Butter Beans vs Lima Beans: Are They Different?

Butter Beans vs Lima Beans

How does a comparison of butter beans vs lima beans shape up? There are a lot of ideas and misconceptions about what these beans are and the differences between the two.

You’d even find people simultaneously hating on lima beans and loving butter beans! Whatever the (perceived) differences, everyone can agree these beans come from the same plant, the Phaseolus lunatus

As it turns out, these are both the same beans. You could say lima beans is another name for butter beans. So why the different names and perceptions? It’s largely down to geography, dishes, and the origin of recipes. 

Let’s get a deeper look for a better understanding.

Lima Beans vs Butter Beans – The Key Factors

Understanding The Nomenclature

Butter beans or Lima beans are native to South America. They are quite popular with the local cuisine there, which has also affected their nomenclature.

For example, they’re a key ingredient of an early native American dish, succotash. The name Lima beans, as you can guess, comes from the city of Lima in Peru. 

Butter Beans

The beans are believed to have originated in Peru, though they’re spread around the world now. A big chunk of the global production of beans is now in the USA. 

One theory is that as these beans spread and reached the USA and UK, their cream color and rich consistency earned them the name of butter beans. Similar naming variations popped out throughout the world as the beans spread. 

Other popular names of the beans are Madagascar bean, sieva bean, chad bean, and double bean.

What Is A Lima Bean And What Is A Butter Bean? On Size, Color, And Nomenclature!

Things would be so much easier if we could all agree that lima beans and butter beans are the same thing. However, the beans are available in different sizes, which has encouraged different nomenclature.

Additionally, they are useful in their unripe (green) form as well as when ripe when they take a yellow/white color.

In the UK, if the recipe calls for green and unripe beans, the preferred name is lima beans. The white or pale yellow, fully mature flat bean gets the name of butter bean. 

Things are different in the USA and the names can depend on what part of the country you’re from. According to Webster, in the Southern and Midland USA (especially the Carolinas), the flat, white variety is the butter bean.

The smaller, white or yellow variant of these beans might also be called the seiva bean. 

Many recipes, especially those published some time ago, also tend to make a difference. Butter beans are the large and yellow/white flat beans from the plant. If used when they’re green, the beans tend to get labeled as Lima beans.

How do you differentiate between these beans in areas where lima beans and butter beans are known to be the same? In such cases, the green beans might be labeled baby lima beans or junior lima beans.


How To Cook Butter Beans?

If you’re using canned or frozen butter beans, initial preparation might not be necessary before cooking them. Still, it’s better to check the labeling. Canned beans are usually pre-cooked and can thus handle going straight to the recipe.

As with most beans, butter beans contain toxins and antinutrients. Proper soaking and cooking of these beans is important to remove the effects of these toxins and antinutrients. Never eat beans raw.

Using dried beans usually does require some preparation. It’s generally recommended to soak the beans for up to 24 hours before cooking. Soaking beans has the added advantage of reducing the cooking time. 

Once you’re done soaking the beans, drain the water and add them to a pot with a fresh batch of water. Boil the beans and then let them simmer for a while. Depending on your desired consistency and effect, this can take up to an hour or even longer.

You can also add more water or stock to the beans to get the desired taste. After the boiling is done, you could choose to use them for a salad, or cook them further for stews and other recipes. 

Either way, keep an eye on the beans. The longer you cook them beyond this point, the more likely they are to break.

Where To Buy Butter Beans?

Butter beans are widely available and can be purchased from most stores dealing in food items, grocers, big box stores, or online. Depending on where you live, the beans might carry a different name.

Some of the popular names of these beans are lima bean, madagascar bean, sieva bean, chad bean, and double bean.

It’s a good idea to check your recipe and product label (especially when buying canned beans). You should also check whether your recipe wants green beans or white beans, since both are used in recipes and can carry any of the names listed here.

Are Lima Beans Good For You?

Lima beans are rich in a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and fiber. The beans contain potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. They’re also a good source of vitamin B-6. 

The beans should not be consumed raw as they’re known to contain some toxins and anti-nutrients. Soaking these beans and properly cooking them is a good way to remove these unwanted materials.

Are Lima Beans Good For Dogs?

Much like humans, dogs too can enjoy the taste, flavor, and nutrients of lima beans. They’re also a good way to provide plant-based proteins for dogs.

As with humans, dogs too should only eat properly soaked and cooked lima beans. This ensures there are no toxins or anti-nutrients in the beans. This principle generally applies to all beans.

The Verdict – Summing It All Up

So where do we stand in the comparison of butter beans vs lima beans? There is no practical difference between these beans. Both names refer to the same bean. However, the preferred name can vary depending on the part of the world where you live.

In many countries, the white/yellow flat beans are butter beans, while their green version is called lima beans. Or there might be entirely different names for these beans. 

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