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10 Great Northern Bean Substitutes That Can Boost Your Meals

Do you want to know what great northern bean substitutes may suit your daily cooking needs? Check ten options here.

10 Great Northern Bean Substitutes That Can Boost Your Meals

I love beans, especially great northern beans because they make a healthy addition to casseroles and many other recipes. When I ran out of them in my cupboard, I had a slight panic because they’re integral to my vegetarian diet. Fortunately, there are many great northern bean substitutes available in grocery stores.

White beans, like navy, cannellini, and lima, are pretty much the same as great northern beans. If you want to add a unique color without overpowering the dish, try black turtle beans, red, kidney beans, and pinto beans. Flageolet, chickpeas, butter beans, and fava beans are also mild-tasting beans that you can interchange with great northern.

Before we discuss each possible alternative, let’s get to know more about great northern beans.

What Are Great Northern Beans?

Great northern beans are mid-sized white beans known for their delicate, nutty flavor. These beans soak up the flavor of the seasonings and other ingredients, making them perfect for soups and stews. Most importantly, they can hold their shape well in delicate dishes, like salads and enchiladas.

Wrapped in a thin skin, great northern beans hide a tender flesh inside. These beans also pack many nutrients, such as folate, manganese, and iron. Since they’re rich in fiber but zero in cholesterol, this type of white beans makes a good addition to your healthy diet.

The origins of great northern beans can be traced to the Mandan Tribe in North Dakota where they consider the beans a regular crop. Fast forward, these beans are perfect for stews, soups, casseroles, salads, and more.

The 10 Best Great Northern Bean Substitutes For Everyday Cooking

Let’s not wait any longer. Here are the best beans that can take the place of great northern beans in recipes.

1. Navy Beans

Navy Beans

Navy beans are extremely the same as great northern beans, so I’m confident in substituting them into many recipes. They have that same mild, delicate flavor that soaks up the flavor of the other ingredients in soups. I also notice a similar hint of nuttiness that stands out in purees, salads, and ragouts.

However, navy beans are smaller than great northern beans. Due to their smoother texture, they work well in thickening soups and in recipes where mashed beans are needed. These beans may require a longer time because of their thicker skin.

These white beans originate in Peru, but they have become a food staple for the US Navy in the 19th century. Hence, they got the name “navy”. Like great northern beans, navy beans are a great source of fiber, protein, and minerals.

Navy beans are a great replacement for great northern bean recipes. They can be used in soups, chili, and even as an ingredient on its own! To substitute navy beans for great northern beans, use a 1:1 ratio.

2. Black Turtle Beans

Black Turtle Beans

If you like a hint of earthy flavor, you can try black turtle beans as an alternative to great northern beans. These small, black beans have the same mild flavor as great northern beans that compliment well with other ingredients in a recipe. I like to substitute them in stews and chili because they can similarly maintain their shape after cooking.

The only distinct difference between these two beans is their appearance. While great northern beans are white, black turtle beans have a dark purple color that turns brown when cooked. Black turtle beans are also way smaller than great northern beans.

These Mexico-originated beans have an oval shape that looks like a turtle, hence the name. Like great northern beans, black turtle beans offer fiber, protein, and nutrients like iron and magnesium.

You can find already cooked black turtle beans in cans. If you use the dried variety, boil and simmer for at least 1-½ hours to achieve the best results. To cut back the cooking time to only 45 minutes, soak the beans overnight in salty water.

Follow the 1:1 ratio. When a recipe calls for one cup of great northern beans, substitute the same amount of black turtle beans.

3. Cannellini Beans

Cannellini Beans

Great northern beans are already large, but wait until you see cannellini beans. These gigantic white Italian kidney beans look the same as the great northern ones with their cream color, so I can barely tell them apart. They can maintain their shape well, making them more suitable for soups, salads, and stews.

Compared to great northern beans, cannellini has a nuttier taste with a more prominent meaty flavor that can pump up any dish. The texture is similarly tender, but it hides a smoother texture inside a thicker skin. I love the bean’s large size because it looks very filling in chili recipes. 

Cannellini is white kidney beans that originate from Argentina. They pack more fiber and other nutrients, making them a healthier option than great northern. However, they can be more expensive.

Since cannellini is almost the same as great northern beans, substitute it in a 1:1 ratio. No need to cook the canned versions because they’re already cooked. If you use dried cannellini, soak them for at least five hours or overnight.

4. Pinto Beans

Pinto Beans

Pinto beans and great northern beans have the same nutty taste. However, pinto’s flavor is more robust, so these beans can stand alone as a side dish. A slight hint of earthy flavor brings a smooth, refreshing note to burritos, chili, and chunky vegetable soup.

The size and shape of pinto beans are almost the same as great northern. What stands out is the color because great northern looks white while pinto beans are more of a lighter shade of pink that turns brownish after cooking. Once cooked, pinto beans offer a creamier texture than great northern.

Pinto beans originate from Peru and spread throughout other countries as a trade commodity. Like all other beans, pinto is rich in protein, fiber, and essential micronutrients. This particular variety can substitute great northern beans in a 1:1 ratio without any problem.

5. Chickpeas


I like chickpeas because they’re versatile. They’re excellent for salads and can work as a substitute for water chestnuts in a pinch. When I substitute chickpeas for great northern beans, the results are surprising. The buttery texture of these legumes goes well in boiled dishes and makes them perfect to use whenever you need a rich flavor without all that fat!

Chickpeas have a starchy, nutty flavor with an earthy undertone that tastes well in hummus, stews, and soups. Compared to great northern beans, chickpeas have a more buttery texture and a more robust flavor. The appearance may also give away as chickpeas are commonly brown and smaller, while great northern beans are creamy white and larger.

Chickpeas come from the Middle East. Like great northern beans, chickpeas are rich in calcium, fiber, and potassium. They’re particularly high in folate and niacin, making these beans helpful in regulating blood pressure and sugar.

You can substitute great northern beans with chickpeas in a 1:1 ratio in many recipes, like soups, salads, and stews.

6. Flageolet Beans

Flageolet Beans

Another white bean variety that passes as an excellent substitute for great northern beans for me is flageolet. Heralding from France, these beans have the delicate flavor and nutrient profile that great northern beans possess. The texture is creamier, though, making these fiber-rich beans suitable substitutes for hearty recipes like salads and stews.

I thought the flageolet’s fragile features would fall apart easily. Surprisingly, they keep their shape when cooked despite their thin skin, just like great northern beans. However, the color may differ as flageolet beans are mostly pale green.

You can directly add fresh shell beans to the simmering stock to cook for less than an hour or until tender. If you’re using the dried ones, soak them for 2-6 hours. Most of the time, these beans are available dried in the farmer’s market.

Since both of these beans are quite alike, substitute flageolet in a 1:1 ratio with great northern beans.

7. Red Kidney Beans

Red Kidney Beans

Sometimes I like to put color on my salads and soups, so I turn to red kidney beans when great northern beans aren’t available. Red kidney beans are slightly larger with a light to dark red color that shines in every recipe. They have a meaty, dense structure that holds up well in delicate dishes like soups and chili.

Similarly, red kidney beans have that mild and slightly nutty flavor that reminds me of great northern. There’s an underlying sweetness that I love to bring in cold salads and enchiladas. Once cooked, the beans look firm but taste smooth and creamy.

In terms of nutrition profile, they’re both almost alike with high levels of protein and fiber. Make sure to boil dried red kidney beans to remove any impurities from the skin. If using the canned varieties, simply add them to recipes in a 1:1 ratio without any need for pre-cooking.

8. Fava Beans

Fava Beans

Fava beans are something new to me, but they can make simple dishes fancy. These beans have a slight nutty nutty flavor but offer a hint of light bitterness which is quite distinct for this type. I prefer to use the dried variety because they provide a mild flavor similar to great northern beans.

Whenever I taste fava beans, it reminds me of spring with their lightly sweet vegetable flavor. The texture may vary from tender to starchy, depending on the bean’s age. Once cooked, the beans have this soft, buttery feel that’s richer than great northern beans.

Also known as broad beans, fava beans have long been known in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor for centuries. They’re loaded with nutrients, like folate, copper, and manganese. 

Fresh, shelled fava beans take a lot of time to prepare. You’ll need to blanch them to remove the hard clear skin then peel and pop the beans out. It’s easier to use the dried beans as they only need to be soaked like other beans.

Substitute fava beans with great northern beans in a 1:1 ratio for soups, stews, and other recipes.

>>> RELATED: The Best Substitute For Water Chestnuts: 7 Surprising Options You Can Try

9. Butter Beans

Butter Beans

Everybody loves butter beans and so do I. These South American origin beans look almost similar to great northern with their whitish or cream color hues. They have the same flattened shape as great northern beans, so I easily swap them together without anyone noticing.

The texture may vary, though. While great northern beans are grainy, butter beans are creamy and smooth. Thankfully, the mild flavor replicates the great northern beans in recipes.

I like to use butter beans in soups and other liquid-based dishes as they soak up the flavors from the seasonings well. They add a rich texture to salads and a thicker base to stews.

You can choose from fresh to dried or canned butter beans. Use a 1:1 ratio to add a rich flavor to your dishes.

10. Lima Beans (Pricey)

Lima Beans (Pricey)

Lima beans are a smaller variety of butter beans with a flavor that’s more than just beans. These green-colored beans have a nutty flavor like great northern beans with a hint of sweetness. I particularly like baby limas because they have a mild taste that’s similar to great northern beans.

Baby lima beans pack the same nutrients as great northern beans. They’re rich in iron, fiber, and protein. As its name implies, its origin traces back to Peru where it served as a staple product along with potatoes.

Note, that these beans are fairly expensive due to high demand. I’m only using them whenever I’m feeling fancy. Use a 1:1 ratio to impart a rich, creamy texture to soups, stews, and other bean recipes.

Favorite Great Northern Beans Recipes

Great northern beans are great for many recipes, including stews, soups, and salads. If you like to have great northern beans for dinner, here are delicious recipes you can try.

Recipe 1: Great Northern Bean Stew

This recipe is the perfect comfort food for a cold, chilly night. The soup combines plenty of herbs to make every sip aromatic. Here are the details.


  • 15-½ ounces of great northern beans (if unavailable, use black turtle beans or cannellini beans)
  • 1 lb pork sausage
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 10-12 whole tomatoes, diced
  • ¼ of a head of cabbage, shredded
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • ¼ tsp hot pepper sauce
  • Herbs (e.g., dried thyme, paprika, and parsley)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Put sausage and onion in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, then drain.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients except for parsley.
  3. Boil, then reduce heat to simmer for an hour.
  4. Once the vegetables are tender, sprinkle some parsley and cook for another five minutes.
  5. Serve hot and enjoy.

Recipe 2: White Bean Salad

I like a salad that tastes refreshing and hearty at the same time. This recipe is perfect to make ahead for picnics and barbecues. If you have no great northern beans, use cannellini beans, navy beans, or any white beans instead.


  • 30 ounces of great northern beans
  • 1 medium-sized red or white onion, diced
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbsp white wine (if unavailable, use red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced
  • ½ cup parsley (if unavailable, use fresh basil or arugula)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning


  1. Open a can of great northern beans, rinse, and add to a large bowl.
  2. Add diced red bell peppers, parsley, and onions.
  3. In a jar, mix olive oil with white wine and minced garlic. Add seasonings and shake to make the dressing.
  4. Pour the dressing over the bowl of vegetables. 
  5. Mix with a spatula thoroughly.
  6. Chill in the refrigerator and serve cold.


1. Are Great Northern beans and Cannellini beans the same?

Great northern beans and cannellini beans are both white beans, but they slightly differ in taste and texture. Great northern beans are less creamy and grainier than cannellini beans. While great northern beans have a delicate flavor, cannellini is nuttier with an earthy undertone.

2. Can I substitute White beans for Great Northern beans?

Since great northern beans are basically white beans, yes you can interchange them in recipes. The taste and texture may slightly vary, depending on the type of white bean you use. 

For instance, navy beans have a mild flavor and get creamy when cooked. Meanwhile, baby lima beans or butter beans offer a smooth, creamy texture with a starchier flavor. 

3. What is the same as Great Northern beans?

Navy and cannellini beans have the same white color as great northern beans, but baby lima beans have the exact size and appearance. The mild flavor is almost the same as black turtle beans and flageolet beans.


At this point, you have many options whenever your cupboard runs out of great northern beans. Among all the great northern bean substitutes, my favorite is the cannellini because they have the same color, although a bit larger. Cannellini beans also provide a new flavor dimension to recipes with their earthy flavor, plus they can hold their shape well after cooking.

Regardless of your choice, make sure that you prepare the beans correctly before cooking. Generally, a 1:1 ratio is suitable for all of them.

Let us know your thoughts about this article in the comment section below.


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Anya Kaats

Hi! I’m Anya, a San Diego-based Holistic Health Coach and Marketing Consultant on a mission to share good food, health & happiness with as many people as possible. I am a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) and have worked in the natural & organic products industry for my entire professional career with companies such as Suja Juice, Brad’s Raw Foods, and Mamma Chia. While my life may be totally consumed with healthy food now, nutrition wasn’t always a passion of mine.