White beans, you’ve probably heard of them, seen them, or even used them in your cooking. But have you ever wondered what white beans taste like?
White beans have a subtly sweet, mildly earthy flavor that’s often described as nutty. They’re not overpoweringly strong in taste, making them easy to incorporate into various dishes. Their texture is smooth and creamy, especially when cooked, adding a satisfying mouthfeel to your meals.
Below, I go into detail about white beans, their taste, and how they can be used in everyday cooking. Oh, and I’ll also touch on the different types of white beans and how their tastes can vary.
Types of White Beans and Their Tastes
Cannellini beans (white kidney beans) are a popular variety of white beans. They are large and have a traditional kidney shape. When it comes to taste, cannellini beans offer a slightly nutty flavor with a hint of mild earthiness.
Their texture is smooth and creamy, especially when cooked, which makes them a favorite in soups and stews. They are also commonly used in Italian dishes, such as Minestrone soup, and are a great addition to salads due to their firm texture that holds up well.
Navy beans, also known as pea beans, are small and oval-shaped. They have a delicate, slightly sweet flavor.
Navy beans become soft and creamy when cooked, so they are often used in dishes that require mashed or pureed beans, such as baked beans. They are also a common choice for bean soups and stews.
Great Northern Beans
Great Northern beans are medium-sized white beans that are known for being mild, nutty, and have a firm flesh.
They hold their shape well when cooked, which makes them a popular choice for dishes that require a longer cooking time, like slow-cooked stews and casseroles. Their subtle flavor allows them to absorb other flavors well.
Other Types of White Beans
More types of white beans are worth mentioning.
- Baby lima beans (butter beans), are small, flat, and have a buttery flavor and creamy texture. You’ll find them used in soups, stews, and casseroles.
- White navy beans are small and round with a strong flavor and firm texture, making them a good choice for dishes that require beans that can hold their shape.
- Marrow beans are large and creamy, with a rich flavor that is often compared to bacon or ham. They are commonly used in Italian cooking and are perfect for hearty soups and stews.
Do White Beans Taste Good?
Whether or not white beans taste good can depend on personal preference and how they are prepared.
A common misconception about white beans is that they are bland. This is because white beans have a subtle flavor that is designed to absorb the flavors of the ingredients they are cooked with.
They might not taste very exciting on their own, but when used in a dish with herbs, spices, or other flavorful ingredients, they can be quite delicious.
Another factor that can affect the taste of white beans is their freshness. White beans can be bought, dried, or canned like most beans.
- Dried beans generally have a better texture and flavor, as they don’t have the added salt or preservatives that canned beans often contain. However, they do require soaking and longer cooking times.
- Canned beans are more convenient and can still taste good, especially if they are rinsed well before use.
If your white beans taste bad, it could be due to undercooking. Undercooked beans can be hard and have a chalky taste. Do you will need to make sure that you cook your beans until they are tender.
White beans are typically sold dried or canned rather than fresh or frozen. However, you can freeze the leftovers if you cook a large batch of dried beans. Frozen cooked beans can retain their flavor and texture when properly stored.
How To Make White Beans Taste Better
Making white beans taste better involves a combination of proper preparation and flavorful ingredients. Here are some tips to make better tasting white beans:
- Soak Your Beans: If you’re using dried beans, soaking them overnight can help to soften them and reduce the cooking time. This also helps to make them more digestible.
- Cook with Aromatics: Adding aromatic ingredients like onions, garlic, celery, and carrots can greatly enhance the flavor of your beans. Sauté these ingredients first before adding the beans and water to infuse the beans with their flavors.
- Use Broth Instead of Water: Cooking your beans in chicken, vegetable, or beef broth instead of water can add a depth of flavor to your beans.
- Add Herbs and Spices: Herbs like rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves can add a wonderful aroma and flavor to your beans. Spices like cumin, paprika, and chili powder can also enhance the taste.
- Season Properly: Don’t forget to season your beans with salt. Adding salt towards the end of cooking is best to prevent the beans from becoming tough.
- Add Acid: A splash of vinegar or lemon juice at the end of cooking can brighten up the flavors and balance the creaminess of the beans.
White Beans At The Grocery Store
White beans, as their name suggests, are typically white or off-white in color and come in many different shapes and sizes.
White beans at the grocery store are usually found in the dried beans section or canned goods aisle. Dried beans are typically sold in bags, while canned beans are in cans or jars.
Look for beans that are whole and uncracked. If buying canned, opt for low-sodium or no-salt-added versions for a healthier choice.
Are White Beans A Vegetable Or Legume?
White beans are classified as legumes, just like peas, lentils, and peanuts.
In the culinary world, legumes are often treated as a vegetable because they are typically used in similar ways as vegetables in cooking.
However, from a botanical perspective, legumes are not vegetables. They are seeds that come from the pods of plants in the Fabaceae family.
One reason for the confusion is that the term “vegetable” is more of a culinary term than a botanical one. In culinary terms, a vegetable is any edible part of a plant that does not fall into the fruit or grain categories, which can include roots, leaves, stems, and seeds like legumes.
So, while you might find white beans in the vegetable aisle of the grocery store, and they might be included in the vegetable group on a food pyramid or plate, they are technically legumes.
This classification matters because legumes have a unique nutritional profile, being high in protein and fiber, which sets them apart from other vegetables.
What Tastes Similar To White Beans?
There are a few other legumes and vegetables that have similar taste characteristics, such as:
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans ): These have a nutty taste and a somewhat similar texture to white beans. They can be used in many dishes like white beans.
- Lima Beans: These beans, especially the baby variety, have a buttery flavor and creamy texture that is somewhat similar to white beans. They are a good substitute in recipes that call for white beans.
- Pinto Beans: Pinto beans have a creamy texture and a flavor that is often described as earthy and slightly sweet, which is somewhat similar to the flavor of white beans.
- Great Northern Beans: If you’re looking for a bean that is similar to cannellini beans (a type of white bean), Great Northern beans are a good option. They have a similar size, shape, and flavor profile.
- Potatoes: While not a legume, potatoes have a starchy quality and mild flavor that can mimic the texture and taste of white beans in some dishes, especially when cooked and mashed.
While those ingredients can be used as substitutes, they will also bring their own unique qualities to your dishes.
Recipes And Side Dishes With White Beans
Here are some popular recipes and side dishes that feature white beans:
- White Bean Soup: This classic recipe showcases the creamy texture and mild flavor of white beans. You can make it with beans, onions, garlic, and broth, or add other vegetables, herbs, and some ham or bacon for extra flavor.
- White Bean Salad: For a refreshing side dish, toss cooked white beans with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. Add fresh herbs like parsley or basil, and splash with olive oil and lemon juice. This salad is perfect for summer picnics or as a light lunch.
- White Beans and Greens: This is a hearty side dish pairs well with grilled meats or fish. Sauté some garlic in olive oil, add cooked white beans and a bunch of chopped kale or spinach and cook until the greens are wilted. Finish with a splash of lemon juice for a bit of brightness.
- White Bean Dip: This is a great alternative to hummus. Blend cooked white beans with garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice until smooth. You can also add some rosemary or other herbs for extra flavor. Serve with pita chips or raw vegetables for dipping.
- White Bean Chili: White beans are a great addition to chili. They add a creamy texture and can help thicken the chili. You can make a white bean chili with chicken or keep it vegetarian with just beans and vegetables.
- White Beans and Sausage: This is a hearty main dish that’s perfect for a cold day. Brown some sausage in a pot, add cooked white beans and diced tomatoes, and simmer until everything is heated. You can add some herbs and spices like thyme and paprika for extra flavor.
White Beans FAQs
Do white beans taste the same as pinto beans?
While white beans and pinto beans have a mild, subtly sweet flavor, they are not the same. Pinto beans have a slightly stronger earthy flavor and a creamier texture when cooked, while white beans are known for their nutty undertones.
What flavor are white beans?
White beans have a mild, subtly sweet, and slightly nutty flavor. They are not overpoweringly strong in taste, making them a versatile ingredient in various dishes.
What are white beans similar to?
In terms of taste and texture, white beans are similar to other types of beans, like chickpeas and lima beans. When cooked, they have a creamy texture and a mild, subtly sweet flavor.
Do white beans taste like kidney beans?
White beans, specifically cannellini beans, are also known as white kidney beans due to their similar shape. However, their taste is milder and less earthy compared to red kidney beans.
How does the taste of white beans change with different cooking methods?
The taste of white beans can change depending on how they are cooked. When cooked in a broth or with aromatic ingredients, they can absorb these flavors, enhancing their own mild, nutty taste. Cooking methods like roasting or frying can also bring out a deeper, slightly caramelized flavor in the beans.
My Tasty Thoughts
White beans are a versatile and nutritious ingredient that makes them a favorite in many cuisines. You’ll find that each type brings its own unique qualities to your dishes.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with white beans in your cooking. Remember, their mild flavor means they can absorb the flavors of the other ingredients they’re cooked with, so feel free to get creative with your seasonings.
And if you’re new to cooking with beans, white beans are a great place to start. They’re cheap to buy and easy to prepare, and their creamy texture and mild flavor make them a hit with adults and kids alike.