Substitutes For Navy Beans

Navy beans, sometimes called Boston beans, are medium-sized white beans native to North America. They are oval, almost pill-shaped. 

Navy beans got their name because they were a staple food in U.S. Navy rations starting in the 19th century. 

These beans feature in many traditional American dishes, including baked beans, bean soup, and bean pie. They have a mild, nutty taste and a soft, smooth texture that breaks down well with extensive cooking time.

If you don’t have navy beans on hand, several other beans that you may have in your pantry work well as a substitute. Here are a few of the best replacements for navy beans.

Cannellini Beans

Cannellini beans are white beans, just like navy beans. They are larger than navy beans, are kidney-shaped instead of round, and have a meatier, more robust flavor and texture. Cannellini beans are popular in Italy, where they feature heavily in traditional stews such as minestrone.

Cannellini beans have a similar mild, almost sweet flavor to navy beans, so they work well as a substitute in soups and stews. They are also similar in appearance. However, cannellini beans hold their shape better when cooked, which means that they are not a good substitute for dips or pie fillings because they don’t get mashed as easily.

Great Northern Beans

Great Northern beans are somewhere between navy beans and cannellini beans in terms of size. They are another type of white bean, just like navy and cannellini beans. They are popular in northern cuisines, such as French, because they thrive in colder climates.

Great Northern beans work well as a replacement for navy beans in soups and stews, thanks to their similar mild, nutty flavors. However, these beans are firmer than navy beans. This may be a good thing if you don’t like mushy soup, but it does mean that you can’t make dip or even bean pie as easily using great Northern beans.

Butter Beans

Butter beans are a type of small white bean popular in North America. They are a variety of lima beans, and often the names are used interchangeably. Like navy beans, butter beans have a creamy texture and robust, nutty flavor.

Butter beans are extremely versatile, like navy beans, and can be used in soups, stews, skillet dishes, and other sides. They are slightly starchier than navy beans, which could affect the final texture of your dish. When buying butter beans, be careful reading the label so you don’t accidentally buy lima beans, which are sometimes green.

Runner Beans

Runner beans, sometimes called butter beans (just to make it even more confusing), are long, green beans that originally come from South America. The flat, long pods can be cooked whole when they are young, which separates this species from other beans. When runner beans age, the seeds grow into white or speckled beans that are similar in texture and flavor to navy beans.

You can use runner bean seeds as a replacement for navy beans in soups and stews. Runner beans have the same function that navy beans do in many European cuisines. However, when using runner beans as a substitute for navy beans, be sure to get the seeds and not the pods.

Pinto Beans

Pinto beans are large, speckled brown beans popular in Mexico, the southwestern United States, and other parts of Latin America. Pinto beans have a robust, beany flavor and soft texture that breaks down when cooked. They are often used to make refried beans.

Pinto beans have a soft texture like navy beans, so they function as a replacement for dip recipes in a way that firmer beans cannot. However, they have a much stronger flavor, so you may need to use fewer pinto beans than you would navy beans in a recipe.

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