Unraveling the Distinctions of Small White Beans

Understanding Small White Beans: Types and Uses

When it comes to cooking with beans, you may come across recipes that call for “small white beans” or simply “white beans. But what exactly are small white beans, and how do they differ from each other? In this article, we will explore the different types of small white beans, their characteristics, and the best ways to use them in different dishes.

1. Navy beans

Navy beans are often called small white beans. They are small in size, similar to peas, and have a striking white color. Navy beans are known for their creamy texture when cooked, making them ideal for soups and bean dips. They take about 1 ½ to 2 hours to cook and can be substituted for other small white beans in most recipes.

2. Baby Lima Beans

Baby lima beans are even smaller than navy beans and have a sweet and slightly buttery flavor. They are creamy when cooked and work well in dips, soups, stews and casseroles. To cook dried baby lima beans, simmer them for about 45 minutes to 1 hour to achieve the desired texture.

3. Great Northern Beans

Great Northern beans are medium-sized white beans with a mild flavor. They are versatile and easily absorb the flavors and seasonings of other ingredients in a dish. These beans hold their shape well and are often used in casseroles, soups and stews. They take about 45 minutes to 1 hour to cook.

4. White Kidney Beans (Cannellini)

White kidney beans, also known as cannellini beans, are the largest of the small white beans. They have a mild, slightly nutty flavor and a soft to firm texture when cooked. These beans are popular in Italian cuisine and are often used in bean salads or Mediterranean dishes. They must be soaked for 6 to 8 hours and then cooked for 1 ½ to 2 hours.

5. Black-Eyed Peas

Black-eyed peas are small white beans with a small black eye on each bean. They have a dense and firm texture, even after cooking. Black-eyed peas are great for adding an earthy flavor to casseroles and sauces. They cook relatively quickly, usually in 30 minutes to 1 hour.

6. Lima Beans (Butter Beans)

Lima beans, also known as butter beans, come in both small and large varieties. The small butter beans are more creamy than white, while the full-sized beans are even larger and starchier. They have a buttery flavor and a soft, almost potato-like texture. Lima beans are best used in dishes with thick, creamy sauces. They take about 1 hour to cook.
It’s important to note that while these small white beans have different characteristics, they can often be used interchangeably in recipes, depending on personal preference and availability. Understanding their differences can help you choose the right bean for your desired dish.

Benefits of small white beans

Small white beans, like other beans, offer many health benefits. They are a rich source of plant protein, with an average of 17 grams of protein per 1 cup serving. White beans are also low in fat and high in fiber, making them beneficial for gut health and digestion. In addition, they are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, including copper, folate, iron, potassium, zinc, calcium, and magnesium.
Incorporating small white beans into your diet can help manage weight, promote protein synthesis, and improve heart health and digestion.

Bottom line

Small white beans, including navy beans, baby lima beans, great northern beans, white kidney beans (cannellini), black-eyed peas, and lima beans (butter beans), offer a variety of flavors and textures for your culinary creations. Understanding their unique characteristics will help you choose the right bean for any recipe, whether it’s a hearty soup, creamy dip, or flavorful casserole. So go ahead and explore the world of little white beans to enhance your cooking and enjoy their nutritional benefits!


Can I substitute one type of small white beans for another in a recipe?

Yes, in most cases, small white beans can be substituted for one another in recipes. However, keep in mind that each type may have slightly different textures and flavors, which can affect the final outcome of the dish.

How do I cook small white beans?

Small white beans generally need to be soaked before cooking. Soak them in water overnight or for at least 6-8 hours. Drain and rinse the beans, then cook them in fresh water according to the specific cooking instructions for each variety.

Are small white beans good for a vegetarian or vegan diet?

Yes, small white beans are an excellent choice for vegetarian and vegan diets. They are a great source of plant-based protein and can be used in a variety of meatless dishes to add both texture and nutritional value.

Can I freeze cooked small white beans?

Yes, cooked small white beans can be frozen for later use. Allow them to cool completely, then transfer them to airtight containers or freezer bags. Label and date the containers before placing them in the freezer. Defrost and use beans within 3-4 months.

Are small white beans gluten free?

Yes, small white beans are naturally gluten-free, making them an appropriate ingredient for people with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease. However, always check the packaging of canned or processed beans for possible gluten-containing additives.

How long will small white beans stay fresh in storage?

When stored in a cool, dry, and airtight container, dried small white beans can remain fresh for up to 1-2 years. However, it’s always a good idea to check for signs of spoilage, such as mold or an off odor, before using.