The Differences Between Small White Beans

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When it comes to cooking, there are often lots of recipes that require you to use white beans, which can sound quite vague if you are unsure of what this means. This might leave you wondering what type of white beans that you are supposed to be using.

There are actually many different types of small white beans, so it can often be confusing trying to work out which one is the best to use. All of these types of beans have different origins and uses, and some may be better suited to your dish than others. 

If you are wondering what these different types of small white beans are, we are going to explain them all in this article.

Hopefully, this will help to give you a better understanding of what your recipes are asking of you and what you need to use.

Another thing that we will explain in this article is all of the different benefits of using small white beans in your cooking.

What Are White Beans?

White beans is a category title for a variety of different types of white beans that you can use for cooking. If you lie to cook meals from scratch often, then you have probably come across the need for white beans in some of your recipes.

Some types of white beans can include navy beans, cannellini beans, northern beans, and more. These are all types of white beans, but they do have some differences that make them each unique.

Nutritional Value of White Beans

White beans are actually a great source of nutritional value, and they are packed with great benefits like fiber and protein.

As well as this, they can also provide you with a great source of numerous different micronutrients, including folate, magnesium, and vitamin B6. We will provide you with more information about the nutritional content of white beans below.

The nutritional values that we are going to provide you with are based on a 1-cup or 170g serving of cooked white beans. The percentages are based on daily value.

242 calories, 17g of iron, 0.6g of fat, 44g of carbs, 11g of fiber, 55% copper, 36% folate, 36% iron, 21% potassium, 17% thiamine, 28% phosphorus, 26% magnesium, 22% zinc, 16% calcium, 12% vitamin B6, 6% riboflavin, and 4% selenium.

Something that you have probably noticed from this list is that white beans are very rich in copper, folate, and iron.

Copper is great for helping with the production of energy and iron metabolism, and iron has lots of different benefits for the body. One of the important things that iron helps with is the production of hemoglobin, which will transport oxygen around the body.

The Benefits of White Beans

White beans are great for use when you are cooking due to the fact that they are associated with lots of different health benefits.

This is due to their rich nutrient content. We are going to explain some of the benefits of white beans below.

Lots of Protein

One of the best things about white beans is that they are a great source of protein, which can work to promote a healthy muscle mass when paired with healthy amounts of exercise and a nutritional diet.

As well as this, protein can play a big role in many different bodily functions, like muscle building, nutrient transport, and even hormone production.

White beans and other legumes are one of the best ways for someone that is following a vegetarian or vegan diet to get protein, which is why they can often be found in vegan and vegetarian recipes. 

However, you should know that white beans on their own are not a complete and reliable source of protein, which means that they do not contain all of the essential amino acids that your body requires.

This is why you will need to combine them with other foods like rice, barley, corn, wheat, and other grains. These will all provide your body with the essential amino acids that it needs.

Great Fiber Content

Another important thing to know about white beans is that they will provide you with plenty of fiber. If you didn’t already know, the recommended amount of fiber per day is 25g for women and 38g for men.

This means that by just consuming a portion of white beans, you are already getting around half of your daily requirement for fiber. 

Diets that are high in fiber are often associated with improved digestive health as fiber is great for promoting bowel regularity.

Fiber is a really important part of a healthy diet, and if you are not getting enough fiber, then white beans could be a great alternative.

As well as all of this, white beans are high in resistant starch, This is fermented in your large intestine to produce beneficial compounds that are called short-chain fatty acids.

If you are getting a good amount of fiber in your diet, then you may be able to boost your heart health by lowering bad cholesterol. 

Can Promote Healthy Weight

The final benefit of white beans that we are going to talk about is the fact that it can help to promote a healthy weight. White beans are known for having a high nutrient density and a fairly low calorie count.

These things combined with their high fiber and protein content can all help to promote a healthy body weight.

Foods that are high in both fiber and protein have been known to promote feelings of fullness, which would make it less likely for people to overeat, as they feel full. In addition to this, foods that are rich in protein are also linked to reducing levels of ghrelin, which is a hunger hormone.

When it comes to long-term management, eating foods that are rich in protein can help people to naturally eat fewer calories. Interestingly, long-term research even suggests that people that eat legumes on a regular basis are 22% less likely to become obese.

Different Types of White Beans

There are a few different white beans that you can choose from when your recipe requires them, but they are all great for different reasons.

We are going to tell you about some of the different types of white beans below, so you will know the differences between them.

Navy Beans

One of the most popular types of small white beans there is would be navy beans. These are small white beans that are also known by a few other names, like white pea bean, small white bean and fagioli bean.

So, if you see any of these names in your recipe, you now know which type of bean to use.

The reason that they are called navy beans is that they were food that is often used by the US Navy. They are white in color with no green or brown to them, and they are one of the smallest types of white beans that you can get. They are roughly the size of a pea.

When these beans are cooked, they become really soft and almost creamy in consistency. This is why they are so often used in soup dishes and bean dips. On average, they will take around 1.5 to 2 hours to cook completely.

Baby Lima Beans

Baby beans are even smaller than navy beans, but they are also white in color. These are more likely to be called baby lima beans in most recipes, but they are sometimes called butter beans as they become creamy and buttery once they have been cooked.

Due to their soft texture, they will also work well in dishes like soup, stew and casserole, where you likely wouldn’t want to use harder types of beans. If you want to cook dried baby lima beans, you should simmer them for up to an hour.

You should always make sure that they have been well cooked, as they can become quite starchy. You should also try to avoid over-cooking them as they can become too mushy.

Great Northern Beans

Great northern beans are more of a medium-sized white bean, and they can easily be distinguished by their mild flavor. They will soak up the flavors and seasonings of the dish that they have been prepared in, which makes them quite versatile.

If you have never used white beans before, this is a great type of bean to start with.

These small white beans are able to keep their shape well, and they will have a nice and soft texture, while still remaining firm. They don’t go mushy once they have been cooked, and it will take around 45 minutes to an hour for them to be fully cooked.

White Kidney Beans (Cannellini)

Cannellini beans are sometimes also referred to as white kidney beans, and this is pretty much what they are. They have a slight pink tint to their coloring, and they are the largest of all of the white beans.

Some people would consider them to be too large to go into the small white bean category, but they will substitute well for lots of other types of beans. They have a mild flavor that is considered to be slightly nutty, and they will become softer when you cook them. 

However, they will still retain their firmness. If you want to use these beans for your dish, you should first soak them for around 6 to 8 hours. Once you have done this, you will need to simmer your white kidney beans for around 1.5 to 2 hours before they will be ready for you to use.

Black Eyed Peas

Black eyed peas are not entirely white in color, as they have a small black eye on each individual bean. They are relatively small and plump, but they are more round than the average bean.

They are quite dense in comparison to some other white beans, which allows them to retain their firm texture even after they have been well cooked.

Interestingly, black eyed peas are commonly used in Greek cuisine, like cannellini, and a variety of Mediterranean dishes. These beans will be fully cooked through after just 30 minutes to an hour of waiting, and the texture will not be altered greatly if you were to accidentally overcook them.

Lima Beans (Butter Beans)

Full-sized Lima beans will not be as white or as small as the baby versions, and they will have a slightly cream color. This type of bean is starchier than the majority of other white beans, which creates a texture that is similar to that of potatoes in your dish.

They have a buttery flavor, and do sometimes tend to go a bit mushy once they have been cooked. These white beans will take around an hour to be fully cooked through.

There are also cannellini bean, navy bean, and kidney bean. My favorite are garbanzo beans.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are small white beans?

As you have probably guessed, small white beans are a type of bean. They are also sometimes referred to as navy beans, but they are not blue. Instead, they are white as their name would suggest. Well, they are almost white, but you would probably say that the color of these beans is closer to ivory than white. As well as being ivory, these beans are also very small and oval-shaped with a smooth surface which explains their name.

Despite the fact that they are not baked beans, one of the most popular ways to prepare small white beans is in the same fashion. They are easy to prepare and rather mild in flavor which makes them very versatile. So, while you may not have heard of small white beans before there is a good chance that you will have eaten them before. Even if you have not realized.

What are the different types of white beans?

There are lots of different types of beans, but when it comes to white beans there are only 4 different types that you are likely to encounter. These beans are:

  • Navy Beans (a.k.a. Small white beans) – these white beans are small and oval-shaped with a smooth and shiny surface. They also have a mild flavor which makes them great for lots of different dishes.
  • Cannellini Beans (a.k.a. White kidney beans) – these beans are larger than navy beans and are very common in Italian cuisine due to their smooth texture and slightly nutty taste.
  • Baby Lima Beans – these beans have a greenish tint, and are packed with protein and fiber making them one of the healthiest options.
  • Great Northern Beans – these beans are larger than navy beans, but are commonly used in the same way to cook baked beans.

Are small white beans the same as cannellini beans?

No, small white beans (a.k.a. Navy beans) are not the same as Cannellini beans. This will surprise a lot of people as both of these beans are very similar to one another, but they are actually two very different things. On the surface, it might look like small white beans are the same as Cannellini beans, only smaller. But this isn’t the case. This is the only difference in appearance between small white beans and cannellini beans, but they also taste very different from one another.

Small white beans have a very mild flavor which is why they are so widely used. This mild flavor makes them incredibly versatile and suitable for lots of different recipes. Whereas cannellini beans have a nutty hint to their flavor which does limit the amount of recipes that you can use them in. So, no, these two types of beans are not the same as one another.

What is the difference between small white beans and great Northern beans?

Of all the white beans that exist, small white beans and great Northern beans are probably the most similar to each other. In fact, the only real difference between these two types of beans is the size. There is also a minor difference in terms of texture, but this isn’t noticeable once they have been cooked.

Other than that, small white beans and great Northern beans are almost identical. Both of these types of beans are cooked in the same manner as one another, most commonly baked in other recipes, and because of this they taste very similar to each other. So, in short, the main difference between small white beans and great Northern beans is the fact that the great Northern beans are slightly larger.

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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.
Cassie Marshall
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