Black bean burgers. Slow-cooker chili. Lentil soup. These dishes prove that beans can do just about anything, and once you know how to cook them from scratch (not that we don’t love using canned beans in a pinch), you’ll unlock all kinds of fresh ideas for dinner. Here are 15 types of beans to make at home, plus some of our favorite recipes to use them in.
What Are Beans, Exactly?
You know what beans are on a basic level, but let’s get nerdy for a sec: Beans are a type of legume, meaning they’re grown in pods; beans are the seeds found inside the pod plant. There are roughly 400 known types of edible beans, so there’s no shortage of recipes that they can be used in. In general, they tend to be low in fat and great sources of plant-based protein and fiber. Beans are popular all over the world, especially in Latin, Creole, French, Indian and Chinese cuisines.
They’re sold both dried and canned. Canned beans are ready to be consumed, while dried beans need a little TLC before they can be eaten. First, they need to be soaked overnight in water to start softening (though if you’re pressed for time, bringing them to a boil and letting them soak for an hour will do the trick). Then, the beans need to be drained, seasoned and cooked with fresh water or additional ingredients like meat and stock, which will boost their flavor. Depending on the type and size of the beans, cooking them can take anywhere from one to three hours. Once you’re finished, they should be tender and cooked through, but still a bit al dente—not mushy. They can be kept in the fridge for a week, in the freezer for three months or devoured on sight. Here are 15 types of beans to get you started.
Types of Beans
1. Black Beans
Per ½-cup serving: 114 calories, 0g fat, 20g carbs, 8g protein, 7g fiber
These are native to South and Central America, so it’s no surprise that they’re the star of so many Latin and Caribbean dishes. They have a soft, tender texture and a creamy, mild flavor—like many beans, they take on the flavor of whatever they’re cooked with. Popular dishes that include black beans are Cuban congrí, black bean soup and tacos.
2. Cannellini Beans
Per ½-cup serving: 125 calories, 0g fat, 22g carbs, 9g protein, 6g fiber
Cannellini beans are beloved for their versatility, mild nuttiness and fluffy texture. Hailing from Italy, they’ve become commonplace in the U.S., often being used for pasta dishes, stews and traditional minestrone soup. Cannellini beans can easily be confused for navy or great northern beans (all three are types of white beans), but they’re actually much meatier and earthier than both. They’re also sometimes called white kidney beans, just in case you see that labeling at your supermarket.
3. Kidney Beans
Per ½-cup serving: 307 calories, 1g fat, 55g carbs, 22g protein, 23g fiber
If you’ve ever wondered where they got their name, it’s because kidney beans are shaped just like tiny kidneys. Native to Central America and Mexico, they’re mild and faintly sweet in flavor and cook up creamy and tender. You’ll find them in tons of chili recipes, as well as minestrone soup, pasta e fagioli and curries.
4. Garbanzo Beans
Per ½-cup serving: 135 calories, 2g fat, 22g carbs, 7g protein, 6g fiber
Maybe you call them chickpeas instead. Either way, these beans are seriously magical, delicious and multipurpose. The soft, nutty legumes are a cornerstone of both Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine but are popular all over the world. Smash them into hummus, roast them until crispy, use them in stews, curries or salads, turn them into burgers or falafel—the pantry is your oyster.
5. Navy Beans
Per ½-cup serving: 351 calories, 2g fat, 63g carbs, 23g protein, 16g fiber
Navy beans (aka haricot beans) originated in Peru thousands of years ago. Despite their name, they’re white in color and are commonly confused with other white beans, like cannellini and great northern. They have a velvety, starchy texture and a neutral, mildly nutty flavor that can take on the taste of whatever they’re cooked in. You’ll most likely come across them in baked bean and soup recipes, but they can also be used in most white bean recipes. Navy bean pie is also a popular recipe in Muslim culture.
6. Great Northern Beans
Per ½-cup serving: 149 calories, 1g fat, 28g carbs, 10g protein, 6g fiber
In case you haven’t had your fill of white beans just yet, here’s another type that’s great for including in stews, soups and chilis. They hold their shape well and are great at absorbing all the flavor of whatever broth they’re prepared in. Also known as large white beans, they originated in Peru and are a size between small navy beans and larger cannellini beans. They have a delicate, mild flavor that makes them the go-to for French cassoulet.
7. Pinto Beans
Per ½-cup serving: 335 calories, 1g fat, 60g carbs, 21g protein, 15g fiber
Odds are you’ve had these in a bean burrito or as a side of refried beans at your favorite local cantina. Pinto beans, which are grown throughout South and Central America, are super popular in Mexican, Tex-Mex and Latin cuisines. They’re more flavorful than some other types of beans, rocking an earthy, rich, nutty flavor that never disappoints.
8. Lima Beans
Per ½-cup serving: 88 calories, 1g fat, 16g carbs, 5g protein, 4g fiber
These unique tasting beans made the trip from South America through Mexico and the American Southwest. They’re sort of like chickpeas in the sense that they don’t taste um, “beany,” for lack of a better word—they’re nutty and sweet with a smooth, creamy texture (as long as they aren’t overcooked, which can turn them bitter.) Lima beans are a must for Southern-style butter beans, named for the creamy, decadent texture the beans get as they cook, as well as succotash. They’re also great for stews, soups and even bean dip.
9. Fava Beans
Per ½-cup serving: 55 calories, 0g fat, 11g carbs, 5g protein, 5g fiber
Also known as broad beans, fava beans are harvested all over the Mediterranean for their succulent, enlarged seeds. They’re common in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, but also make stellar additions to any spring salad or soup. Fava beans have a meaty, chewy texture and a nutty, sweet and slightly bitter flavor. Guess there’s a good reason Hannibal Lecter loves them so much.
10. Mung Beans
Per ½-cup serving: 359 calories, 1g fat, 65g carbs, 25g protein, 17g fiber
These tiny green beans are massively popular in East and Southeast Asia, as well as the Indian Subcontinent. They go by many names (green gram! maash! monggo!) and taste slightly sweet. Anyone who watched The Office might also be wondering if they “smell like death,” but fear not—only sprouted mung beans without sufficient air circulation or rinsing will stink. When prepared properly, they smell earthy and vegetal. Mung beans are popular additions to stews, soups and curries, plus are often turned into paste for various Asian desserts.
11. Red Beans
Per ½-cup serving: 307 calories, 1g fat, 55g carbs, 22g protein, 23g fiber
Some people think red beans and kidney beans are the same, but they’re actually quite different. Red beans (also called adzuki beans) are smaller, taste more bean-y and have a brighter red color than kidney beans. They hail from East Asia and have a smooth but mealy texture. Red beans and rice is a Creole staple, but red beans are also great for salads, bean bowls, curries or even hummus. Red bean paste is also very common in some Asian desserts, like taiyaki.
12. Flageolet Beans
Per ½-cup serving: 184 calories, 4g fat, 28g carbs, 10g protein, 11g fiber
These small, light beans are super popular in France, their country of origin. They’re picked prematurely and immediately dried, so they keep their green color despite being a type of white bean. Once shelled and cooked, flageolet beans are mild, creamy and delicate with a firm texture, similar to navy or cannellini beans. Use them in soups, stews and salads or cook them on their own as a side dish.
Per ½-cup serving: 65 calories, 3g fat, 5g carbs, 6g protein, 3g fiber
Here’s one legume that can do it all, from milk to tofu to flour. Soybeans were first harvested by Chinese farmers, but they’re populous all over Asia. They have a very subtle nutty flavor, allowing them to take on the taste of whatever they’re cooked with. Add them to stews and curries, or snack on them solo after a quick roast in the oven. (P.S.: When soybeans are picked immaturely and left in their pods, they go by the name edamame instead.)
14. Black-Eyed Peas
Per ½-cup serving: 65 calories, 0g fat, 14g carbs, 2g protein, 4g fiber
Black-eyed peas are native to Africa, so it’s no mystery why they remain a soul food staple today. In fact, many Southerners and Black Americans cook up a pot annually on New Year’s Day for good luck. They have a savory, earthy flavor and a starchy, toothsome texture. We recommend having them Southern style with a side of rice and collard greens, especially if you’re a first timer.
Per ½-cup serving: 115 calories, 0g fat, 20g carbs, 9g protein, 8g fiber
Lentils are lumped into the same family with beans and peas since they’re legumes and grow in pods. They come from all over Europe, Asia and North Africa and in many different varieties, usually named for their color. Each type varies in flavor, so they can range from sweet to earthy to peppery. Lentils are most commonly called for in soup and stew recipes, but feel free to toss them atop a cold salad or add them to any vegan casseroles or bakes, too. They also taste great with eggs, on toast and in rice bowls.