The Best Substitute For Pinto Beans

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Pinto beans are among the most popular beans in the world, and they’re usually readily available in multiple forms, from dry to canned, and in many different types of pre-made foods as well.

If you’re bored of using the same type of bean, find pinto beans cause you more digestive distress than some other beans, or can’t find any for some unimaginable reason, it’s useful to know what the best substitutes are. 

What are the best substitutes for pinto beans? The best substitute for pinto beans is black beans because they taste similar and are easy to prepare. Other great options include navy beans, borlotti beans, red beans, kidney beans, white beans, and cannellini beans.

This article will compare 7 of the best pinto bean substitutes for flavor, texture, and best recipe usage.

What Are Pinto Beans?

Pinto beans are the most common bean found in households of North America, and they’re near the top of the list in Central and South America as well.

They’re even popular throughout the rest of the world; you can find pinto beans in almost every corner of the earth.

Pinto beans are mid-sized, as far as beans go, and they have a mottled brown and beige appearance that’s quite pretty when they’re dry.

After they’re cooked, including if you buy your beans in a can, the color evens out to a solid light tan or beige.

In South America, pinto beans are often called “poroto frutilla,” which translates to “strawberry bean.”

They sometimes appear a bit pink in color, especially when they’re cooked and lose their speckles. They may also be called frijol pinto, or painted bean, in reference to a speckled pinto horse.

Otherwise, pinto beans don’t have as many other names as some beans do.

They’re often confused for various beans, however, such as cranberry or borlotti beans because of their similar appearance, or kidney beans because they’re often used in similar recipes.

7 Best Substitutes for Pinto Beans

Pinto beans, as mentioned, are the most commonly used bean in North America, and they’re used in a wide variety of cuisines, meal types, and recipes.

Pinto beans are just as popular mashed as they are cooked to be firm to add texture to a dish.

Almost all beans are nutritionally similar, so if you’re looking for a substitute that is the equal of a pinto bean for protein or fiber, any of the following are within 1-2g of both. 

For example, pinto beans have the highest calorie count of all the beans researched, coming in at 98 calories per 28g serving, which includes 6g of protein and 4g of fiber.

Red beans have the lowest calorie count at only 93 calories per serving. 

Borlotti beans and cannellini beans both have 7g of protein and fiber per serving, but the average in both cases is 6g of protein and just over 5g of fiber.

Depending on what you’re cooking, you may want to reach for different beans to substitute for pinto beans.

We’ve gone through the 7 best pinto bean substitutes to explain their similarities and differences and shed a little light on which bean to choose for which recipe application.

1. Black Beans

Black beans are even more popular than pinto beans in South and Central American cuisine, though they can be substituted for each other in almost every dish.

Black beans, as their name implies, are black. This is important if you’re substituting pinto beans in a recipe where color matters.

Black beans will share their pigment with anything they’re cooked or mashed with, so dips will take on an almost eggplant color.

The broth in soups and stews will be a few shades darker than it would be with pinto beans, and pasta sauces will be tinted black as well. 

Under all circumstances, however, the sweet and soft black beans will be delicious, if a little visually adventurous.

In the southern states of America, rice and beans is typically made with red beans.

In Central America, you’re hard-pressed to find a meal at any time of day that doesn’t include rice and black beans.

In any type of Mexican cuisine, such as tacos, burritos, or even huevos rancheros, black beans make a perfect substitute for pinto beans.

One of the best perks of using black beans to substitute for pinto beans is that they’re one of the quickest beans to cook and their skin will soften easily, without soaking.

2. Navy Beans

Navy beans became a staple in the US Navy during the 19th Century, and this is where they got their name from.

They’re among the smallest of the beans and they’re most famous, aside from their name, for being the featured element in Boston Baked Beans.

They have a similar texture to pinto beans and a mild, creamy flavor. They work well as a pinto bean substitute where the dish doesn’t require the bean to be the hearty star of the meal.

They’re great for mashing, so they’ll be a good stand-in for pinto beans in refried beans, though they’re white, so they won’t be the traditional color you might expect.

Navy beans will get quite soft as they cook, much like pinto beans. They’re great additions to quick vegetarian soups that need a little extra protein.

Being white as well as soft, they can also be puréed with garlic and other spices and some milk or milk alternatives to create a creamy, protein-rich sauce.

3. Borlotti Beans

Borlotti beans go by many names, including cranberry beans and Roman beans. They’re frequently mistaken for pinto beans because they’re both medium-sized mottled or speckled beans.

Borlotti beans are mostly tan with red or pink specks, whereas pinto beans are a combination of brown and beige. Both of them lose their mottled coloring after they’re cooked.

Pinto beans are often described as buttery, and borlotti beans are a great substitution for them whenever this is a noticeable quality in the dish because cranberry beans are appreciated for being similarly creamy. 

These Roman beans are very popular in Italian and Spanish or Portuguese cuisine and they are perfect for fresh, zesty dishes like antipasti or anything involving olive oil and lemon juice.

4. Red Beans

If pinto beans can be described as buttery, then red adzuki beans can be described as sweet.

Adzuki beans, or red beans, make a great substitute for pinto beans in dishes that use sweet sauces or are paired with sweet root vegetables. For example, a great sweet and sour dish, a bbq sauce, or a rich sweet potato stew. 

They’re a small, relatively soft bean very similar in texture to pinto beans, so they also work well in salads, tacos, or refried beans. They also work well in Mexican cuisine and they’re actually the most popular in Asian cuisines. 

We actually have an article dedicated to the differences between pinto beans and red beans if you’re interested in a more detailed explanation of their similarities and differences.

5. Kidney Beans

Pinto beans and kidney beans are often used interchangeably despite being quite different in size and texture.

They’re both very popular in Mexican cuisine, however, so they’re commonly used together. Replacing one with the other in chili, tacos, or refried beans would hardly be noticeable.

Kidney beans are quite firm and larger than pinto beans. They work best as a replacement in dishes that need to be cooked or simmered for a long time or where they’re used to add texture to a dish.

Any soup, stew, or chili that calls for pinto beans would be just as well served by substituting kidney beans.

If you can find pink or white kidney beans, you’ll find they’re a bit softer and more similar in texture and consistency to pinto beans, but they’re not as common as the red variety.

6. White Beans

Great Northern white beans are some of the most popular beans on earth because they have a very delicate flavor and, though they’re large, they’re not as firm in texture as kidney beans. 

White beans are grown and used in cuisines all over the world, but they’re particularly popular in French cuisine or Mediterranean dishes because of the mild flavor.

They soak up the richness of French sauces well, and they are mild enough to be eaten cold in salads for texture and heartiness.

Great Northern beans will substitute pinto beans in any recipe, but they work best when paired with vegetables or mashed.

Other popular white beans are baby lima beans, which are the smallest of all white beans, navy beans, and the largest white bean, Cannellini, which we’ll cover next.

7. Cannellini Beans

Cannellini beans are also sometimes called white kidney beans, and they are closer in size and consistency to traditional kidney beans than to pinto beans, but they can still make a great substitute under the right circumstances. 

They’re very popular in Italian cuisine, so if you’re creating a soup or pasta with beans, cannellini beans make a great substitute for pinto beans.

They’ll add more heartiness to your dish, so even if it’s vegetarian or vegan, you’ll finish feeling fully satiated.

Since they are larger and slightly tougher than pinto beans, if you want a soft bite, as you’ll get with the smaller bean, make sure you soak the dried beans overnight and cook them before adding them to your dish.

The Best Pinto Bean Recipe

You can use any pinto bean substitute in place of the pinto beans in this recipe for making pinto beans from scratch by Love and Lemons.

You can play around with the spices in this recipe to match the type of bean that you’re using.

Related Questions

How Long Do You Slow Cook Pinto Beans?

If you want to substitute dry pinto beans for canned pinto beans, you’ll need time, but otherwise it’s easy to accomplish with the help of your slow cooker. 

Cooking dry beans in a slow cooker is one of the easiest ways to prepare them nearly perfectly every time.

Rinse your pinto beans well and add a 1 lb bag to your slow cooker along with approximately 7 cups of either water or broth, or a combination of the two. You can also add any seasoning or dried herbs you’d like to flavor your beans. 

Let your beans cook on high for 8–10 hours. You don’t have to soak them first.

Are Beans Keto-Friendly?

Beans have a lot of protein in them, so many people forget or disregard the fact that beans are very carbohydrate-rich foods. This makes them unlikely to fit into a strict Keto diet.

What Beans Are Refried Beans?

Refried beans can be made from any beans that you cook once and then refry, but the most common bean used is Pinto beans.

Which Beans Cause Less Gas?

There are a few different reasons eating copious amounts of beans will give you gas, so identifying the cause of the issue is the first step to reducing the problem. Beans are very high in fiber.

If you’re consuming a Standard American Diet (SAD), you probably are not getting anywhere near the recommended daily value of fiber.

If you increase it all at once, your digestive system will be overwhelmed, potentially causing gas and other digestive issues. Add beans to your diet slowly.

Smaller legumes, such as lentils, black-eyed peas, and split peas tend to be easier to digest until your system adapts to the added fiber. Chickpeas and navy beans are at the other end of the spectrum.

Finally, different beans will affect different people differently, so if it’s a problem for you, simply switch to any other type of bean to see if it helps. 

Some people will go to their graves swearing that soaking beans reduces the gas-effect, but there is no hard data to support this, so you can test out the results for your own individual results.

Up Next: The Best Beans for Chili

One Comment

  1. Thank you for your helpful post. No pinto beans available in Christchurch, New Zealand for the past year or two, apart from the canned variety. I will now try the Mexican recipe I found using black instead of pinto 👏

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