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Butter Beans vs Lima Beans: How Do They Compare

Maria Foster
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by Maria Foster

You wouldn’t be the first person to wonder what separates the creamy lima beans from the smooth staple butter beans.

As it turns out, they’re the same legume, and the only difference between them is the maturity level at which they are harvested.

To put it simply, butter beans are the parents, and the younger, more green-hued beans are the lima babies. Nevertheless, they come from the same plant.

What is important, though, is how you cook and eat them, not what you label them!  So, let’s examine the minor differences that can occur due to the maturity of the beans.

Difference Between Butter Beans and Lima Beans

Butter Beans
Butter Beans

The main difference between butter beans and lima beans is their level of maturity — both of them come from the same plant. However, lima beans are collected when they are still not ripe, while butter beans are harvested after they are fully matured.

Lima Beans
Lima Beans

Hence, we have two names for one bean — the Phaseolus lunatus. The term “lima bean” comes from Lima, the capital of Peru. On the other hand, butter beans were probably named after the creamy mouthfeel of — you guessed it — butter.

Whatever you name them and whatever phase of maturity you find them in — know that you can differentiate between these gentle, creamy beans by their slightly different texture, size, and color — so let’s discuss each one.

Texture: Butter beans have a buttery, creamy feel, as their name suggests. Lima beans have a mealy, starchy feel that some compare to that of uncooked fava beans.

Size: Because butter beans are mature, their size is noticeably larger. Lima beans appear to be slightly smaller.

Shape: Butter beans are flat and kidney-shaped. Lima beans, on the other hand, also resemble kidneys but are more rounded than flat.

Color: Butter beans are typically white or pale yellow, whereas lima beans have a pale green color.

How they are sold: Butter beans are often purchased in stores, either canned or dried. They are occasionally also available fresh. Lima beans can be found canned and oftentimes fresh.

Butter Beans vs. Lima Beans Comparison Table

CategoryButter BeansLima Beans
Type of legumePhaseolus lunatusPhaseolus lunatus
Name originNamed after the creamy consistency of butterNamed after Lima, the capital city of Peru
Level of maturityMatureRipe
TextureCreamy and butteryStarchy and meal-like
ShapeFlat and kidney-shapedMore rounded, but still kidney-shaped
ColorWhite or pale yellowPale green
How are they soldFresh, dry, and cannedFresh and canned

Nutritional Content Breakdown: Which One Is Healthier?

Butter beans and lima beans have identical nutritional profiles, which makes both of them equally healthy.

That being said, let’s look at some health benefits these beans may bring to the table:

  • Long-lasting fullness: Butter beans and lima beans contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which can promote a feeling of fullness and reduce the risk of overeating;
  • Rich source of protein: Protein is crucial for the development and maintenance of healthy muscles and body tissues. Additionally, it provides energy. Legumes are the ideal meal for vegans, vegetarians, and people who enjoy plant-based meals but struggle to acquire enough protein from plant-based sources.
  • Great for diabetes: Lima beans and butter beans have low glycemic profiles, a metric for how much a particular item raises blood sugar levels. Additionally, they contain a lot of fiber, which can help control blood sugar levels by delaying the absorption of sugar into the body. For diabetics, lima beans and butter beans may help with blood sugar management. According to one study, eating beans more regularly was associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Heart-healthy: Soluble fiber lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, both of which lessen the risk of developing heart disease. In addition, beans are a good source of antioxidants, which guard your body against inflammation and oxidative stress and support a robust and healthy heart.

Butter Beans vs Lima Beans: Nutritional Profile

Category (1 cup)Butter BeansLima Beans
Trans fat0g0g
Polyunsaturated fat0.3g0.3g
Monounsaturated fat0.1g0.1g
Vitamins & Minerals

Can I Substitute Butter Beans for Lima Beans and Vice Versa?

Yes, you can substitute butter beans for lima beans because they belong to the same legume family.

In our previous discussion, we mentioned that butter beans are the more ripe beans with a richer and butterier texture. On the other hand, lima beans are green, starchy, and somewhat smaller.

Their color and mouthfeel may be the two things that will stand out the most during the substitution. Other than that, they are identical.

If you don’t have lima beans to replace butter beans with, you can also use cannellini beans and navy beans, as they’re soft and creamy enough to compensate for their buttery texture.

Regarding flavor and texture, fava beans are very comparable to lima beans. If you don’t have fava beans, you may substitute kidney beans. They are also quite adaptable and make a good addition to soups, stews, and salads.

If you only have canned beans and the recipe calls for dried beans, you’ll need to skip the cooking step, drain and rinse the beans, and then add them five minutes before you’re done cooking. Also, canned beans are already salted, so you may need to decrease the recipe’s salt.

Cooking With Butter Beans & Lima Beans

The method we are all acquainted with — putting butter beans or lima beans in a saucepan with some water and letting them boil — might be the traditional go-to method, but it’s not the only one. There are a ton of other ways that you can cook these beans! Below we showcase some of the most interesting recipes.

Butter Bean Burgers

Butter Bean Burgers
Butter Bean Burgers

If you’re in the mood for something different, use butter beans to make veggie burgers! They are thick and surprisingly flavorful, filled with chopped onion, jalapeno pepper, crackers, egg, cheddar, and garlic powder. If your butter bean burgers are dry and crumbly, add a little potato starch to help offset this. It will bind the patties together and provide moisture.

Greek Lima Beans

Greek Lima Beans
Greek Lima Beans

In this greek beans dish, limas are cooked in a hearty tomato sauce alongside minced garlic, carrots, onion, chopped tomatoes, and herbs. The final result? A dinner that is extremely gut-friendly! This dish goes amazingly well with crusty bread and a fresh green salad. You may also cook beef or pork alongside your lima beans if you want to give your dinner a smokey flavor.

Orzo Lima Beans Pasta

Orzo Lima Beans Pasta
Orzo Lima Beans Pasta

If you need to make a quick yet tasty supper, you can prepare this 30-minute veggie orzo. Orzo is a soft, fluffy pasta kind. In this recipe, it’s combined with lemon zest and freshly squeezed lemon, giving the dish a refreshingly citrusy flavor. Walnuts are also included, which give the dish a little texture. Lastly, the abundance of vegetables in this dish—from kale and spinach to lima beans and parsley—makes it a superfood.

Butter Bean Tomato Soup

Butter Bean Tomato Soup
Butter Bean Tomato Soup

This butter bean tomato soup is comforting, savory, and filling, and as it cooks, your house will smell lovely. The soup can be prepared in around 20 minutes, which is ideal if you’re rushing and need something hearty and warm.

The thick tomato foundation comprises creamy butter beans, celery, onion, garlic, and basil. In the end, you’ll enjoy a mouthwatering tomato taste with a hint of acidity and a salty undertone. Excellent during the winter months!


To sum up, both beans originate from the same plant, although butter beans are a more mature kind that is larger, brighter in color, and creamier in texture. Nevertheless, despite being smaller, rounder, and greener, lima beans are just as nutrient-rich!

We hope we’ve inspired you to try one of our recipes, like the orzo lima bean pasta that’s perfect for a movie night or the butter bean tomato soup that is just what you need if you want something light and healthy!

About Maria Foster
Maria Foster
Maria Foster is a mother of 3 and she and her husband of 23 years share their home with 2 faithful dogs. Besides being CEO of the household and active in her community, Maria is the lead contributor to Food Champs and loves to try new food ideas and kitchen accessories to make easier and more delicious meals.
Maria Foster
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