.
Common uses: With a flavor akin to green split peas, mung beans may be used as a substitute for them in soups and stews. Mung dal (or daal) is a classic Indian dish, kind of a cross between a soup and a dip. They have an affinity with curry spices, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, chili peppers, and greens.
These are the beans used in Boston baked beans and other New England dishes. Also known as pea beans, small white beans or Yankee beans, they’re almost a mini-version of Great Northern beans: creamy and mild but not bland.
Common uses: For a hearty main dish, combine navy beans with whole-grain pasta and a mushroom sauce. They’re also excellent in soups and pilafs or tossed into green or grain salads. Navy beans are usually the first choice for classic baked beans.
PINK AND PINTO BEANS
These related, common bean varieties are most widely used in Mexican and Southwestern dishes. Pink beans are slightly smaller and rounder than pintos, which are speckled brown when raw but turn dark pink when cooked.
The mellow flavors of these two beans are similar, so they may be used interchangeably. Both cook to a fine, creamy texture. They can also be swapped into recipes calling for kidney or red beans, though they won’t have the same visual impact.
Common uses: Pink and pinto beans combine nicely with rice and corn, either hot and spiced as a main dish, or cold and marinated as a salad. Often used in burritos, enchiladas and similar tortilla dishes, the flavor of these beans is enhanced by garlic, bell peppers, green chilies, cilantro, cumin and oregano.
- Pinto Bean and Quinoa Sloppy Joes
- Beer-Stewed Pinto Beans
- Easy Corn and Pinto Bean Salad
- Super-Easy Avocado and Bean Salad
See more of this site’s Good Food Guides.