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Small White Beans: The Surprising Differences & Use For Each

Norah Clark
Small white beans on a plate

The different types of small white beans include navy beans, baby lima beans, and Great Northern beans. Cannellini beans are also highly popular white beans. Black-eyed peas, though small, are not entirely white, and cream-colored full-grown lima beans can substitute as white beans in numerous dishes.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between these white beans and suggest their ideal uses in different recipes.

Different Types of White Beans and Their Uses

Type of Bean Size Taste Texture Cooking Time Find on Amazon
Navy Beans Small Creamy  Soft, creamy 1 ½ – 2 hours Organic Navy Beans
Baby Lima Beans  Smallest Sweet, lightly buttery Soft, starchy 45 min – 1 hour Baby Lima Beans
Adult Lima Beans (Butter Beans) Small – Medium Buttery, slightly sweet Mealy or gritty but creamy 1 hour Organic Butter Beans
Great Northern Beans Medium Mild, soak up flavors well Tender to firm 45 min – 1 hour Organic Great Northern Beans
White Kidney Beans (Cannellini) Largest Mild, slightly nutty Soft – firm, meaty 1 ½ – 2 hours Organic Cannellini Beans
Black Eyed Peas Small Earthy Dense, firm 30 min – 1 hour Black Eyed Beans

Beans can often be used interchangeably in recipes, depending on what you have in your pantry, but differences in textures, size, and flavors can impact the outcome of your dish.

Let’s look at some of the most popular types of white beans and how you can use them.

1. Navy Beans

If a recipe calls for small white beans, it probably refers to Navy beans.

This small, white bean is known by many names, including white pea, small white, Boston, Yankee, or Fagioli.

They’re called Navy beans, not for their color but their presence as a staple product used by the US Navy.

They’re strikingly white without any hint of green or brown. 

Navy beans are one of the smallest white beans at about the same size as a pea. 

Cooked Navy beans are one of the softer beans, turning quite creamy. This makes them ideal for use in soups and bean dips.

Even though they’re soft beans that will lose their shape more than some of their sturdier relatives, they still take an average of 1½ – 2 hours to cook.

2. Baby Lima Beans

Baby lima beans are even smaller than Navy beans and just as white. They’re more likely to be referred to by name, however, or called butter beans. 

They’re creamy and buttery when they’re cooked, hence their nickname.

Because of their soft texture, they work well to make dips or include in a soup, stew, or even a casserole where you don’t want a hard bean.

To cook dried baby lima beans, simmer them for up to an hour.

You want to be sure they’re well cooked, as they tend towards being starchy but not overcooked to prevent them from getting mushy. 

3. Great Northern Beans

Despite being called “great,” Great Northern beans are medium in size, at best. 

One of the most distinguishing features of these particular small white beans is the fact that their mild flavor readily soaks up the flavors and seasonings in any dish they’re prepared in.

This makes them very versatile and a good introduction to beans for those who are hesitant about adding them to their diet. 

These small white beans keep their shape well, cooking up to have a nice soft texture that is still firm.

They’re commonly baked in casseroles or used for dishes like pork and beans because, even after they’re well cooked, they don’t go mushy.

Great Northern beans take about 45 minutes to an hour to cook, and they work well in soup or stew with plenty of fresh herbs and seasoning.

4. White Kidney Beans (Cannellini)

Cannellini beans are also called white kidney beans because that’s exactly what they are.

They have a slight pink tint to them, a nod to their rich, red cousins. 

White kidney beans are the largest of the white beans, so it’s a stretch to put them in a small white bean article, but they do substitute well for many other types of beans. 

They have a mild flavor, just a little bit nutty. For larger beans, they do get soft when they’re cooked, but they retain their firmness and create a meatiness to your dish. 

After soaking for 6 to 8 hours, white kidney beans need to simmer for 1½ to 2 hours before they’ll be ready to eat.

Cannellini beans are popular in Italian dishes, especially of a vegetarian nature, because they’re hearty and filling. They’re one of the most popular beans to use in a bean salad or other Mediterranean dishes. 

5. Black Eyed Peas

Black-eyed peas or beans aren’t entirely white; they have a small black eye on each bean.

They are small and quite plump, being more round than the average oblong or kidney-shaped bean.

They’re denser than many other white beans, retaining their firm texture even after being well cooked.

They will be fully cooked after only 30 minutes to 1 hour, but overcooking them won’t alter the texture much.

They are perfect for offsetting salty dishes with their earthy flavor, so use them in casseroles or sauces that have bacon or ham.

Black-eyed beans are commonly used in Greek cuisine, so, like cannellini, you’ll see them called for in a variety of Mediterranean dishes with plenty of tomatoes and fresh herbs.

6. Lima Beans (Butter Beans)

Full-sized lima beans aren’t as small or as white as the baby versions, being slightly more cream-colored. 

Lima beans are starchier than most other varieties of white beans, creating an almost potato-like texture to your dish with a buttery flavor. 

Lima beans tend to go a bit mushy, though they will still take up to 1 hour to cook.

To get the most enjoyment out of them, use them with a thick, creamy sauce to make the most of their softer texture. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are brown beans?

In North America, pinto beans or kidney beans can be used as brown beans in recipes. Swedish brown beans are also an option with a sweet, slightly nutty flavor. They work well in meat stews or chili.

How many calories in white kidney beans?

A ½ cup serving of cooked white kidney beans contains approximately 125 calories, 9 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, and less than 0.5 grams of fat.

What are the health benefits of white beans?

White beans are a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals such as copper, folate, iron, potassium, zinc, calcium, and magnesium. They can help manage weight, promote protein synthesis, and improve digestion and heart health.

Profile Image Norah Clark

Norah Clark

Norah Clark, Editor of Boyd Hampers! Norah is a food writer with over a decade of experience in hospitality as a pastry chef, sous chef, and barista; former chef at the Savoy Hotel, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Plaza Hotel.

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