What Are Butter Beans?

My favorite book as a kid was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I can still recite large chunks of it now as a much older man-child. “There were lima beans for dinner and I hate lima beans. There was kissing on TV and I hate kissing.” Whoa, back it up, Alex. I’m with you on the kissing part, but lima beans? I was one of the few kids who actually liked them. And one day, my mom made us butter beans and I revolted. But was I wrong to do so? Let’s find out: What are butter beans—are they actually the same as lima beans?

What are butter beans?

The butter bean is a moon-shaped, beige-colored bean that is often lumped in with other white beans of similar shape and size. It specifically comes from a plant called Phaseolus lunatus which, for all those non-Latin speakers out there, means “moon-shaped bean.”

The butter bean is native to both North and South America, with traces of it dating back to 15th century Peru. Today, butter beans are available dried or, more often, canned in a liquid. 

What do butter beans taste like?

The word butter is an apt description. The interior of the bean has a smooth and buttery texture, much more so than something like a kidney bean. And, while a kidney bean is a little bit sweet, the butter bean tends to be a bit more vegetable-like.

Like all beans, however, the butter bean makes a great base for a larger dish, allowing it to carry a lot of different flavors on its back. It’s great in soups and chilis, as a component of a bean salad or as a topping for a traditional leaf salad. It’s smooth texture also makes it a good base for a bean dip.

Are lima beans and butter beans the same?

I’ve already gotten on my soapbox about the headaches of bean classifications. And in the case of butter beans and lima beans, I can confidently say the headache still remains.

Butter beans and lima beans are the same kind of bean, just at different ages. The green lima bean is a younger version of the bean. As the bean matures, it grows in size and transforms to a beige white color. In terms of taste, there isn’t much difference. In texture, the lima bean is a little more tender, but that’s about it. Why are lima beans called butter beans? Maybe because of their creamy texture, maybe because of their pale color, or maybe it’s just good marketing. Folks like Alexander are fervently anti lima bean—but who could say no to a butter bean?

So just remember, if you extol the virtues of butter beans while clinging to a hatred of lima beans, you’re living a lie. They are just the same. “Even in Australia.”

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

Thoughts? Questions? Complete disagreement? Leave a comment!

Your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Thanks for the article, I’ve searched before on this same topic and like seeing it laid to rest. I too have argued that the taste difference is negligible except recently my daughter came home from the grocery store with canned lima beans that were definitely ‘greener’ tasting than any I’ve had before.

    Thanks again!