Navy Beans vs Great Northern Beans

When comparing navy beans and great northern beans, you might find that these two legumes look similar, making it hard to distinguish between them. Yet, despite their similar appearance, they do possess some key differences in terms of taste, texture, and use in various recipes. It’s essential to be aware of these distinctions to make the best decision for your culinary creations.

Navy beans, also known as haricot beans, are small, oval-shaped beans with a smooth texture and mild flavor. These beans can transform into a creamy texture when cooked, making them ideal for use in soups, stews, and even baked beans. In contrast, great northern beans are slightly larger and possess a denser texture, though they still maintain a gentle flavor. Their firmer consistency makes them an excellent addition to salads or casseroles where the bean needs to keep its shape.

Now that you know the basic differences between navy beans and great northern beans, you can confidently choose the most suitable option for your cooking ventures. Keep in mind their distinct characteristics and textures, allowing these legumes to enhance your dishes and satisfy your taste buds.

Historical Background

Origins and Cultivation

Navy beans and Great Northern beans both have fascinating histories that trace back to their origins and cultivation. Navy beans, as their name suggests, have strong ties to the United States Navy. These small white beans were a staple food for the U.S. Navy in the early 20th century, providing sailors with much-needed protein and nutrients during their long voyages. Originating in Central America, navy beans were later cultivated throughout North and South America.

On the other hand, Great Northern beans have a history deeply rooted in the traditions of the Mandan tribe, who originally cultivated them in the Great Plains of North America. These beans received their name due to their popularity in the northern states of the US. They share a similar appearance with their navy bean counterpart – both being small and white – but differ in size, with the Great Northern being slightly larger.

Culinary History in the US

The culinary history of both navy beans and Great Northern beans in the United States showcases their versatility and enduring popularity.

  • Navy Beans:
    • Boston Baked Beans: A classic American dish made from navy beans, molasses, and pork. This slow-cooked meal was popular among sailors and continues to be a favorite comfort food in New England.
    • Ham and Bean Soup: A hearty soup made with navy beans, ham hocks, and vegetables, often served with crusty bread.
    • Navy Bean Salad: A cold salad made with cooked navy beans, chopped vegetables, and a tangy dressing, perfect for picnics or light lunches.
  • Great Northern Beans:
    • Bean and Sausage Casserole: A warming, one-pot meal featuring Great Northern beans, sausages, and aromatic herbs, popular in northern states.
    • Great Northern Bean Dip: A creamy, flavorful dip made with pureed Great Northern beans, garlic, and spices, making it an ideal accompaniment for chips or veggies.
    • Bean Salad: Similar to the navy bean salad, using Great Northern beans for a slightly larger and more substantial version.

Throughout their culinary history, both navy beans and Great Northern beans have proven their adaptability, showcasing their varied use in an array of dishes. To this day, they are widely consumed across the United States and remain a staple in many households.

Physical Characteristics

Size and Shape

When comparing Navy Beans and Great Northern Beans, the key distinctions in their physical characteristics include size and shape. Navy Beans, also known as Haricot or Boston beans, are small and oval-shaped. Their compact size allows for quicker cooking times, making them a convenient option for your kitchen. On the other hand, Great Northern Beans have a larger, kidney-shaped appearance, which often takes longer to cook.

Color and Appearance

Differences in color and overall appearance also help distinguish between these two types of beans. Navy Beans are typically off-white in color with a matte finish, giving them a rather understated appearance. The texture of Navy Beans is soft and creamy, making them ideal for dishes where a smooth consistency is desired, such as soups or sauces.

In contrast, Great Northern Beans are light beige in color with a faintly speckled appearance. Their texture is slightly firmer than Navy Beans, which means they hold their shape better in recipes that call for more structure, like salads and casseroles. Although both beans share some similarities in appearance, their distinct size, shape, and color can help you identify them easily in any bean selection.

To summarize the key differences between Navy Beans and Great Northern Beans:

BeansSize and ShapeColor and Appearance
Navy BeansSmall, oval-shapedOff-white, matte
Great NorthernLarger, kidney-shapedLight beige, speckled

Keep these physical characteristics in mind when choosing between Navy Beans and Great Northern Beans for your culinary ventures, and select the most suitable option depending on your desired outcome.

Nutritional Profile

Macronutrients and Calories

When comparing navy beans and Great Northern beans, you’ll find that their macronutrient profiles are quite similar. Here’s a breakdown of the macronutrients and calories present in a one-cup serving (cooked) of each bean:

Navy Beans25547.5g15g1g19g
Great Northern Beans20937g14.7g0.85g12.4g

As you can see, both beans are low-fat, high-fiber, and rich in protein. Their carbohydrate content is also comparable, with navy beans being slightly higher.

Vitamin and Mineral Content

Navy beans and Great Northern beans both contain significant amounts of vitamins and minerals that contribute to a well-balanced diet, although there are some differences in their nutritional content. The list below outlines key vitamins and minerals found in these beans:

  • Iron: Both beans are good sources of iron, with navy beans having a slightly higher amount (4.3 mg per cup) compared to Great Northern beans (3.3 mg per cup).
  • Calcium: Navy beans provide 127 mg of calcium per cup, while Great Northern beans deliver 120 mg per cup.
  • Potassium: A cup of navy beans has 708 mg of potassium, while Great Northern beans contain 692 mg per cup.
  • Vitamin B6: These beans have similar vitamin B6 content, with navy beans having 0.2 mg and Great Northern beans having 0.18 mg per cup.
  • Folate: Navy beans contain 255 mcg of folate per cup, while Great Northern beans have 181 mcg per cup.
  • Vitamin C: Both beans are not significant sources of vitamin C.
  • Sodium: Navy beans have 2 mg of sodium per cup, while Great Northern beans contain 4 mg per cup.

Overall, the vitamin and mineral content of navy beans and Great Northern beans is quite similar, with both serving as nutrient-dense choices for your meals.

Health Benefits

Nutritional Benefits of Great Northern Beans

Dietary Fiber and Digestion

Navy beans and Great Northern beans are both packed with dietary fiber, essential for improving your digestion and supporting a healthy gut. In a 100g serving, navy beans contain 10.5g of fiber, while Great Northern beans have 8.3g of fiber. The two bulleted lists below show the fiber contents found in both beans types:

  • Navy Beans
    • 10.5g of fiber per 100g serving
  • Great Northern Beans
    • 8.3g of fiber per 100g serving

This significant fiber content contributes to regular bowel movements, preventing constipation and promoting healthy gut bacteria. Moreover, fiber-rich diets have been linked to reduced risks of developing various chronic diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Impact on Blood Sugar

Another important aspect of these beans is their effect on blood sugar levels. Due to their low glycemic index (GI) values, navy and Great Northern beans help to moderate your blood sugar levels. The table below shows the GI values of these two bean types:

Bean TypeGlycemic Index (GI)
Navy Beans31
Great Northern Beans29

Their low GI values mean that they release glucose into the bloodstream slowly, avoiding sudden spikes in blood sugar. This makes them an ideal food for those with diabetes or those trying to manage their blood sugar levels.

In conclusion, navy beans and Great Northern beans are valuable additions to your diet for their fiber content and low glycemic index values. With these benefits, incorporating these beans into your meals can help improve digestion and support the management of blood sugar levels.

Culinary Uses

Common Dishes

When it comes to Navy Beans and Great Northern Beans, both are versatile ingredients in a variety of dishes. Their mild flavor and creamy texture lend themselves well to soups, stews, salads, and purees. Some popular recipes you may be familiar with include:

  • Navy Bean Soup: A hearty, flavorful soup made with navy beans, ham, and vegetables.
  • Baked Beans: Both navy and great northern beans are commonly used in baked bean dishes, such as Boston Baked Beans, which feature a sweet and savory sauce.
  • Casseroles: Both types of beans can be incorporated into casseroles as a nutritious and filling addition.
  • Pasta e Fagioli: A popular Italian dish that combines pasta, beans (great northern beans work particularly well), and vegetables in a savory broth.
  • Chicken Chili: A lighter alternative to traditional chili that uses either navy or great northern beans along with chicken, vegetables, and spices.

Global Influence on Cuisine

The versatility of navy beans and great northern beans has made them a staple ingredient in cuisines around the world. Some internationally inspired dishes that feature these ingredients include:

  • Pork and Beans: A classic American side dish where navy beans or great northern beans are cooked with bacon or salt pork for a smoky, flavorful treat.
  • Minestrone Soup: This Italian vegetable soup often includes great northern beans or navy beans for added protein.
  • Bean Salads: Both bean types can be used in various salads, tossed with fresh vegetables, herbs, and a light vinaigrette.

So, in your culinary adventures, don’t hesitate to explore the wide range of dishes you can create with navy beans and great northern beans. Peruse recipes online, get inspired, and experiment with both varieties in your own kitchen!

Cooking and Preparation

How to Make Great Northern Beans | Southern Great Northern Beans | Great Northern Beans Recipe

Soaking and Cooking Times

Before diving into the cooking process, it’s important to understand the differences in soaking and cooking times for Navy Beans and Great Northern Beans. Both beans are dried, so they require soaking to rehydrate before cooking.

  1. Navy Beans: Soak for at least 4-6 hours, or overnight. Cooking time is approximately 90 minutes to achieve a tender and creamy texture.
  2. Great Northern Beans: Soak for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight. Cooking time takes around 60-75 minutes until tender.
Bean TypeSoaking TimeCooking Time
Navy Beans4-6 hours90 minutes
Great Northern Beans4 hours60-75 minutes

When soaking, cover the beans with water, making sure there is about 2-3 inches of water above the beans. The beans will absorb this water, increasing in size. Drain and rinse the beans before cooking to eliminate any excess starch.

Flavor Pairings

Both Navy Beans and Great Northern Beans have their unique attributes when it comes to flavor pairings, but they can be somewhat interchangeable. Here are some suggestions for how to use each bean in your dishes:

  • Navy Beans: These small and creamy beans work well in soups and stews. They absorb flavors, making them an excellent choice for dishes with a strong taste, like dishes with pork or chicken. A classic pairing includes using navy beans in a white bean chili or navy bean soup with ham. For seasoning, consider using oil, salt, and your choice of herbs and spices to create a rich flavor. Some additional pairings with Navy Beans:
  • Great Northern Beans: These beans have a mild, nut-like flavor, making them a versatile option in various dishes. Great Northern Beans can be used in soups, casseroles, or even as a side dish. They pair well with chicken, pork, and a variety of vegetables. Their lighter taste lends itself to pairing with a broad range of seasonings and oils. Some additional pairings with Great Northern Beans:
    • Roasted or sautéed vegetables
    • Grains like rice or barley
    • Grilled or roasted meats

Remember, these suggestions are not set in stone, and part of the fun of cooking is experimenting and discovering new flavor combinations. Don’t be afraid to try new ingredients and techniques to find which bean suits your preferences and desired texture.

Comparison of Navy Beans and Great Northern Beans

Cannellini Beans Great Northern Beans What's The Difference

Taste and Texture Differences

When it comes to taste and texture, navy beans and great northern beans exhibit subtle differences. Navy beans have a delicate flavor, which allows them to easily absorb the seasonings and ingredients in a dish. Their texture is slightly firmer, making them a great addition to salads, soups, and stews. On the other hand, great northern beans possess a nutty flavor and a creamy texture. Their tender consistency lends itself well to purees and dips. Both types of beans have a relatively thin skin, which contributes to their smooth, pleasant mouthfeel.

Suitability for Recipes

When choosing between navy beans and great northern beans for your recipes, consider the desired texture and flavor profile of the final dish. Here is a brief guide on when to use each type of bean:

  • Navy Beans:
    • Salads: Their firmer texture holds up well in a salad, offering a satisfying, slightly chewy bite.
    • Soups: Their ability to absorb flavors make them a perfect canvas for various broths and seasonings.
    • Stews: Their firmness ensures they won’t turn to mush when cooked for longer periods.
  • Great Northern Beans:
    • Purees: Their naturally creamy texture results in a smooth, silky puree.
    • Dips: The nutty flavor pairs well with spices and herbs, creating delicious, versatile dips.
    • Casseroles: The creaminess adds a rich, comforting element to hearty, oven-baked dishes.

By understanding the unique characteristics of navy beans and great northern beans, you can confidently select the best bean for each of your culinary creations.

Substitution and Varieties

Choosing the Right Bean

When substituting beans in a recipe, it’s essential to consider the characteristics and flavor profiles of the beans you’d like to use. In general, Navy beans and Great Northern beans can be easily substituted for each other since they share a similar mild taste and creamy texture. However, it’s crucial to keep in mind the cooking time differences, as Great Northern beans tend to cook faster than Navy beans.

If you’re looking for alternative legumes to use, here are some common options and their best uses:

Bean TypeBest Used ForFlavor & Texture
Lima beansSoups, stews, and casserolesButtery and soft
Cannellini beansItalian dishes, salads, and stewsCreamy and mild
ChickpeasHummus, salads, and soupsNutty and firm
White beansBaking, salads, and pureesMild and versatile
Pinto beansMexican dishes, refried beansEarthy and soft
LentilsSoups, salads, and side dishesNutty and hold their shape when cooked
Butter beansSoups, casseroles, and saladsButtery and silky
Black beansLatin American dishes, saladsRich and velvety

Alternative Legumes

There are times when you might want to branch out from using common beans like Navy or Great Northern beans in your cooking. Here are some alternatives that provide different flavors and textures, while still offering versatility in a variety of dishes:

  • Lima beans can add a buttery, soft texture to soups, stews, and casseroles.
  • Chickpeas or lentils bring a nutty flavor and hold their shape well, making them suitable for salads, soups, and side dishes.
  • Pinto beans and black beans have slightly stronger, earthier flavors that work well in Latin American dishes, such as burritos or enchiladas.
  • Cannellini beans and butter beans offer a creamy, mild taste that can be substituted in Italian recipes or added to soups, salads, and stews.

When experimenting with bean substitution, remember to be mindful of their unique flavors, textures, and cooking times to ensure your dish remains delicious and satisfying.

Navy Beans vs Great Northern Beans + Recipe

Great Northern Bean Soup
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Course Soup
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 188 kcal


  • 1 pound great northern beans
  • 8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 carrots diced
  • 2 celery stalks diced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


  • Rinse the great northern beans and pick out any debris. Place them in a large pot and cover with water. Let them soak overnight or use the quick soak method by bringing the beans to a boil, then removing from heat and letting them sit for 1 hour.
  • After soaking, drain and rinse the beans.
  • In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, garlic, carrots, and celery. Sauté for 5-7 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
  • Add the soaked beans, broth, thyme, and rosemary to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let the soup simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the beans are tender.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve the great northern bean soup hot, garnished with a sprinkle of fresh herbs if desired.


Calories: 188kcal
Keyword navy beans vs great northern beans
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the differences in flavor and texture between Navy and Great Northern beans?

Navy beans have a mild, creamy flavor and a smooth, tender texture when cooked. Great Northern beans, on the other hand, have a slightly nutty taste and a firmer texture. Both beans hold their shape well during cooking, making them suitable for a variety of dishes.

Can Great Northern beans be used interchangeably with Navy beans in recipes?

Yes, you can often use Great Northern beans and Navy beans interchangeably in recipes without significantly impacting the taste or texture. However, keep in mind that their flavor profiles are slightly different, so you may find subtle taste variations when swapping one bean for the other.

How do Navy beans and Great Northern beans compare nutritionally?

Both Navy and Great Northern beans are rich sources of plant-based protein, fiber, and essential minerals. Navy beans tend to be slightly higher in protein and calories, while Great Northern beans may have marginally higher levels of fiber and potassium. Overall, both beans provide great nutritional value, and switching between the two beans will not have a significant impact on your diet.

What are the best dishes to use Navy beans as opposed to Great Northern beans?

Navy beans are famously used in classic dishes like baked beans and Boston baked beans, but they also work well in soups, stews, and salads. Due to their creamy texture, they can be used in bean dips or as a base for bean creams. Great Northern beans are a popular choice for dishes that call for larger beans, such as cassoulets, chili, and minestrone soup, as well as bean salads and sides.

Are there any noticeable differences in cooking times between Navy and Great Northern beans?

Both Navy beans and Great Northern beans have relatively similar cooking times. Navy beans typically cook faster than Great Northern beans but the difference is minimal. As with any beans, factors such as bean size, age, and soaking method can also impact cooking time, so it’s best to follow recipe guidelines and check for bean tenderness before deeming them ready to eat.

Is there a common alternative name for Navy beans?

Navy beans are also known as haricot beans or pea beans. You may come across any of these names when looking for recipes or purchasing these beans.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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