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White Beans

White Beans
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White Beans

The term “white bean” can be correctly applied to any bean that is white or off-white in color. Most of the time, white beans that are sold commercially, either as seeds or as a food product, are marketed under more specific names, such as navy beans, Great Northerns, or cannellini. Though different white bean varieties have slightly different tastes and sizes, their nutritive values tend to be very similar, and they are often interchangeable in recipes.

Physical Characteristics

Most white beans have more in common with each other than just their coloring. With few exceptions, all are generally quite small usually anywhere from a quarter-inch to a half-inch (about 0.6 to 1.3 cm) long. They are typically oval shaped, and carry a mild, often slightly nutty flavor.


White or off-white beans grow in a range of climates. They are commonly found throughout Central and South America, but grow equally well in North America, including many parts of Northern Canada. They are also abundant throughout Europe and the Middle East. Some varieties have also been known to thrive in Africa, though few white bean varieties grow there indigenously.


Beans sold as “white beans” in the U.S. and Canada are usually either navy beans or Great Northern beans. Navy beans, as their name might suggest, were used as a primary food supply by U.S. naval forces in the early 1900s. They are typically the smaller of the two, and are popular in soups and stews. They break down easily when exposed to heat, which makes them excellent thickeners.

Great Northern beans tend to hold their shape better than navy varieties, but often take longer to cook and have a nuttier, denser flavor. The Great Northern is often likened to a miniature lima bean owing to its slightly flattened shape.

In Europe, the cannellini bean which is indigenous to Italy is one of the most common white beans. A variety known as “European soldier beans,” which are similar in both horticulture and name origin to navy beans, are also popular. Many botanists believe that the navy bean and the soldier bean are one and the same, just with different growing areas.

It can be canned, dried or fresh.

Culinary Uses

Cooked white beans are used in the cuisines of many different cultures. They can be boiled in soups Sauteed and strews, mixed with rice or other grains, or used in casseroles. Baked beans, a popular side dish in the United States, is almost always made with white beans.

It is also common for the legumes to be boiled and seasoned, then served as an accompaniment to other foods, from spicy sausage and smoked chicken to roasted vegetables and grilled meats. The beans can also be mashed or blended to make a savory dip that is similar in texture to hummus.

Recipes using White Beans see Here and Here.

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