Grocery Guides

White Beans: Different Types, Origin, and How To Find Them

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Last Updated: Sep 27, 2022

What are white beans?

White beans are a type of legume that is white on the inside and has a starchy interior. They have a delicate, slightly nutty flavor, making them the perfect addition to a wide range of dishes. White beans are a gluten-free source of protein and they also contain high amounts of dietary fiber, potassium, and complex carbohydrates. 

There are actually several different types of beans that fall into the category of “white beans.” They include:

  • Navy beans (also called pea beans)
  • Great northern beans
  • Cannellini beans (also called white kidney beans)
  • Baby lima beans (also called butterbeans)

Each of these beans has a slightly different size, shape, texture, and flavor, which is why recipes often call for a specific type of white bean. However, they have a similar taste and can easily be interchanged. 

Where did white beans originate from?

White beans are native to a range of areas including South and Central America, North America, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East. Each type of white bean also has its own unique origin story.

Navy beans are small white beans that got their name from the fact that they were a food staple in the U.S. Navy in the early 1900s. Great northern beans were largely used in France to make cassoulet, which is a French bean casserole.

Cannellini beans are native to southern Italy and have traditionally been used to make many Mediterranean dishes like pasta e fagioli and Italian dishes like minestrone. Finally, Lima beans are named after the capital of Peru, where they were one of the first crops cultivated there. 

How are white beans grown?

Great Northern, cannellini, and navy beans all come from Phaseolus vulgaris plant. Lima beans are grown on the Phaseolus lunatus plant. They all fall into the category of bush beans. Unlike pole beans, which need support to grow upright, bush beans grow just fine on their own. They grow best when they’re exposed to full sun and are planted in well-draining soil. 

The beans grow on vines inside pods. When the pods have reached full maturity, they are picked from the vines and the beans inside are removed. 

When are white beans in season? 

White beans are annual plants. However, there is no “season” for them. Since they’re typically sold either dried or canned, they’re available year-round and you don’t have to worry about buying them when they are at their freshest. For this reason, white beans also have little to no seasonal price fluctuation. 

Homemade White Bean Soup with Parsley and Bread

What should I look for when buying white beans?

When buying white beans, you’ll first need to decide what form you’re looking for. In the grocery store, white beans are typically sold either:

  • Dried
  • Canned
  • Jarred

There are pros and cons to each option. While canned white beans are usually significantly more expensive, they can be a huge time-saver, since you won’t have to soak them. If you choose dried white beans, you’ll need to either soak or simmer them for quite some time before you can eat them. Otherwise, they could cause digestive problems. 

Choosing fresh and dried white beans

Some farmers’ markets and specialty grocery stores also offer fresh white beans. These are often sold still inside the pod, so you’ll need to peel the pod away before eating them. Fresh white beans will taste best if they’re cooked before you eat them, but eating them raw won’t hurt you.

When choosing fresh or dried white beans, look for ones that are an off-white to creamy color and make sure they do not have holes, wrinkles, or cracks. You’ll want to avoid any white beans that appear discolored as these may be spoiled. Also avoid buying white beans that have a very tough seed coat, as this can make them more difficult to cook.

Choosing canned or jarred white beans

When selecting canned or jarred white beans, you’ll want to pay attention to whether you are buying plain beans or ones that have been marinated. Marinated white beans can be a delicious appetizer. However, they may not be the best option if you need beans for a specific recipe, like a stew. 

You’ll also want to pay attention to the “best by” date on the container and make sure you don’t buy any cans that are severely dented or rusted. If you’re buying white beans in a jar, make sure there are no cracks in the jar and that the safety button on the top is still intact. 

If you are looking to have your groceries delivered, you can easily shop for white beans via Instacart. After adding a product to your cart, use the “Instructions” option to notify your Instacart shopper about any preferences or specific directions on how to choose the best products. Shop for white beans.

White beans in a bowl

How to store white beans

Canned and jarred white beans are usually preserved very shortly after they’re harvested. They’re stored in a brine solution, which helps to keep them fresh. As long as they’re not open, you can store your cans or jars of white beans in a cool, dark place for several years. 

To maximize shelf life, you’ll want to store dried white beans in a cool, dry place—like a cellar or a pantry. However, it’s also fine to keep them at room temperature. No matter where you store them, make sure the package remains tightly closed. Once you open your dried beans, you’ll want to transfer them to an airtight container or a resealable freezer bag. In proper conditions, you can store dried white beans for up to 2 years. After 2 years, they will still remain safe to eat, although the quality may start to deteriorate.

How to tell if white beans are bad

If your white beans have a strange odor, an off-color, or have started to grow mold, they have gone bad. In this case, you’ll want to discard them. 

What can I substitute for white beans? 

Since they’re so similar, if a recipe calls for 1 type of white bean, it’s usually perfectly fine to substitute a different type. If you can’t find white beans at all, you may be able to substitute pinto beans or garbanzo beans. Depending on the recipe, black beans or fava beans may also be a good option. 

Add some white beans to your diet

White beans are tasty, inexpensive, and easy to make. This makes them a great addition to any weekly meal plan. If you want to try some white beans soon, simply head over to Instacart and add them to your shopping list. When you’re ready, you can order your grocery delivery and a professional shopper will bring all your items right to your door.

More Information Related to White Beans

If you found this guide helpful and you’re looking for more related information, check out the following guides:

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