Butter beans are a versatile ingredient used in many classic recipes like soups, stews, salads, and casseroles. Their mild, nutty flavor and creamy texture make them a popular choice. However, butter beans may not always be readily available depending on where you live. You may also want to avoid butter beans due to dietary restrictions or food intolerances.
The good news is there are plenty of delicious alternatives to butter beans that can be used. In this article, we’ll explore the top 10 substitutes for butter beans and how to use them.
What Are Butter Beans?
Butter beans are a variety of lima beans, which are part of the legume family. They are called “butter” beans due to their exceptionally creamy, buttery texture when cooked.
There are two main types of butter beans:
- Large lima beans – Also called “Fordhook beans”, these are the most common large variety. They can range from greenish-white to speckled.
- Baby lima beans – Much smaller and paler in color. Also known as “Sieva” beans.
Butter beans have a very mild, slightly nutty and savory flavor. Their texture softens when cooked, making them perfect for soups, stews, and casseroles.
They are an excellent source of protein and fiber. Butter beans also provide vitamins like folate, thiamine, and manganese.
The 10 Best Substitutes for Butter Beans
When butter beans are not ideal for your recipe, there are many potential replacements to consider. Here are the top 10 substitutes for butter beans:
1. Navy Beans
Navy beans are small, pea-sized white beans that serve as an excellent stand-in for butter beans. They have a very mild flavor and soft, creamy texture when cooked.
Navy beans require overnight soaking before cooking. You can also do a quick soak by bringing them to a boil for 2 minutes, then letting them sit for 1 hour. Using a pressure cooker cuts down cooking time.
Delicious ways to use navy beans:
- Classic baked beans
- White bean vegetable soup
- White bean turkey chili
- Three bean salad
2. Red Kidney Beans
Red kidney beans are a common bean in many cultures. They have a slightly nutty taste, firm texture, and retain their shape well when cooked.
Kidney beans should be boiled thoroughly to destroy toxins before eating. Then simmer with spices, vegetables or in stews.
Recipe ideas with kidney beans:
- Red beans and rice
- Three bean chili
- Kidney bean salad
- Kidney bean dip
3. Black Beans
Black beans make an excellent replacement with their earthier flavor, smooth consistency and high nutritional value.
Cook black beans from scratch by soaking then simmering 2-3 hours until extremely soft. Rinse canned beans before use.
Ways to enjoy black beans:
- Black bean soup
- Vegetarian chili
- Southwestern black bean salad
- Black bean burgers or tacos
4. Pinto Beans
Like black beans, pinto beans have an earthy flavor that mimics butter beans. They become very soft when cooked thoroughly.
Simmer pinto beans for 2-3 hours until tender. Season with cumin, garlic, onion and chili powder for Mexican dishes.
Use pinto beans in:
- Burritos and tacos
- Rice and bean dishes
- Pinto bean soup
- Refried beans
5. Cannellini Beans
Cannellini beans are a white kidney bean with a smooth, buttery texture. Their mild bean flavor makes them an easy substitute.
Soak cannellini beans overnight before simmering until tender. They take a bit longer to cook than other beans.
Tasty recipes with cannellini beans:
- White bean and kale soup
- Italian white bean salad
- Rosemary cannellini bean dip
- White bean chicken casserole
6. Great Northern Beans
Great northern beans are a medium-sized white bean similar in taste and texture to butter beans. They have a delicate flavor that works well in many dishes.
After an overnight soak, simmer great northerns until tender – about 1 1⁄2 hours. They also work well in slow cookers.
Some recipe ideas:
- Minestrone soup
- Great northern bean chili
- Southern-style white bean bake
- Tuscan white bean stew
7. Borlotti Beans
Borlotti beans, also called cranberry beans, are a colorful choice. They have a creamy texture and sweet, nutty taste.
Borlottis can be boiled, steamed, baked or slow-cooked. Don’t overcook, as they can become mushy.
Popular uses for borlotti beans:
- Minestrone and other bean soups
- Borlotti bean salad
- Italian sausage and beans
- Bean burgers or fritters
Soybeans are legumes native to East Asia that come in a wide variety of forms. Some popular options:
- Edamame – Green soybeans harvested before maturity. Often boiled and served as an appetizer or side dish.
- Tofu – Made from condensed soy milk. Many types and textures to choose from.
- Tempeh – Soybeans fermented into a firm, hearty cake. Can be fried, baked, etc.
- Soymilk – Milk substitute made from ground soybeans and water. Use for smoothies, cereal, or baking.
All provide that same mild bean flavor and protein content of butter beans.
9. Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
Chickpeas have a pleasant nutty taste and creamy consistency similar to butter beans. They can be used in many recipes calling for butter beans.
You can cook dried chickpeas by soaking overnight and boiling until tender. Canned chickpeas provide a quick shortcut.
Wonderful options for chickpeas:
- Curried chickpea salad
- Roasted chickpea bowls
10. Lima Beans
Of course, lima beans themselves make the best substitute for their butter bean variety. Even standard limas have a similar taste and texture.
Lima beans require longer soaking and cooking times of up to 2 hours. But frozen limas can be a faster option.
Recipes for regular lima beans:
- Lima bean soup
- Lima bean casserole
- Falafel made with lima beans
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best substitutes for butter beans?
Some of the top alternatives are cannellini beans, navy beans, great northern beans, and borlotti beans. All are similar in size, texture, and flavor to butter beans. Kidney beans and chickpeas also work well.
How do cannellini beans compare to butter beans?
Cannellini beans are close cousins to butter beans. They have a very smooth, creamy texture and subtly nutty taste like butter beans. The two types can generally be used interchangeably in recipes.
How do butter beans differ from kidney beans?
Butter beans have a much milder flavor and creamier consistency compared to kidney beans. Kidney beans maintain their shape more when cooked. But they can still work as a stand-in for butter beans in many dishes.
Butter beans are valued for their versatility in the kitchen. When you can’t find or use butter beans, there are many great options like navy, cannellini, and northern beans. Even chickpeas, kidney beans, and soy products can substitute for that mild, buttery quality.
Trying different bean varieties adds nutrition as well as interesting new flavors to your meals. With so many substitutes to choose from, you can easily adapt recipes when butter beans are off the menu. Experiment with these healthy and delicious bean alternatives to find your favorites!