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butter bean substitute (9 Best Replacements)

Are you looking for a butter bean substitute? You’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will tell you about the best alternatives and how to use them.

Butter beans are a popular variety that people have incorporated into their dishes for many years. There are many uses for these beans.

Wooden bowl filled with uncooked butter beans

What are Butter Beans?

Butter beans are also called lima beans, Madagascar beans, wax beans, chad beans, or sieva beans.

These beans originated in South America. They are called butter beans because they have a very smooth and soft texture, much like butter when cooked.

They are white and have a mild taste that will not overpower other ingredients in a dish.  

You can buy them dried or canned from a grocery store.

They are usually pre-soaked, pre-cooked, and salted when canned; it is best to check the label to ensure that you are buying what you need. 

You can eat butter beans in various dishes, including salads, pasta, and soups. They make excellent fillers in stews, chili, and burritos. You can also use them as meat alternatives in vegan recipes.

What Do Butter Beans Taste Like?

Butter beans, like other beans, are almost tasteless with a subtle grassy and earthy flavor.

Some people say that butter beans also taste a bit like butter.

However, butter beans got their name because it mostly imitates the texture of butter and not the taste. 

Butter beans absorb and take the flavor of whatever you soak them in well, so they can taste like almost anything. 

Best Substitutes For Butter Beans In Cooking

If you’ve run out of butter beans, there’s no need to worry. There are many alternatives for these beans that can fit any recipe.

Here are 11 of the best substitutes for butter beans:

1. White Kidney Beans

Ceramic dish with cooked white kidney beans topped with herbs.

White kidney beans also know as “cannellini beans” are excellent substitutes for butter beans.

They differ in shape and size because butter beans are flat, whereas cannellini beans are shaped more like a kidney, hence their name.

White beans have the same color and almost the same texture when cooked. 

These beans taste best in chili, stews, or salads, where they can maintain their shape and flavor.


White kidney beans have a slightly nutty flavor, so if you are not looking to add a little variety to your recipes, you can skip this substitute.

2. Red Kidney Beans

Small glass dish filled with red kidney beans on top of marble counter.

Red kidney beans are easy substitutes because they’re cheap and accessible.

When it comes to flavor, these beans have similar meaty tastes as navy beans.

They are also considered to be more nutritious.

It is worth noting that using red kidney beans as a substitute for butter beans or lima beans will drastically change the appearance of your dish.


If the red color of this substitute bothers you, red beans might not be the best substitute for you. However, if you want to add some color, you can use red beans to replace butter beans.

3. Pinto Beans

Pinto beans make an excellent substitute for butter beans.

These beans are also known as “painted beans” and are often used in Mexican cuisine.

Pinto beans are typically used in refried bean and burrito recipes.

They are brown beans, most notable for the dark brown specks on their skin. Once cooked, pinto beans turn light brown color, making them look closer to butter beans. 

Pinto beans are most known for being the main ingredient in refried bean recipes.


Pinto beans have a creamy yet grainy texture. They also have a mild nutty flavor that’s very much like the butter beans.

4. Borlotti Beans

Borlotti beans are staples in Mexican and Italian cuisines. They have cream-colored shells with pink strips. Sometimes they are called cranberry beans due to their appearance when raw.

They are beige beans with speckles that are as red as cranberries. The vibrant and pretty color of borlotti beans also fades when cooked, turning into light brown color. 

This is your best pick if you’re looking for a butter bean alternative in stews. They are creamy and slightly chewy but taste incredibly delicious. Borlotti beans have a nutty taste with also a hint of sweetness.


They hold their shape well, so they will look the same when cooked, minus the red specks.

5. Navy Beans

Blue bowl with navy bean salad with vegetables.

Navy beans are also perfect butter beans or lima bean substitutes, even when significantly smaller in size.

They are called navy beans because they have been part of US sailor rations due to their vast nutritional benefits and long shelf life despite their low cost.  

They are also the main ingredient in popular baked dishes, including Boston beans.

Navy beans don’t have the same starchy texture as butter beans. If your recipes need firm beans, you will be better off with other substitutes. 


When using navy beans as butter beans substitute is that they do not hold their shape well, which means they won’t be as firm as lima beans or butter beans after cooking. 

6. Chickpeas

Chickpea salad with herbs and olive oil.

Garbanzo beans or chickpeas are the most popular beans in the Middle East.

They may look different than the other legumes we have on this list, but they also make an excellent butter bean substitute because they are both firm and able to hold their shape well. 

If you are looking for a quick substitute to replace lima beans or butter beans for your recipes, chickpeas might not be the best for you because you need to prepare them ahead of time.


Chickpeas tend to have a firmer texture, so you must soak them for at least 8 hours before cooking. You can also use these legumes in roast stuffing and appetizer dips.

7. Fava Beans

Dish with freshly shelled fava beans.

Fava beans are green beans that look very much like lima beans, which are young butter beans.

They have similar coloring, flavor, and texture. Fava beans originated from the Mediterranean and are one of the oldest crops in history.

They are smaller than butter beans and firmer, even when cooked. They have the same nutty taste and chalky texture.

However, one thing to consider with fava beans is that they can have a bitter aftertaste.


These beans stay green even when cooked, and they might not look good in recipes that specifically require white or light brown beans. 

8. Black Beans

Black beans, also called turtle beans, can also substitute butter beans, especially when your recipe calls for a bit of sugar, because black beans have a sweet taste absent from butter beans.

Like butter beans, black beans also hold their shape well after cooking.

They have a black color that turns dark brown when cooked. It also bleeds, so if you use them in soups, you can expect your soup to be a dark color. 


Skip this substitute if your dish won’t look good, tinged with a dark color. However, if your recipe is supposed to be dark anyway, use black beans to make the dark color more vibrant. 

9. Great Northern Beans

Great Northern beans can also act as a replacement for butter beans in your dish.

Since they hold their shapes well, these beans are often used instead of butter beans in some recipes.

Great Northern beans taste delicious in stews and chili.

They have meaty and earthy flavors paired with a creamy texture.


They have a buttery smooth texture when cooked, like butter beans. They also absorb whatever they’re soaked into very well and hold their shape after cooking. 

10. Soybeans

Soybeans are also a worthy substitute for butter beans. They are popularly used in vegan recipes as a meat alternative.

Soybeans have a milder flavor than fava beans and a smoother texture.

These beans also have cream-colored shells that are difficult to chew. We recommend soaking soybeans overnight if you’re planning on using them.


Soybeans are ideal replacements for butter beans in braised and baked recipes.

11. Edamame Beans

Dish filled with fresh edamame beans topped with some salt.

Edamame beans are another excellent substitute for butter beans. They are the same bean variety. Their only difference is that edamame beans are immature soybeans.

They are like butter beans with their green shells and firm texture.


They don’t taste as starchy as butter beans and have a firmer bite. They work well in recipes because of their sweet and nutty flavors.

How To Choose The Best Substitute For Butter Beans

Here are tips when choosing the best substitute for butter beans:

1. Take note of the color.

When choosing what to use in place of butter beans, consider the color of your substitute.

If the color of your dish is of utmost importance, go with beans of the same color as Great Northern beans, cannellini, and navy beans. 

2. Pay attention to firmness. 

One of the defining characteristics of butter beans is that they hold their shape well even after being cooked.

If your recipe calls for firm beans, go with garbanzo or white kidney beans.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between lima beans and butter beans?

Lima beans and butter beans are the same beans. These beans are young butter beans harvested before they can fully mature. Because of this, lima beans are light green to green, and white butter beans are either cream-colored or white.

Are cannellini beans and butter beans the same?

No, cannellini beans and butter beans are not the same beans. Cannellini beans are also called white kidney beans; they look more like kidneys than butter beans which are flat and wide. They are two different kinds of beans, but they work well as substitutes for each other. 

Can chickpeas replace butter beans?

Yes, chickpeas can replace butter beans. You should remember that chickpeas are harder than butter beans, so they require a longer cooking time. 

Final Thoughts

Butter beans are a popular ingredient in American cooking and are widely available in the market. Your local grocery store will most definitely have them.

However, there may be times when you will not find butter beans or when you need to look for a substitute for butter beans. When that happens, look for another bean in your pantry because they will most likely work. 

Just be mindful of their color and firmness when choosing suitable alternatives because some beans bleed, and some do not hold their shape well. 

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!
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