9 Best Butter Bean Substitutes

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Butter beans are healthy, versatile, and flavorful. If you don’t have them in stock, there are several substitutes that you can use for more or less the same texture and nutritional benefits.

What are the best butter bean substitutes? Butter beans can be substituted with navy beans, fava beans, soybeans, chickpeas, kidney beans, edamame, and even non-legume options such as quinoa. Most of these substitutes can be used and cooked in the same way as lima beans too.

Read below to learn more about butter beans, their characteristics, how to use them, and how to substitute them.

What Are Butter Beans?

Butter beans are also known as lima beans. They are named after the capital of Peru, Lima, where they were first popularized. 

There are mainly two types of lima beans:

  1. The smaller ones, also known as Baby Limas, are greener.
  2. The larger variety has a cream-like color and is commonly referred to as butter beans.

Lima beans are a staple in several countries in South America but can also be seen as a popular choice in many other regions around the world.

These beans have a mild and nutty flavor with a unique creamy yet slightly grainy texture. Butter beans can be used to make a wide variety of recipes but can also be served in simple ways. 

Just like other legumes, lima beans need to be soaked and then boiled in water before they are used. Cooked lima beans offer a unique mouthfeel and taste best with several condiments.

Perhaps the best thing about butter beans is their ability to soak up flavors and add richness and bulk to any recipe.

But even with all their benefits, lima beans may not be suitable for everyone.

Why Substitute Butter Beans?

Butter beans can be substituted for several reasons. The most basic reason can be a lack of availability. While butter beans are popular in many countries around the world, they are not as ubiquitous as other legumes. 

If you live in a country that does not cultivate or import canned butter beans, then it will make more sense for you to opt for its substitutes. 

Another reason to substitute them may be due to legume allergies. Not everyone can digest legumes as easily and for someone who has a very low tolerance for beans, it can be a nightmare to deal with the consequences.

If anything, you may also want to substitute them for something as innocuous as simply running out of your stock of lima beans at home.

How To Cook Butter Beans

Learning how to properly cook butter beans is important because it will give you an idea of how to cook its substitutes too. Here is a quick and general guide to cooking any legume at home:

Step 1: In a large bowl, add your legume of choice and fill up the bowl with water. Keep the beans submerged because they will expand and become larger as they soak more water. Soak the beans for at least 2-3 hours.

Step 2: Fill up a large pot with water. You should try to cover the beans with at least 3-4 inches of water, this way they can cook undisturbed without you needing to add cold water during the boiling process. 

Step 3: Bring the water to a boil and then turn the heat down until the water is simmering. Now add the beans and cook them for about an hour. Keep an eye on them after 45 minutes and check for doneness. Cooked beans should be adequately soft but not mushy! 

Step 4: Remove the beans from the pot and spread them out on a tray. Allow them to cool for about 10 minutes and then use them as required! Store the beans in the fridge at 40F for no more than 5 days. The cooked beans will last 2-3 months when frozen.

Step 5: Thaw them in the fridge overnight before cooking or defrost them in the microwave at the lowest setting.

Spain on a Fork from YouTube has a delicious butter bean recipe that is the perfect base to use any of the substitutes we will talk about in this article.

Characteristics of Butter Beans

Before you check out the substitutes below, let’s talk a bit about what makes butter beans so good. Knowing its characteristics will help you pick the right substitutes for specific butter bean recipes without having to deal with varying textures and flavors.

Here are some of butter bean attributes:

The Flavor of Butter Beans

Freshly cooked butter beans have a very mild and nutty flavor and many people may even label them as bland.

The real magic happens when these beans are mixed with herbs and spices. They are naturally porous and can easily soak up flavors from other ingredients. 

On their own, the beans will provide a subtle nutty flavor but fortunately, the added flavors will always take the front seat making them extremely tasty in whatever you use them in.

When substituting butter beans, make sure that you go with mild-tasting legumes that offer more or less the same flavor points. 

The good news is that lima beans come from a large family of legumes and most of them offer the same subtle flavors – so, you will have a lot of options to choose from.

It’s not just the flavor that you should prioritize! Please keep in mind all the characteristics of butter beans when choosing a suitable substitute for your recipes.

The Texture of Butter Beans

Lima beans are prized for their soft and creamy texture, but as mentioned above, there are two varieties of this bean. 

The smaller lima beans (baby limas) have a starchy texture which is also sometimes described as meaty. These beans offer the same flavor as their larger counterpart but since they are cultivated before they mature, they can provide a slightly different overall texture.

The larger beans have a softer texture and are known for their cream color. These characteristics are one of the reasons why the matured variety is referred to as butter beans. 

If you are looking to substitute lima beans for their texture, then you can easily use several types of legumes to replicate the mouthfeel of both baby limas and butter beans. 

Fava beans make for an excellent substitute for baby limas while you can use chickpeas or even black-eyed peas for butter beans.

Uses of Butter Beans

Butter beans can be used to make soups, salads, stews, and more. They can be baked, fried, steamed, or just tossed with other ingredients.

These beans are highly versatile and if you don’t know where to start with legumes then we recommend picking a substitute that is just as versatile. 

Specific beans can be used for specific recipes. For a tasty chili recipe, you can substitute butter beans with navy beans or red kidney beans. 

If you are new to the world of legumes and just want a nutritious meal then you may pick any substitute from our list below.

The 9 Best Butter Bean Substitutes

Here are our top picks for the best substitutes for butter beans. 

RankButter Bean SubstituteBest Way To Use
1.Fava BeansAny recipe that calls for butter beans
2.SoybeansFried in oil with herbs and spices
3.ChickpeasBaked and added to soups, casseroles, and salads
4.Red Kidney BeansChili recipes or more hearty dishes
5.EdamameAsian-inspired recipes
6.Cannellini BeansBest for Italian cuisine
7.Navy BeansAny recipe that calls for lima beans
8.Black Eyed PeasThrow them in soups and salads
9.QuinoaBest for people with legume allergies

1. Fava Bean 

Fava beans are the best substitute for butter beans. They provide very subtle bitterness along with the same mild and nutty flavor notes as lima beans.

Fava Beans

Fava beans also provide more or less the same texture when cooked. 

Even though fava beans are a bit firmer, they are less starchy and make for an excellent substitute in many different recipes.

These beans can come in handy when you want a substitute for baby limas since they look and feel almost the same! 

Use fava beans as a side dish or add them to salads or casseroles for a unique flavor and mouthfeel.

2. Soybeans

Soy Beans

Soybeans are a fantastic vegan option and are perhaps one of the most popular legumes in the world.

Not only are they a healthier alternative but they can easily replace butter beans in any recipe.

Soybeans provide the same nutty and earthy flavor and have an enticing aroma too.

Once boiled, they can be further processed using several cooking methods.

We recommend frying them in oil with spices and herbs to get the most out of their flavor and creamy texture!

3. Chickpeas 

Chickpeas make for an excellent substitute for butter beans because they do not have a distinct beany flavor.


Just like lima beans, these legumes provide a mild and nutty flavor, but you may also detect some notes of sweetness in them.

When cooked properly, this legume offers a very creamy texture and the best part is that boiled chickpeas can hold their shape even after they have been cooked.

We recommend using chickpeas in stews, salads, casseroles, gravies, and more. 

4. Red Kidney Beans 

Red kidney beans are a fan favorite for chili recipes. They are the preferred choice for slow-cooked meals and are known for their nutty flavor.

Red Kidney Beans

These beans have a firmer texture than butter beans but can easily be substituted in many dishes. 

To get the most out of these beans, we recommend pairing these beans with meat or a combination of cooked veggies.

Their “meaty” texture pairs well with several ingredients and can also add bulk to your recipes!

5. Edamame 

Edamame is just as popular as soybeans because both of them are technically the same! 

Edamame Beans

Edamame is immature soybeans that are cultivated before they are allowed to mature into the legumes that everyone loves.

The main difference between soybeans and edamame is that edamame is sold and cooked with their pods. 

To eat these beans, you will first have to boil them in water and then take them out of the pods.

While all of this may sound a bit tedious, once you try them, you will understand why they can be the perfect substitute for butter beans.

Edamame provides the same mild and nutty flavor and has a smooth and almost creamy texture. They are considered to be less grainy than butter beans and can meld well with a lot of different ingredients too.

6. Cannellini Beans 

Cannellini Beans

Cannellini beans are also known as white kidney beans.

They come close to looking and tasting like butter beans and can be great for salads, stews, and even chili.

For the best experience, we recommend soaking the beans before boiling them for a buttery smooth texture.

These beans have a lot of uses in Italian cuisine and since they provide the same creamy and meaty texture as butter beans, cannellini beans can be used in every recipe that calls for butter beans. 

7. Navy Beans or Boston Beans 

Navy Beans

Navy beans, also known as Boston beans are another close substitute for butter beans.

These beans have a whitish or cream-like color. At a glance, they can also be mistaken for lima beans.

Navy beans provide almost the same flavor and can also be considered to be an exact match when it comes to their mouthfeel and texture.

Just as fava beans are an excellent substitute for baby limas, navy beans should be considered to be the default backup for butter beans.

8. Black Eyed Peas 

Black Eyed Peas

We love black eye peas because they offer an earthy and mild flavor that can blend well with any ingredient you add to them.

While they might not have the same buttery smooth texture as butter beans, they are certainly up there with the greats!

Black-eyed peas are readily available and are a staple in almost every kitchen around the world.

You can use them in salads, stews, soups, and more! They can easily substitute butter beans in any recipe and provide a balanced nutritional profile as well. 

9. Quinoa


Quinoa is the perfect substitute for people with legume allergies.

This food comes from a flowering plant that is grown primarily for its edible seeds.

What makes quinoa so special is its ability to substitute not just legumes, but also rice. 

This means that you can use quinoa in many interesting ways! It offers an earthy and nutty flavor along with a creamy texture when cooked properly.

It is an excellent ingredient for salads, and baked dishes and can also be used in the same way as butter beans.

If you have a hard time digesting butter beans then quinoa may just offer a nutritionally dense and tasty alternative to every type of legume on our list! 

Related Questions

Substituting butter beans is very easy and you can choose from several legumes of the same family for more or less the same nutritional benefits, flavor, and texture!

Now that you know the best substitutes for butter beans, here are some related questions:

Can butter beans be substituted with canned beans?

Yes, you can use any generic canned legume to substitute butter beans but we highly recommend choosing from the substitutes above as they are likely to offer a similar flavor and texture when cooked in recipes that call for butter beans. 

Keep in mind that canned beans are pre-cooked so please cook them carefully when using them in your recipes. 

Are butter bean substitutes stored the same way? 

Almost all legumes can be stored and reheated in the same way. After cooking the beans, always refrigerated or freeze them until you need them. This is the best way to preserve the quality and freshness of the beans and also keep them safe from bacterial growth. 

Is there an exact substitute for butter beans?

There are several “similar” substitutes for butter beans but if you are looking for a go-to substitute then we recommend navy beans. These beans are almost identical to butter beans in every aspect. They can be cooked and used in the same way and provide almost the same smooth and rich mouthfeel too.

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