White Beans: A Quick and Tasty Guide

Diving into the world of white beans can be an exciting adventure, especially with varieties like Great Northern, Navy, Lima, and Cannellini beans. Each type has unique characteristics, and knowing their differences can enhance your culinary experiences. In this article, we will explore these versatile legumes and provide helpful tips on soaking, cooking, and maximizing their nutritional benefits.

Whether you’re an experienced cook or just starting to experiment in the kitchen, understanding these beans can take your dishes to new heights. From exploring the differences among types of white beans to considering the benefits of canned versus dried beans, this guide offers valuable insights for your cooking journey.

Key Takeaways

  • Discover the distinct characteristics of Great Northern, Navy, Lima, and Cannellini beans
  • Learn the importance and methods of soaking and de-gassing beans for optimal results
  • Uncover the health benefits of white beans and how to choose the best variety for your recipes

White Beans: Your Ultimate Guide to Great Northern, Navy, Lima, and Cannellini Beans

Dive into the world of white beans and discover their versatility in creating scrumptious vegan dishes. These protein-rich legumes are perfect for recipes like Vegan Cassoulet, White Bean Soup, and the hearty Kale & White Bean Ragu. Whether you’re using Great Northern, Navy, Lima, or Cannellini beans, expect flavor and nutrition in every bite!

Assorted White Beans

White beans come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors. Some popular ones include:

  • Navy Beans: small, mild in taste, and cook quickly
  • Great Northern Beans: medium-sized, mild in flavor, and slightly firmer
  • Cannellini Beans: large, creamy, with a nutty flavor
  • Lima Beans: buttery taste and a starchy texture

Each type offers distinct culinary experiences for your enjoyment.

So, What Are the Top White Beans?

Depending on your recipe, various types of white beans are ideal for different dishes. For instance, Great Northern Beans work well in hearty French meals like Vegan Cassoulet. Navy Beans, however, become soft and creamy when cooked, making them excellent for a delicious vegan starter: White Bean Hummus.

To make your culinary experience with white beans easier, consider this brief White Bean Cheat Sheet as a handy reference while you cook. Remember, the choice of white beans can significantly impact the taste of your dish!

Navy Beans (aka Pea Beans or Small White Beans): Could White Beans Be Any More Confusing?

Navy beans, often called pea beans or small white beans, are the tiniest beans covered in this article. They get their name from being a main food source for the U.S. Navy in the past. Despite their name, navy beans are not blue; instead, they are white.

Don’t let their size and confusing names deter you from adding them to your grocery list. When cooked, navy beans have a creamy texture, making them an excellent choice for vegan dips and sauces. Moreover, their texture allows them to serve as a healthy method for thickening soups. Regardless of the name you use for these beans, they are undoubtedly worth including in your meals.

Great Northern Beans: The Meatiest of the Bunch

Great Northern beans stand out for their meaty texture among other beans. Unlike Navy beans, they maintain their shape when cooked, making them perfect for dishes like white bean soups, stews, or even a vegan cassoulet.

These beans have a subtle, nutty taste and are medium in size, which means they take a bit longer to cook compared to Navy beans. They’re also great at absorbing liquids, so they are ideal for incorporating into recipes with bold, flavorful broths and sauces. One delicious option is a slow-cooker Great Northern bean soup, which turns out so thick and creamy that you’ll find it hard to believe it’s dairy-free. Enjoy experimenting with this versatile bean in your kitchen!

Cannellini Beans: The Biggest White Bean of the Bunch

Cannellini beans, sometimes called White Kidney Beans, stand out as the largest among their white bean counterparts. These beans possess a meaty texture and keep their shape well when cooked, making them a favored choice for soups and stews. Their slightly thicker skin ensures they remain intact and easily recognized in various dishes.

These beans are known for their mild, nutty flavor, and they hold a special place in the hearts of home chefs. You’ve likely enjoyed them as the featured bean in the ever-popular Minestrone soup.

Lima Beans: Navigating the Intricacies of the Unassuming White Bean

You may find the world of Lima Beans a bit perplexing, with various names and sizes in different corners of the globe. People in the South or the UK might call them Butter Beans, while others are fond of the Lima Beans label. Geography plays a significant role in naming these beans.

Size is another factor that classifies them. Larger Lima Beans are commonly referred to as Butter Beans, while the smaller-sized ones, known as Baby Lima Beans, retain the simple Lima Beans title. As if that wasn’t enough to bamboozle, you’ll find these beans in various shades, ranging from pale green to beige and white.

When it comes to taste, these little beans don’t disappoint. Slow-cooking Baby Lima Beans or Butter Beans result in a soft, creamy texture. They are often cooked in savory broths, making them a delectable side dish for you to enjoy.

How to Prepare Dried Beans and Reduce Bloating

To cook dried beans efficiently, it’s best to soak them in water for at least 8 hours. This significantly reduces the beans’ cooking time. Soaking beans is also believed to help decrease gas and bloating. This is referred to as “de-gassing” your beans.

Proponents of de-gassing suggest that pre-soaking helps eliminate some indigestible sugars from the beans. These sugars tend to ferment in the lower digestive system, causing discomfort and, sometimes, flatulence. However, the effectiveness of de-gassing remains a debatable topic with both supporters and skeptics.

On a positive note, the Cleveland Clinic states that the more frequently you consume beans, the faster your body adapts to digesting them. This means any gastrointestinal distress you might experience should be a short-term issue.

When preparing dried beans, use these simple steps:

  1. Soak the beans in water for a minimum of 8 hours.
  2. Drain the soaking water.
  3. Cook the beans according to your desired recipe.

By following these guidelines and incorporating beans into your diet regularly, you can enjoy their numerous benefits while minimizing any potential digestive discomfort.

The Magic of Brining Beans

Brining your beans is the key to achieving that perfect texture! By adding 3 tablespoons of salt to 4 quarts of cold water, your beans will soak in all the goodness. This little trick helps soften the beans’ exterior and avoids splitting and shedding of skins. Just remember, when you’re soaking 1 pound of dried beans, a brine solution can make all the difference.

Considering Whether to Keep or Discard Bean Soaking Water

When it comes to using bean soaking water in your recipe, opinions vary. Some culinary experts believe it’s a good idea as it helps preserve the beans’ flavors and colors. However, those in favor of discarding the water argue that doing so is necessary since soaking beans is meant to remove gas-causing sugars. Consequently, if you cooked with this same water, it would negate the process. To avoid any discomfort, it’s wise to discard the soaking water and rinse the soaked beans before cooking.

Are White Beans Healthy?

You might think that colorful foods are the go-to choice for health benefits, but don’t let the lack of vibrant hues in white beans fool you. White beans come with a powerhouse of nutrients that make them a nutritious addition to your diet.

White beans provide a significant source of plant-based protein, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals, including copper, iron, and folate. These essential micronutrients play a key role in energizing your body, maintaining your metabolism, and ensuring oxygen is delivered efficiently throughout your body via your bloodstream.

Moreover, white beans contain valuable antioxidants that aid in combating oxidative stress and repairing cellular damage. Their nutrient profile also includes potassium, calcium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, thiamine, and selenium. Furthermore, white beans are low in carbs, have a low glycemic index, and induce fullness, which supports a balanced diet and may help in maintaining a healthy heart.

In summary, white beans are a little powerhouse of nourishment offering numerous benefits that make them a wholesome choice in a plant-based diet.

Canned White Beans or Dried White Beans: What’s Better?

Determining whether canned white beans or dried white beans are superior can be quite challenging. You might assume that dried white beans outshine their canned counterparts, but there are valid points supporting the use of canned beans, too. For instance, canned beans undergo stricter quality control during packaging, meaning only the best-looking beans make it into the can. However, one could argue that dried beans contribute more flavor to a dish due to their longer cooking times.

You could find yourself using both canned and dried beans for different purposes. If you’re preparing a dessert where you’d prefer to avoid a strong bean flavor, dried beans might be your best option. Despite draining and rinsing canned beans, they can still retain a bean-like taste from the packing liquid.

On the other hand, canned beans can be a convenient choice when you want to make a meal without factoring in the overnight soaking time required for dried beans. As a vegan staple, beans often feature prominently in various dishes, so having canned beans handy can help create a quick, healthy dinner.

When using canned beans, always remember to drain and rinse them thoroughly in fresh water. Additionally, simmer the beans for at least 30 minutes to soften them and enhance their flavor in your dish. This way, you can make the most of whichever type of white bean you choose without feeling limited by any drawbacks.

Comparing Cannellini, Great Northern, and Other White Bean Substitutes

When searching for white beans at the supermarket, you might encounter multiple alternatives. If you’re wondering whether you can use Cannellini Beans instead of Great Northern Beans, or substitute Navy Beans for Lima Beans, the answer is generally yes. The key is to match the texture of the beans in your recipe.

For a meatier consistency, Cannellini Beans and Great Northern Beans are ideal choices and can be exchanged without issue. On the other hand, if you’re preparing a creamy dip, Navy Beans and Baby Lima Beans (also called Butter Beans) can be seamlessly switched.

Additionally, you might consider using chickpeas as an alternative white bean, as they also complement various dishes with their unique texture and taste. Just remember to keep the beans’ textures in mind when making substitutions to ensure a delicious outcome.

White Bean Delicacies

Delightful Pappardelle Pasta with Kale & White Bean Ragu

Treat yourself to a scrumptious vegan comfort food with this Pappardelle Pasta accompanied by a kale and white bean ragu. Infuse an Italian touch to your dinner while keeping it vegan-friendly by incorporating a delectable cashew cream sauce, crafted with cashews, nutritional yeast, and fresh lemon juice.

Hearty Vegan Cassoulet

Embrace the richness of a savory dish without compromising your vegan lifestyle. Try this Vegan Cassoulet that will mesmerize you with its melt-in-your-mouth qualities, much like the traditional French cassoulet. Enjoy this earth-friendly and healthier version of a beloved classic.

Creamy Vegan White Bean Stew

Indulge in this simple yet delicious Vegan White Bean Stew, perfect for those cold evenings. By preparing it in a slow cooker, the outcome is a thick and creamy stew that tastes so incredibly divine, you would find it hard to believe that it’s dairy-free.

Creamy Vegan White Bean Stew

Great white bean recipe
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 224 kcal


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 celery stalks chopped
  • 2 carrots chopped
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cans 15 oz each white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can 14.5 oz diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews soaked for at least 2 hours
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Fresh parsley chopped (optional)


  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes until the onion is translucent.
  • Add the celery and carrots and sauté for another 5-7 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
  • Add the thyme, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, and black pepper and stir to combine.
  • Add the vegetable broth, white beans, and diced tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  • While the stew is simmering, drain and rinse the soaked cashews. Add the cashews, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
  • Once the stew has simmered for 15-20 minutes, remove it from the heat. Stir in the cashew cream until fully combined.
  • Serve the stew hot, garnished with fresh parsley if desired.


Calories: 224kcal
Keyword creamy vegan white bean stew
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some great vegetarian dishes with white beans?

There are many delicious vegetarian dishes that can be made with white beans. Here are some ideas:

  1. White Bean and Kale Soup – a hearty and healthy soup with white beans, kale, carrots, celery, and onion.
  2. White Bean and Tomato Salad – a refreshing salad with white beans, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and a lemon vinaigrette.
  3. White Bean and Mushroom Stew – a savory stew with white beans, mushrooms, carrots, celery, and thyme.
  4. White Bean and Avocado Toast – a simple and satisfying breakfast or snack with mashed white beans, avocado, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes on toasted bread.
  5. White Bean and Spinach Pasta – a quick and easy pasta dish with white beans, spinach, garlic, and Parmesan cheese.
  6. White Bean and Sweet Potato Chili – a flavorful chili with white beans, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and chili powder.
  7. White Bean and Roasted Vegetable Salad – a colorful salad with white beans, roasted vegetables (such as bell peppers, zucchini, and eggplant), and a balsamic vinaigrette.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. White beans are a versatile ingredient that can be used in many vegetarian dishes, so feel free to get creative and experiment with different flavors and combinations!

Which white beans are often used in recipes?

There are several types of white beans that are commonly used in recipes, including:

  1. Cannellini Beans – These are large, creamy white beans with a slightly nutty flavor. They are often used in Italian dishes like minestrone soup, pasta e fagioli, and Tuscan white bean salad.
  2. Great Northern Beans – These are medium-sized white beans with a mild, nutty flavor. They are often used in American dishes like white bean chili, white bean and ham soup, and baked beans.
  3. Navy Beans – These are small, oval-shaped white beans with a mild flavor and a creamy texture. They are often used in classic dishes like Boston baked beans, navy bean soup, and cassoulet.
  4. Butter Beans – These are large, flat white beans with a buttery flavor and a creamy texture. They are often used in southern dishes like succotash, butter bean soup, and hoppin’ John.

All of these white beans can be used interchangeably in most recipes, so feel free to use whichever variety you prefer or have on hand.

What flavors and ingredients go well with white beans?

Creamy Vegan White Bean Stew

Can you recommend a tasty white beans recipe?

White beans are a versatile ingredient that can be paired with a variety of flavors and ingredients. Here are some ideas:

  1. Herbs and Spices – White beans pair well with herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage, as well as spices like cumin, paprika, and chili powder.
  2. Vegetables – White beans can be combined with a variety of vegetables, including carrots, celery, onions, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, and kale.
  3. Citrus – Lemon juice or zest can add a bright, fresh flavor to white bean dishes.
  4. Cheese – Parmesan, feta, and goat cheese are all great options for adding a salty, tangy flavor to white bean dishes.
  5. Nuts and Seeds – Toasted almonds, pine nuts, and sunflower seeds can add crunch and nuttiness to white bean dishes.
  6. Olive Oil – A drizzle of high-quality olive oil can add richness and depth of flavor to white bean dishes.
  7. Bread – White beans can be mashed and spread on toast or used as a dip for bread.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. White beans are a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes, so feel free to experiment with different flavors and ingredients to find what you like best!

What sets northern white beans apart from cannellini beans?

Great Northern beans and Cannellini beans are both white, kidney-shaped beans that are often used interchangeably in recipes. However, there are some differences between the two varieties:

  1. Size – Great Northern beans are smaller than Cannellini beans, with a more oval shape.
  2. Flavor – Great Northern beans have a mild, nutty flavor, while Cannellini beans have a slightly nutty and earthy flavor.
  3. Texture – Great Northern beans have a slightly firmer texture than Cannellini beans, which are known for their creamy texture.
  4. Use in recipes – Great Northern beans are often used in American dishes like baked beans, soups, and stews, while Cannellini beans are often used in Italian dishes like minestrone soup, pasta e fagioli, and Tuscan white bean salad.

Ultimately, both Great Northern beans and Cannellini beans are delicious and nutritious, and can be used interchangeably in most recipes. It’s a matter of personal preference and the specific recipe you are making.

How do various cuisines, like Italian, use white beans in their dishes?

Here are some examples of how different cuisines use white beans in their dishes:

  1. Italian Cuisine – In Italian cuisine, white beans are often used in soups, stews, and salads. One classic Italian dish is pasta e fagioli, which is a soup made with white beans, pasta, and vegetables. Another popular dish is Tuscan white bean salad, which is made with white beans, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and fresh herbs.
  2. American Cuisine – In American cuisine, white beans are often used in dishes like baked beans, chili, and soups. White bean chili is a popular variation on traditional chili, made with white beans, chicken or vegetable broth, and spices like cumin and chili powder.
  3. Mexican Cuisine – In Mexican cuisine, white beans are often used in dishes like refried beans and soups. White bean and chicken soup is a popular Mexican dish made with white beans, chicken broth, shredded chicken, and vegetables like carrots and celery.
  4. Middle Eastern Cuisine – In Middle Eastern cuisine, white beans are often used in dishes like hummus and falafel. White bean hummus is a delicious alternative to traditional chickpea hummus, made with white beans, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil.
  5. French Cuisine – In French cuisine, white beans are often used in dishes like cassoulet, which is a slow-cooked stew made with white beans, sausage, and vegetables. White bean and vegetable soup is another French dish made with white beans, vegetables like leeks and carrots, and fresh herbs like thyme and parsley.

These are just a few examples of how different cuisines use white beans in their dishes. White beans are a versatile ingredient that can be used in many different ways, so feel free to experiment and try out new recipes!

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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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