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Dried White Beans

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2009

Recipes don't always specify which variety of white bean to use. We tried a few common types to see what set them apart.

The average supermarket offers a half-dozen varieties of dried white beans. So which should you choose if the recipe doesn’t specify? We cooked six varieties in a white bean casserole, a hearty white bean soup, and a simple white bean puree. Our favorites: cannellini and regular white limas. While their flavor differences proved subtle, both share a lush, creamy texture and a large size that translates to a high ratio of interior to skin, so that even skins that cook up slightly tough are less noticeable. Though none of the beans were bad, tasters singled out two types as the lesser whites of the lot: Great Northern, for its slightly chalky texture, and small white, which tasters found bland and starchy. Whenever possible, we’ll seek out cannellini and regular white limas.

DRIED BEAN TYPEFLAVORTEXTURE
Cannellini Buttery with a subtle mushroomlike character Meaty and lush
LimaRich, buttery, with a distinct sweetnes and earthinessVery creamy
Baby LimaSame as regular limasVery creamy
NavyNutty and sweetVery creamy
Small whiteMild, blandStarchy
Great NorthernStrong mineral notesSlightly chalky and mealy

Cannellini

Lima

Baby lima

Navy

Small white

Great Northern