17 Different Types of Beans to Cook With

Learn all about beans and how to cook with them.

Beans are nutrient-rich foods. They are full of vitamins, minerals, and protein. Even better is they’re relatively low calorie and help decrease your risk of certain diseases. There are a variety of beans grown in the United States, so they’re cheap and easy to find at the grocery store. 

Legumes, a set consisting of different types of beans

We could all do with adding more beans to our diet, but it is not always easy to find ways to. As a kid, I used to hate eating beans because of their texture. This was a bigger problem than you might imagine because I’m from the south. There are beans at almost every meal. 

It helped me find creative ways to eat the beans, like hiding them in mashed potatoes or covering them in hot sauce. When I started cooking, it was easier because I could cook them any way I wanted to. 

Types of Beans

Now I not only eat beans regularly, but I enjoy eating them regularly. There are so many different types of beans to cook with, and there are so many different and delicious ways to eat them. Let’s take a look.

Black Beans

Black beans are small to medium, oval-shaped beans with small white eyes near their center.

These beans are in the top five most eaten beans in the United States and gaining popularity all of the time. 

Even though they were fairly unknown here before the 1980s, they date back over 7,000 years. They were and are an important part of the diets of Central and South Americans.

That’s why you’ll see a lot of South American recipes that call for black beans.

Some more creative ways to use black beans are hummus, chips, and pasta. One of my favorite black bean recipes is this brownie one. You will not believe it until you taste it, but it doesn’t taste like beans at all!

Lima Beans

Lima beans, better known as butter beans, are small, white beans that are kidney-shaped.

They date back over 9,000 years and are named for Peru’s capital, Lima, where they originate.

They’ve been in North America since the 1300s, which is a touch earlier than the black beans. 

I think I’ve personally only eaten lima beans as a side dish cooked with bacon, but there are some other ways to enjoy them. You can add them to a stew, soup, or succotash. 

If you’ve never tried succotash before, now is the perfect time. It is a great spring or summer dish because it is light but filling. 

Cannellini Beans

Cannellini beans, or fazolia, are large white kidney-shaped beans with a nutty flavor. They’re originally from Argentina, but nowadays are very popular in Italy.

Cannellini beans are similar to white kidney beans and great northern beans, so they can be substituted for them. 

If you want to properly prepare these beans, you need to rinse them and then let them soak overnight.

You’ll have to cook them some before adding them to your recipe. The most common recipe that uses Cannellini beans is minestrone soup. 

Kidney Beans

Since I’m from the south, when I think of beans, I think of kidney beans. I don’t think I’m alone in this either, since kidney beans are the most popularly eaten bean in the United States.

They’re a large, red or white kidney-shaped bean that originated in Peru about 8,000 years ago. 

Acadian farmers in Louisiana cultivated kidney beans in the late 1700s. Haitian immigrants and African slaves brought their spicy red bean recipes here around the same time.

That’s how we have delicious red beans and rice today. You’ll also find kidney beans in chili, stews, and even some desserts. 

Pinto Beans

Pinto beans are small, kidney-shaped beans. They start as an off-white color with red specks and turn into a reddish-brown color after they are cooked.

If you are not familiar with them, it is easy to confused them with kidney beans. 

Mexicans and Peruvians both cultivated these beans over 5,000 years ago. They’re common in Latin American and Mexican dishes and are the beans that make refried bean dip.

You’ll also find them in chili, stews, and vegan burgers.  

Navy Beans

All beans are full of fiber, but navy beans win the award for having the most fiber.

The navy bean is a small, white oval-shaped bean that’s kind of flattened. Like many other beans on this list, they originated in Peru thousands of years ago.

If you were curious, they do get their name from the Navy. The United States Navy has been serving them to their sailors since the mid-1800s because they’re cheap and full of nutrients. 

Navy beans are most commonly found in soups or pasta dishes, but they can also be ground into navy bean flour.

You can substitute this flour for plain wheat flour for just about any meal. It is a fantastic alternative flour flavorwise and healthwise. 

Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)

Chickpeas, also known as Garbanzo beans, are the most ancient legume on this list.

They were cultivated in Turkey over 11,000 years ago and were a part of the first farming culture on Earth. They are a big part of Middle Eastern, African, and Indian dishes. 

Chickpeas are large, round, and a little bumpy. They are most frequently tan or beige but can also be yellow, red, dark green, or brown. 

Hummus is made from chickpeas, bread can be made from them, and an alternative flour is made from them, too.

Many gluten-free and vegetarian meals use chickpea for its nutty flavor and smooth texture. I love to make my own hummus and eat it with carrots when I have the time.

Black-Eyed Peas

Black-eyed peas grow in long, narrow green pods. They are small, cream-colored beans with a black circle, or eye, at their center.

These “peas” likely originated in Northern Africa thousands of years ago but were first domesticated in Western Africa around 3,000 BC. 

Black-eyed peas are grown in countries all over the world, including the United States. They’re popular in that down-home southern cooking that I love.

They’re eaten as a side dish here, but you can find them in soups and pasta meals like hoppin john

Fava Beans

Fava beans are brown, green, or red. They’re small, oval-shaped, and compressed beans.

Their exact origin is unclear, but they’re probably from Asia Minor and the Mediterranean regions of 6,500 BC. A cool fact is that archeologists found some in Egyptian rulers’ tombs. 

It has a sweet, mildly-grassy flavor that works well with tomatoes, onions, and carrots. You can use it in stews, soups, and some meat dishes.

My family has never cooked fava beans much, but when we do, we keep it simple with a recipe like this that enhances the bean’s flavor. 

Great Northern Beans

The Great Northern bean is another bean with its roots in Peru thousands of years ago. This versatile bean is large, white, and oval-shaped.

They’re also popular in Central and South American dishes and are an easy substitute for navy beans and cannellini beans. 

Great Northern beans have a delicate flavor that the French love to use in their casseroles. They’re mighty common in soups and stews, too.

I enjoy pairing Great Northern beans with some fresh fish.

Red Beans

Red beans are similar to kidney beans and are often mistaken for them. The main differences are they’re small, oblong, and always red.

These delicious beans also have a smooth, creamy texture, whereas kidney beans are firmer. 

Red beans either originated in Peru or the Caribbean thousands of years ago and are still popular in the Caribbean region today.

They’re usually eaten with plain rice, but you can use them in curry, stew, and soup. 


Soybeans are legumes that range in color from light yellow to gray, brown, or black. Their shape varies, too.

You’ll find they can be spherical, elongated, or flat. It originated in Southeast Asia around 1100 BC. 

Soybeans didn’t make their way to the United States until 1851. They were first used to feed animals until George Washington Carver realized their true value.

Soybeans are full of protein, so they’re a healthy substitute for meat. 

Thanks to soybeans, we have products like tofu, soy milk, soy sauce, vegetable oil, and soy flour.

Some popular recipes that use soybeans are curry, stir-fry, and even tacos.


Lentils are small legumes that can be oval, round, or heart-shaped. They come in red, brown, and green colors.

There are hundreds of different kinds of lentils, and they are all nutritious, filling, and full of protein. 

Lentils are the oldest pulse crop and one of the earliest to be domesticated. They’re thought to come from the Mediterranean region, and we have evidence of their use as far back as 8,000 BC.

Since they are so old, they’re in many recipes.

You can put them in curry, eat them with pasta, turn them into a burger, and stuff them in peppers. The only limit is your imagination.

My favorite way to eat lentils is with scrambled eggs, garlic, and tomatoes. Breakfast is my favorite meal, so I love when I find new dishes for it.

Mung Beans

Mung beans most likely first came from India around 1500 BC. The beans come in a variety of colors like yellow, olive, brown, black, or mottled.

They’re usually pale yellow or green, small, and cube-shaped. Mung beans are popular in Asia, Southern Europe, and the Southern U.S. 

These versatile beans can be made into flour, bread, noodles, and even soap. The sprouted seeds are eaten raw and are more commonly known as bean sprouts.

The leaves are also eaten as a vegetable.

Adzuki Beans

Adzuki beans are most commonly red, but they can also be white, black, gray, and mottled.

They’re small subcylindrical beans that originated in China, India, or Japan about 1,000 years ago. It is very popular throughout many eastern countries.

Its most popular use is baked goods like bread, dumplings, and sweet cakes. The beans are used in curry, bean bowls, and hummus.

My absolute favorite thing to eat with adzuki beans are sesame balls that are stuffed with a paste made of adzuki beans called red bean paste. 

Cranberry Beans

Cranberry beans, or Borlotti beans, are rounded beans that have cranberry red specks. They’re thought to come from Colombia.

These beans are popular in northern Italy and Spain. They have thin skins that make them great for turning into a bean broth or puree. 

I prefer to eat them. After soaking, I cook the beans in a skillet with butter and garlic. They’re more commonly boiled and eaten as a side or thrown into a soup.

You can also make them like the Italians and use them in pasta e Fagioli.

Fayot Beans

Fayot beans, or Flageolet beans, are small, pale green kidney-shaped beans. They come from France in the 1800s and are very popular in French cuisine as a result.

The French way to prepare Fayot beans is by cooking them with broth, bacon, rosemary, and bay leaf. 

You can add them to soups, stews, dips, and salads. Like all beans, they’re full of fiber and complex carbohydrates.

One serving is enough to meet half of your daily fiber intake needs. It is hard to beat that, or should I say bean that. 

Final Thoughts

If you aren’t familiar with the process of soaking, it is a useful one to learn when dealing with beans.

And you should be dealing with beans because beans are incredibly nutrient-rich and full of protein. These beans are a wonderful alternative to meat and other products like milk and flour. 

If you’re bored with baked beans or ready to chuck the chickpeas, try incorporating them into your diet in a creative way. It’ll be like eating an entirely new bean.

You could also try eating new varieties of beans. You’ve got 17 different types of beans to choose from now, so get cooking.

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.