Great northern beans are a popular type of bean consumed all over the United States. A great source of protein and fiber, they are used in many recipes because of their mild flavor and creamy texture.
For times when your recipe calls for great northern beans and you don’t have any, you can easily use one of their many substitutes for a similar flavor and texture.
So, what are the best substitutes for great northern beans? The best great northern bean substitutes have a mild flavor, similar texture, and similar cooking time, plus the ability to soak up maximum flavors. They include cannellini beans, navy beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, lima beans, black beans, adzuki beans, and more!
Read on to find out more about the best substitutes for great northern beans and how they compare in terms of their taste, texture, and nutritional profile!
What Are Great Northern Beans?
Great northern beans are a variety of white beans mostly used in soups, stews, and casseroles. Distinguished mainly by their small size and cream color, they have a delicate flavor and can be prepared in a variety of ways.
Although they are an independent type of legume, great northern beans share several characteristics with cannellini, baby lima, and navy beans.
Taste And Texture
Extremely popular all over the US, great northern beans have a less meaty flesh and hold their shape well even after being cooked. Their grainy texture becomes smooth and melt-in-your-mouth if properly cooked.
Flavor-wise, they are generally mild and can easily take on the flavor of the seasonings and other ingredients added to the dish.
Just like any other type of bean, great northern beans are incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes.
A popular addition to soups and stews, great northern beans can also be used in salads and casseroles.
They pair well with different types of meat and vegetables and can also be enjoyed on their own.
Topped with butter or spices, they can be turned into a healthy side dish, or whipped or blended to make a savory hummus-like dip for bread and crackers.
Extremely healthy and a great source of protein and dietary fiber, great northern beans are considered to be quite nutritious.
These beans are a favorite among vegetarians as they are an excellent source of essential minerals such as iron, magnesium, and folate. They are also low in calories as well as natural sugars.
Best Substitutes For Great Northern Beans
Great northern beans are easily available in supermarkets and farmer’s markets in the US.
However, if you can’t get your hands on any (or your kitchen pantry is fresh out), you can easily substitute them with one of their many great alternatives.
Depending on which characteristic of great northern beans is most important to your recipe, you must look for options with a similar taste, texture, and/or nutritional profile.
Here are some of the best substitutes for great northern beans!
1. Cannellini Beans
Cannellini beans, also called white kidney beans, are one of the best substitutes for great northern beans.
Originating in Italy, they are white in color and kidney-shaped with squared ends. Appearance-wise, they look very similar to great northern beans, and it can oftentimes be difficult to tell the two apart.
With an airy, soft texture and mildly nutty flavor, they are a staple in Italian recipes yet also work well in recipes from all around the world.
Slightly bigger than great northern beans, cannellini can be used as a substitute for them in different dishes such as stews, soups, salads, dips, as well as pasta.
Once cooked, cannellini beans become soft and chewy, and like great northern beans, they hold their shape well after being cooked.
They are also highly nutritious and offer many health benefits including lowered cholesterol, improved digestion, and muscle formation.
2. Navy Beans
Navy beans (also called pea beans) are small, cream- or white-colored beans that can be used in place of great northern beans.
Native to North America, they have a similar texture as great northern beans and are primarily used in baked beans recipes.
Navy beans do not hold their shape as well, but their mild flavor and ability to absorb other flavors make them a great alternative.
Despite having a hard exterior, they cook much faster and do not require a lot of cooking time.
Perfect for when you are short on time, navy beans can be used to replace great northern beans in soups, salads, chili, pasta, tacos, and enchiladas.
They are a huge source of fiber and their low sodium content makes them an ideal choice for people with high blood pressure.
3. Pinto Beans
An incredibly versatile and easily available substitute for great northern beans, pinto beans are one of the most common types of beans available in the Southern states.
Most commonly used in recipes like tacos and burritos, pinto beans have a dark color and are usually speckled — hence the name.
With a slightly nutty and earthy taste, pinto beans have a creamy texture similar to that of great northern beans. As a result, they go well in dishes such as soups and salads.
They are great at absorbing flavors and will hold their shape well when cooked properly and for the right amount of time.
Pinto beans are also a healthy choice as they contain vital nutrients like dietary fiber, protein, amino acids, phosphorus, and manganese.
4. Black-Eyed Peas
Black-eyed peas, also known as southern peas, are a member of the legume family and have a pale color with a distinctive black spot that looks like an eye.
Featuring prominently in North African, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, and West African cuisine, they make a good substitute for great northern beans for their ease of cooking and availability.
Black-eyed peas have a similarly mild, nutty flavor as great northern beans and are full of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Their dense, creamy consistency and full, earthy flavor make them a great addition to a variety of dishes including soups, salads, stews, casseroles, and side dishes.
An unusual substitute for great northern beans that you may not have imagined using, chickpeas are actually a decent alternative with a slightly nutty and earthy flavor, something you would expect a great northern beans dish to have.
A type of legume similar to lima beans, chickpeas are one of the most commonly used beans in the world and can be used in place of northern great beans in salads, soups, stews, tacos, and burritos.
Cooked chickpeas hold their shape really well and, like great northern beans, are great at absorbing the flavors of the ingredients around them.
A common staple in most kitchen pantries, chickpeas are full of nutrients that help you lose weight and improve digestion, muscle and bone health, and much more.
6. Lima Beans
Lima beans, also called butter beans, are large creamy beans that originate in South America and are used in a variety of dishes.
Young lima beans, also called baby limas, are pale green in color with thin skin surrounding them. Mature, dried lima beans have thicker, whitish skin, similar to great northern beans, that becomes tender when cooked.
With a mild, buttery flavor, lima beans absorb flavors really well and can be substituted for great northern beans for a variety of dishes including soups, stews, braises, casseroles, spreads, dips, and salads.
Packed with protein, fiber, and other nutrients, one cup of lima beans contains around a quarter of your daily recommended iron. They also help with digestive health, heart health, diabetes management, and anemia.
7. Black Beans
As is obvious, there is a stark difference between the appearance of the two beans, as black beans are small, shiny, and black, while great northern beans have a creamy color.
Although very different in terms of their texture and color, the two share a similar flavor profile and are mild in nature.
In addition to that, as opposed to great northern beans, black beans do not hold their shape well when cooked. For this reason, they are used in dishes such as salads, tacos, and burritos.
Black beans are not a good option for recipes such as soups and stews where they are cooked for a long time as they will most likely turn to mush.
With an impressive nutritional profile, black beans are full of protein and fiber, so if the color difference doesn’t bother you, you can easily swap them for great northern beans in an instant.
8. Fava Beans
Fava beans, also called broad beans, are one of the oldest cultivated crops grown and eaten all over the world. Large, flat, and bright green, fava beans are dense and meaty with a creamy, buttery texture.
A good alternative to use instead of great northern beans, fava beans hold their shape well when cooked and are good at absorbing flavors in a recipe.
Creamier in texture when compared to great northern beans, they give an excellent mouthfeel and can be subjected to longer cooking times.
They work great in recipes such as soups, stews, salads, and falafels, and provide a plethora of health benefits that include improved immunity and bone and blood health.
9. Red Kidney Beans
Another suitable replacement for great northern beans despite their very different color, red kidney beans hold their shape really well when cooked.
Aside from their color difference, they also have a slightly different flavor profile than great northern beans, with more of a lightly sweet and deep nutty flavor.
A great option for recipes that need to be simmered for long, red kidney beans work well in soups and stews.
They also add a nice, crunchy element to dishes like salads and are a good fix if you are out of great northern beans and are looking for an alternative to use.
10. Adzuki Beans
Adzuki beans (also called azuki beans, aduki beans, red beans, or red mung beans) are cultivated in East Asia and are commonly used in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cooking.
A good replacement for great northern beans, they have a mild flavor that is nutty and earthy, plus they provide just the right texture and mouthfeel that you are looking for.
Most popularly known for being used in red bean paste, their soft texture goes well in dishes like soups, stews, and bean bowls. They can also be served with salads or boiled as a side dish.
Linked to several health benefits, adzuki beans are high in dietary fiber, potassium, folate, and magnesium, as well as B vitamins and other nutrients, and help improve heart health and digestion and lower the risk of diabetes.
11. Flageolet Beans
A common variety of beans that originate in France, flageolet beans (pronounced “flah-zho-lay”) are tiny, tender, kidney-shaped beans that are primarily associated with French cuisine.
Sometimes called the “caviar of beans,” flageolet beans have a light green color and firm, creamy texture.
Their mild, nutty, and delicate flavor make them a good substitute for great northern beans in dishes such as soups, stews, and side dishes.
In the US, these beans are mostly available in their dried form and are not as common as the other options on this list. You can use them as a great northern beans substitute if you are able to source them.
One of the healthiest substitutes for great northern beans, flageolet beans are full of protein and dietary fiber, along with being low in fat.
Great northern beans are a versatile and healthy legume that can be used in a variety of dishes. Easy to cook and incorporate with other ingredients, they are not just flavorful, but also highly nutritious!
With so many different types of beans available in the market, it is relatively easy to find good substitutes that are both mild in flavor and can properly soak up the flavors around them.
There is no single best option as every bean is unique and has something different to offer. It all depends on the dish you are making and what matters to you the most, be it the taste of the beans or the texture.
Cannellini beans, navy beans, and pinto beans are the best substitutes for great northern beans in terms of flavor. If the texture is a priority for you, we suggest you go with chickpeas, butter beans, or fava beans.
Now that you know all about great northern beans (along with some of their best substitutes), here are a few additional questions we thought you might have.
How should you store great northern beans?
Properly stored, dried great northern beans will retain optimum quality for 2–3 years at room temperature.
Once the package is opened, it is best to keep them in an airtight container or resealable freezer bag to prevent air and moisture from spoiling them.
How long do cooked great northern beans last in the refrigerator?
Cooked great northern beans that are properly stored will last for 3–5 days in the refrigerator.
If you want them to last longer, you can freeze them in an airtight container or freezer-safe bag for about 6 months.
Do you need to soak great northern beans before cooking?
It is not necessary to soak great northern beans before cooking, but if you want them to cook faster, it may be a good option.
For soups and stews, it is best to cook them in dried form so that the liquid that they are cooked in becomes a flavorful broth.