13 Common Types of Beans—and How to Use Them
A guide to loving your legumes.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Beans are one of the most perfect foods out there. They’re a cheap way to stock up on important nutrients, and since they’re packed with protein and fiber, they’re super filling. Whether you’re looking to add some variety to your diet, cut costs, or rely on beans for protein, get to know these common bean varieties and the best ways to eat them.
Also known as black turtle beans, black beans are native to the Americas, where they’re common in Latin American, indigenous, Cajun, and creole cuisines. However, they’re used around the world, and especially popular in several of India’s regional cuisines. Thanks to their hearty texture, they’re common staples in any diet and components in some of the best vegetarian foods.
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Black-eyed peas originated in West Africa, and today they’re grown and consumed around the world, particularly in the Middle East, South Asia, South America, and the Southeastern United States. Black-eyed peas are perhaps best known for their association with good luck and the New Year in the Americas.
Cannellini beans are a type of kidney bean known for their large size and creamy white hue. They’re especially popular in Italian fare, particularly in Tuscany, and have a subtle nutty flavor. When cooked, they take on a pleasant, almost fluffy texture.
Fava beans, also known as broad beans, are one of the oldest cultivated crops. Unlike other beans, fava beans are eaten when they’re still young—additionally, immature pods and leaves are edible as long as you don’t suffer from favism. They’re popular in soups, steamed inside their pods, mashed, and fried.
Also known as chickpeas, garbanzo beans, are, of course, the building blocks of Mediterannean and Middle Eastern staples such as hummus and falafel. They were first cultivated in the Middle East around 7,500 years ago, and have remained popular for their versatility and high protein levels. They’re a well-known meat substitute, and they can also be roasted, eaten cold, or ground into flour and baked.
Great Northern Beans
Great northern beans are a variety of white beans known for their creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. They’re popular in soups, stews, and casseroles, as they retain moisture well, and can maintain their shape after boiling.
The kidney bean’s eponym is its appearance: large, dark, and curved like the vital organ. However, kidney beans can be white, light, or speckled, and they aren’t the same thing as red beans (More on that later). Kidney beans are best known for their appearances in chili or alongside rice, Cajun-style.
Recipes to try: Curried Red Kidney Beans and Cauliflower (Rajma Masala), Hearty Bulgur Chili.
Another ancient legume, lentils are native to Central and West Asia but popular around the word. They work excellently in soups and stews, such as dal, but they can also be fried, baked, stuffed into breads, or ground into flour. Like other beans, lentils are nutritionally rich, particularly when it comes to protein, folate, thiamine, and iron.
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Also known as butter beans, lima beans are native to Central and South America—in fact, Lima, Peru, is their namesake. Lima beans are usually seen in dishes such as succotash, or simply boiled with a salty piece of meat. They’re particularly high in potassium, and like other legumes, can help stabilize blood sugar levels.
Navy beans, the legume of choice for baked beans, are a type of white bean native to (and domesticated in) the Americas. Unfortunately, navy beans don’t get their name from their color. Rather, they were frequently served to soldiers in the U.S. Navy. You'll mostly see them in baked beans, but they're also popular soup beans.
These brown, speckled beans are one of the most popular varieties around, especially in the Americas. They’re usually eaten whole, in a situation like a soup or chili, but they’re also popular mashed and then refried. Pinto beans are especially high in protein, manganese, fiber, and folate, and eating them can lower cholesterol, according to the American Society of Nutrition.
Don’t get these mixed up with kidney beans—red beans, also known as adzuki beans, are a type of mung bean. In East Asia, where they were cultivated, red beans are often sweetened and incorporated into desserts (Pastries stuffed with red bean paste, for example), but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them in savory dishes just as well.
Soybeans might just be the most versatile bean out there: Just ask tofu, soy milk, soy meal, soy flour, miso, and liquid aminos. Originating in East Asia, soybean cultivation predates written records, putting the protein-packed beans up there with garbanzo beans and lentils. That protein content makes them popular meat and dairy substitutes, but soybeans are also great on their own.