Great Northern Beans VS Navy Beans – Differences Explained

Beans from the legume family are common and a beloved ingredient throughout the world. There are more than 400 varieties of beans, most of them with very similar characteristics and some variations in flavor.

How does one differentiate between beans that have a similar color and appearance, like with great northern beans vs navy beans?

Both these beans originate in North and Central America and have very similar characteristics. So, let’s see how we can differentiate between the two.

Great Northern Beans vs Navy Beans: Key Points

The Appearance Of These Beans

With just a glance, you might wonder, are great northern beans the same as navy beans? The answer is no, but one could be forgiven for that assumption given how similar these beans are in appearance.

Great northern beans have a white color and are large and oval in shape. The skin of these beans is somewhat thin. Their appearance is somewhat similar to butter beans, with the difference that great northern beans have a thinner skin.

Navy beans share some similar characteristics. They too have a white color, though they are somewhat smaller and plump when compared to great northern beans. Navy beans have a relatively thicker skin.

The Points Of Taste, Texture, And Cooking

Given their similarities in appearance, great northern beans and navy beans can be remarkably similar when cooked. 

But it’s the little details that matter – and they can make a world of difference for your recipe.

The thinner skin of great northern beans, for example, plays a role here. These beans are somewhat faster to cook and should be ready in about 45 to 60 minutes of cooking.

Navy beans have that thicker layer of skin and will take longer to cook. You can expect the navy bean to take 90 to 120 minutes to cook properly.

The texture is different too. Navy beans have a creamy texture with a velvety and soft touch. Great northern beans are comparatively less dense and not as soft as navy beans.

As for flavor, both of these beans are quite similar. They have that classic bean flavor that veers towards being neutral with a slight nutty touch. 

What Are Great Northern Beans?

Great Northern Beans are believed to have originated in North Dakota, where the Mandan Tribe domesticated and farmed them. The large and oval-shaped beans have retained their popularity through centuries.

As Europeans arrived in America, the beans started to spread throughout the world and also found a place in European, or rather, American cuisine.

These large beans with a delicate flavor are often used as a side dish on their own, or as ingredients in soups, stews, and casseroles.

Great northern beans are rich in nutrients. They provide a good amount of dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, iron, and proteins, while being low in fat. They also contain a substantial amount of folate and Vitamin B6.

What Are Navy Beans?

Navy beans are quite similar to great northern beans and were farmed by the Mandan Tribe. Their fame (and name) came to the limelight when the US Navy started their use on ships somewhere in the 1850s. The association with the navy brought these beans the name navy beans.

The beans have a dense creamy texture and a delicate taste. Their popularity isn’t just limited to naval vessels and they’re enjoyed throughout the world. You can enjoy these beans as their own side dish, or use them with recipes for cassoulets, soups, and stews.

As with most beans, navy beans too are rich in nutrition. They contain a fair amount of proteins, dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, and manganese. The beans also contain a fair amount of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and Vitamin B9 (folate).

More Details And Answers On Navy Beans And Great Northern Beans

The Four Common Types Of White Beans

As we know, beans have more than 400 varieties. However, the following four form the most popular types of white beans:

  • Great Northern Beans, also known as northern beans
  • Navy Beans, also known as pea beans
  • Lima Beans, also known as butter beans, baby lima beans, or lima beans
  • Cannellini Beans, also known as white kidney beans to distinguish them from red kidney beans

While all these beans show different tastes, textures, shapes, and appearances, they are fairly similar to each other. For most recipes, you can substitute one of these white beans with the other without much problem. 

However, keep in mind that they may have different cooking times, which you’ll have to adjust for your recipe. For example, great northern beans take just about an hour to cook, while navy beans can take two hours.

How To Cook Great Northern Beans?

When cooking with dry great northern beans, the first step should be soaking them. Many beans tend to contain toxins and anti-nutrients, which reduce their nutritional qualities or cause digestive distress.

Soaking and properly cooking the beans removes these problems and provides an added advantage of nutritious and plump beans that cook more uniformly and quickly.

Aim to at least soak them overnight, though a 24-hour soak is better.

Once the soaking is done, drain the water from the beans. Add fresh water to the beans, going over three inches over the beans or at least slightly higher than twice the volume of beans.

At this point, you can add salt and follow your recipe to cook the beans. Properly soaked great northern beans should be cooked in about 30 minutes. That’s quick, but consider giving it a few more minutes so that the beans have boiled for at least 30 minutes.

Canned beans don’t need to undergo soaking before being cooked. You can, however, give them a good rinse to remove the flavor of the canning liquid or aquafaba before cooking them.

Are Navy Beans Good For You?

Navy beans are a delicious, nutrition-rich treat that your tastebuds, as well as your body will enjoy. These beans are good for you and they contain a lot of nutrients like proteins, iron, magnesium, vitamin B1, and vitamin B9. 

As with most beans, remember that navy beans must be soaked and properly cooked before you eat them. Proper cooking removes any anti-nutrients or toxins in the beans.


As we see in our detailed comparison of great northern beans vs navy beans, they’re both amazingly nutritious and delicious beans that are quite similar.

There are notable differences between the two, like some variations in texture and size, but they tend to be on the minor side of things. Both these beans are amazing ingredients for your recipes.

You cannot copy content of this page