Did you run out of kidney beans at just the wrong time? Did you promise your family some hearty chili only to realize one of the star ingredients is missing? No worries! This list of kidney bean substitutes is sure to give you the best results for your recipe.
What are Kidney Beans?
To choose the best alternative to kidney beans, it is helpful to first understand what they bring to the table regarding flavor, texture, and nutrient composition.
Kidney beans are a legume originating from Central America and Mexico. You may also know red kidney beans as red, Mexican, or chili beans. Kidney beans can also be white in color, often referred to as cannellini beans. Less commonly, kidney beans can even be purple, black, or speckled. For the sake of simplicity, these substitutions focus on the most popular (at least in the United States) red kidney beans.
Like many beans, kidney beans have a slightly nutty flavor with a very slight sweetness. These oval-shaped beans tend to be larger, firmer and have a thicker skin than most other beans. Their meaty texture and slightly sweet yet earthy flavor make them popular in soups, stews, chilis, and curries. Kidney beans are also heavily featured in salads, dips, and other savory meals.
Regarding nutrition, kidney beans are rich in plant-based protein and fiber. Like most beans, kidney beans are rich in vitamins and minerals, including folate, iron, copper, manganese, and potassium. Kidney beans can be toxic if they are not thoroughly cooked. Therefore, it's essential to ensure that dry beans are boiled to thoroughly cook them.
Kidney Bean Substitutes
If you are out of kidney beans but have plenty of other beans on hand, here are some of the best alternatives. In general, you can substitute these on a one-to-one basis by volume (i.e. replace one can of kidney beans with one can of one of the following beans).
With a similar texture and nutty taste, chickpeas make an excellent substitute for kidney beans in savory preparations. Nutritionally, chickpeas and kidney beans have a high fiber content, though chickpeas have a bit more.
Did you know that Cannellini beans are white kidney beans? As such, these beans make an excellent substitute for the typical red variety. As they share the same mild flavor, cannellini beans can easily be swapped in any dish where the color is not a big deal. While cannellini beans are often lumped in with other white beans, such as great northern beans or navy beans, it's important to note that only Cannellini are white kidney beans and, therefore, the perfect substitute.
Although some may refer to kidney beans as red beans, they are actually two different beans! Because it can be difficult to even tell between these two types of beans, red beans can make a great substitute. Red beans are smaller with more of an oval shape and have a softer texture with an earthy taste. Visually, they are an excellent alternative, with flavor and texture similar enough that most wouldn't notice the difference in your savory dishes.
Also popular in Latin American and Mexican dishes, pinto beans are a delicious substitute for meals from these regions. Pinto beans have a creamy texture and earthy taste, so they will be especially enjoyable in savory dishes that only require a little mixing, as they may break down otherwise.
Black beans have a milder flavor than many beans mentioned above, so they can make a great alternative if you are concerned about a substitute not meshing well with all the different flavors in your dish. These beans can have a more firm texture, so they can hold up well in salad and chili recipes that may require a lot of mixing.
Also known as lima beans or gigante beans, butter beans have a creamier texture and buttery flavor, as their name implies. Though, if they are fresh, they can be slightly vegetal tasting. Their soft texture makes them ideal for creamy recipes like sauces or as a stand-alone side dish.
All bean-ed out? Try one of these instead!
If you want to boost your dish's protein content, lentils can be a good choice. They are much smaller than kidney beans, though, so these are an ideal substitute when the texture of a larger bean is not essential. I love to add red lentils to "beef up" my soups, like my lentil tortilla soup. Substitute lentils for kidney beans by weight as their size is very different.
While no one will mistake peas for kidney beans by appearance, green peas do share a lightly sweet taste and similar protein content. Green peas are a great addition to both cold and hot preparations, from salads and rice dishes. Substitute green peas for kidney beans one-to-one by volume cooked.
Looking to boost the health benefits of your chili recipe? Add some crushed walnuts! An excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, studies suggest that eating walnuts can help fight risk factors for heart disease. Soak the walnuts for a couple of hours before using them in your savory dish so that they develop a softer texture more suitable for sauces, soups, and chilis. I'd recommend substituting soaked walnuts for kidney beans by weight.
As the name implies, corn can add a gentle sweetness to your recipe, making it a good option for a variety of dishes. Corn is not a great protein source, though, so choosing a different substitute may be vital if you were counting on the kidney beans to serve as a main source of satiating protein in your dish. Substitute corn for beans one-for-one by volume.
Best Kidney Bean Substitutes by Common Use
To make things as easy as possible, here are my recommendations based on some of the most prevalent kidney bean-containing dishes:
Chilis and Soups
Black beans, garbanzo beans, and cannellini beans will work best in chili and soups where you want the firm texture of a bean. If you do not mind the beans breaking down a bit, pinto beans will also work well. Red lentils and crushed walnuts can add a similar savory flavor and a texture that can complement chili. However, the texture is dissimilar to kidney beans.
Also popular in rice dishes, red beans are visually similar and hold up pretty well texture-wise. Black beans and green peas also work well in rice dishes, though they do not appear identical to kidney beans. Green peas will add a sweet flavor, while black beans have a more savory flavor; combining both may be the perfect substitute for kidney beans flavor-wise!
For cold dishes like salads, cannellini beans, black beans, or garbanzo beans may work best. They all offer similar flavors and a firmer texture that can withstand thorough mixing. Green peas can also provide sweetness and a light vegetal flavor that complements salads nicely.
In dips and creamier preparations, butter beans or pinto beans can offer a similar flavor to kidney beans, and their tendency to break down a bit in cooking may be ideal for a creamy texture.
Baked beans are usually white beans in a sweet barbecue-esque sauce. While this may work for some recipes, baked beans add a hefty amount of sweetness compared to their un-sauced alternatives.
Nope! While kidney beans seem most popular for their meaty bite, some prefer pinto or black beans in their chili. Some don't want any beans at all!
Chili beans are often just kidney, red, or pinto beans in a tomato-based sauce with chili spices. Dry chili beans may be a combination of different beans including kidney pinto beans.
Wow, you made it all the way to the end?! Thanks so much for reading and I hope you found this summary of kidney bean substitutes helpful! Please let me know in the comments below how the substitute you chose worked out in your recipe. I'm happy to help with any troubleshooting. Thank you!