Best Substitutes For Butter Beans & When To Use Them

Looking for a butter beans substitute? Whether you don’t have any on hand, can’t find them at the store, or have an allergy, try one of these substitutes for butter beans instead.

What Are Butter Beans?

Butter beans, also known as lima beans or baby lima beans, are a large, flat type of white bean with a buttery, slightly nutty flavor and smooth, buttery texture.

This type of legume originated in South America and got its name from the capital of Peru. In the United States and the United Kingdom, they’re known as butter beans whereas in South America and other Latin countries, they’re known as Lima beans, however, they’re the same thing. 

Butter beans are a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of ways in savory dishes such as soups, stews, salads, toast, pasta dishes, casseroles, and in many of your favorite recipes. They’re a good source of protein, fiber, and other minerals.

Where to Find Them

Butter beans can be found either canned or dry in many grocery stores. However, if you can’t find them in your area, there are plenty of substitutes below that work in a variety of dishes.

Best Substitutes For Butter Beans

Cannellini Beans

Cannellini beans, also known as white kidney beans, are a great substitute for butter beans due to their similar creamy texture and mild taste. They hold their shape well when cooked and can be used in soups, stews, salads, and dips.

Navy Beans

Navy beans, also called haricot beans or Boston beans, are another excellent substitute for butter beans. These small white beans have a creamy texture and mild taste and work well in soups, chili, and bean salads.

Great Northern Beans

Great Northern beans are similar in size and texture to butter beans with a mild flavor and creamy consistency. They’re a great alternative in recipes like casseroles, soups, and bean dips. 

Fava Beans (Broad Beans)

Fava beans have a green exterior and are only available during the springtime. When not in season, you can buy them frozen. Fresh fava beans have a crisp texture, mild flavor, and a buttery, creamy texture.

The fresher the fava bean, the milder the flavor. Unlike other beans, fresh fava beans can be eaten raw, but are best blanched to remove the thin skin on each bean. They can also be boiled, steamed, mashed, sautéed, or roasted, and are a great addition to salads.

Canned or dry fava beans have a brown color and need to be fully cooked before consuming.

More Bean Varieties

These bean varieties have a more distinct flavor and differing textures. Learn how to use them in place of butter beans depending on what you’re making and the ingredients you already have on hand.

  • Borlotti beans (cranberry beans) – cream/light pink beans with speckled red spots. They have a rich, creamy flavor and texture and can be used in soups, salads, side dishes, or casseroles.
  • Red kidney beans – these red beans have a meaty texture and creamy texture once cooked. They work best in taco soupbowls, and chili. Important to note: Red kidney beans are poisonous if not boiled for at least 20 minutes. Don’t cook them in the water the beans were soaked in. Drain the beans, rinse them, then cook in fresh water.
  • Black beans – small beans with a creamy texture and subtly sweet, mild flavor. They take on the flavors of whatever they’re cooked with and are a good substitute in beans and rice, bowls, quesadillas, soup, and casseroles.
  • Pinto beans – can be used as a substitute in three-bean salads, minestrone, stews, and casseroles.
  • Edamame beans – young soybeans still in their pods. While they have a slightly firmer texture, edamame offers a fresh, slightly sweet flavor that complements salads, stir-fries, and appetizers.
  • Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) – have a firm texture and a nutty flavor profile. They can enhance various dishes, including salads, curries, and crispy baked beans.

What is The Best Substitute For Butter Beans?

When it comes to substituting ingredients, it all comes down to availability, seasonality, and personal preference. There’s not one best alternative when it comes to substituting butter beans. It depends on what you’re making. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a substitution:

Texture  is it important that your substitute has a similar texture to butter beans? For example, if you’re making a salad, you could substitute a firmer bean like chickpea/garbanzo beans or edamame, but if you’re making a creamy pasta sauce or soup, chickpeas and edamame aren’t the best choice.

Cooking time – the cooking time varies with each variety if cooking from scratch. If you’re on a time crunch, choose accordingly or go with canned beans for a quicker option.

Flavor profile  does it need to have a similar flavor or is there some wiggle room? Will your substitute complement the other flavors in the dish?

Season to taste – no matter what a recipe says, season to taste according to your own personal preference. A dish always needs salt, but other times it also needs a few of the 5 basic tastes.

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