What's the Difference Between Cannellini and Great Northern Beans? (2024)

Beans are the best—they're delicious, filling and packed with good-for-you nutrients like vitamins, fiber and protein. White beans, such as cannellini and great northern beans, are wonderful in stews, soups, spreads and salads. But the fact that some recipes simply call for white beans, while others specify either cannellini or great northern beans, might have you wondering about the differences between these two beans.

Cannellini and great northern beans are similar but they do have subtle differences in flavor and texture. That said, if it's 30 minutes until dinnertime and you're staring at a can of the "wrong" kind of beans in your pantry, rest assured that you can swap one for another. Here's everything you need to know about the two types of beans, plus tips on using them in white bean recipes.

Taste and Texture of Cannellini vs. Great Northern Beans

Both cannellini beans—also known as white kidney beans—and great northern beans are small- to medium-size white beans that are widely available in the U.S. in cans and dried. Both types of bean also originated and were cultivated in the area that is now South America and are part of the Phaseolus vulgaris species.

"The difference between the two rests primarily with the heartiness of the cannellini over the northern," explains Vince Hayward, the president of Camellia Brand beans. "Because of the thicker skin, and slightly bolder bean taste, the cannellini lends itself better towards soups and stews," Hayward adds. "The great northern is a bit more delicate and therefore lends itself towards consuming directly from a bowl, using as an ingredient in baking, or just simply when a lighter texture is desired."

Is There a Nutritional Difference Between Cannellini and Great Northern Beans?

Though cannellini and great northern beans have about the same calories and protein—110 to 118 calories and around 8 grams of protein per half-cup serving—great northern beans provide a bit more fiber than cannellini beans. According to the USDA, great northern beans deliver 7 grams of fiber per serving, while cannellini beans have 5 grams. And like all beans, both cannellini and great northern beans provide antioxidants and key minerals such as potassium, iron and magnesium. Adding more of either—or both—of these beans to your meal plan is a great way to contribute to your overall health, as well as the health of the planet.

Can You Substitute Cannellini for Great Northern Beans and Vice Versa?

You can absolutely swap cannellini and great northern beans in recipes. "It comes down to texture, and if you want a firmer-feeling bean in the dish you are preparing," says Hayward. If you have the option of either bean, opt for cannellini if you want a more robust bean, and great northern if you want something a little lighter.

Hayward particularly likes using great northern beans in recipes that show off the variety's ability to "cream up," as he puts it. "Growing up in South Louisiana, I am fortunate to have the best, freshest Gulf seafood in the world," he says. "One of my most favorite dishes is shrimp and white beans—a creamy, thick, delicious shrimp-flavored dish that brings back memories of my mother's home cooking and warm bowls of beans on cold winter nights."

Another of Hayward's favorite ways to use cannellini beans is in a three-bean vegetarian chili. "Three beans—cannellini, red kidney and pinto—along with a few spices, chiles and a can of tomatoes creates a fantastic vegetarian chili that pleases everyone in my family, including the meat eaters."

If you are using canned beans, you can just swap the two, but if you are starting from dried, plan for a slightly longer cooking time with cannellini beans. And since cannellini beans are a type of kidney bean, they contain toxic levels of lectins and need to be cooked properly in order to eliminate them.

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What's the Difference Between Cannellini and Great Northern Beans? (2024)
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