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Best Substitutes for Pinto Beans

Lisa Price
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by Lisa Price

Pinto beans are medium-sized legumes with a brown color that lightens when cooked. They have a creamy, smooth taste that blends well with many different flavors.

While pintos are popular, they’re certainly not the only bean around. If you want to make a recipe that calls for pinto beans, but you’re out, you can use many other beans instead.

The five best pinto beans substitutes are black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, great northern beans and black turtle beans.

Pinto Beans
Pinto Beans

1. Black Beans: The Most Faithful Pinto Beans Replacement

Black beans as pinto beans substitute
Black Beans

Black beans are very similar to pinto beans in taste, texture, and size. They’re the best substitute if you’d prefer to use pinto beans but don’t have any.

Each bean is black with a white spot called a keel. They’re oval-shaped with a medium to small size, making the average black bean slightly smaller than the average pinto bean.

For the most part, you don’t need to alter the recipe if you’re switching from pinto to black. When you’re cooking dry black beans, you’ll likely want to cook them a little longer than dry pinto beans, as they’re easy to undercook.

Nutritionally, black beans have a few benefits over pintos. They have more antioxidants, fiber, and protein. They’re also lower in cholesterol.

Potential downsides: If you’re preparing a dish that requires a specific look, the darker color could be an issue.

Verdict: As far as pinto bean substitutes go, black beans are the most likely to win a blind taste test.

2. Navy Beans: Smaller, but Packed with Similar Flavor

Navy Beans as pinto beans alternative
Navy Beans

Next up are navy beans. You might have had them and not even known it. They’re the bean in Boston Baked Beans.

Although they’re smaller (they are actually the smallest beans on this list), navy beans have a similar texture to pinto beans. Taste is also similar between the two beans. Both have a creamy, mild flavor – with the navy bean milder than the pinto.

If pinto beans aren’t a primary flavor in the dish but more of an accent, navy beans work well as a substitute. They’re well-suited for casseroles, Mexican food, and other dishes with lots of ingredients.

Do you want to make refried beans? Navy beans are the most mashable substitute for pinto beans. Remember that refried navy beans are white, so they’re not the color most people are used to in pinto bean dishes.

Cooking with navy beans is very similar to cooking with pinto beans. They get similarly soft as with heat, so you usually don’t need to adjust the timing of any recipe. 

Verdict: Navy beans are the best substitute for making refried beans, and in recipes where pinto beans provide light to moderate touches of flavor.

3. Kidney Beans: A Pinto Beans Alternative for Many Specific Dishes

Kidney Beans as pinto beans replacement
Kidney Beans

At first glance, kidney beans might not seem like a great pinto beans alternative because they’re much larger than pinto beans, with a dark red color.

However, they’re similar in taste and, in some ways, texture. Kidney beans have thicker skin than pinto beans, but it’s often hard to notice the difference, especially if the dish has been cooked or simmered for a few hours.

Kidney beans and pinto beans are used quite interchangeably in many Mexican dishes. You can replace them in tacos, casseroles, and refried beans without any noticeable difference.

They also work well in semi-liquid dishes such as chili, soup, and stew. Many people prefer the larger kidney in thicker chilis, as the smaller pinto can disappear among the meats and cheeses.

However, their large size is also a potential downside, as they can overwhelm a meal when they’re a major ingredient.

Kidney beans and pinto beans share many nutritional similarities, with roughly equal amounts of protein, magnesium, potassium, and iron.

Verdict: Kidney beans are a winning substitution for meals with a liquid component, such as gumbo, soup, masala, stew, and chili. They’re also one of the most popular subs for Mexican food.

4. Great Northern Beans: A Nutritious Substitute Used for Cooking

Great Northern Beans is a pinto beans substitute
Great Northern Beans

Great Northern Beans have a similar shape and texture to pintos, but telling the two beans apart is easy due to the Great Northern’s telltale white color. (But don’t let the “Great” in the name fool you – these beans are much smaller than pintos.)

They work exceptionally well in soup due to their delicate skin and fairly subtle flavors. They’re also a good choice for any dishes that cook in a slow-cooker.

You’ll find Great Northern beans in many ham-focused dishes. When a recipe refers to “ham and beans,” the bean in question is usually a Great Northern.

If you’re in a hurry, Great Northern beans are the substitution to choose because they cook in about half the time as pinto. Note that they become tough more easily than pintos, so you might need to salt them after cooking.

Finally, Great Northern beans have a slight nutritional edge over pinto beans. They’re higher in protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, and many other vitamins and minerals.

Verdict: While not a direct substitute for pinto beans as a side dish, Great Northern beans work well in recipes with vegetables, meats, and savory ingredients.

5. Black Turtle Beans: A Sweeter, Earthier Taste Option

Black Turtle Beans is a substitute for pinto beans
Black Turtle Beans

Although not as well-known as the other substitutions, black turtle beans are an effective substitute for pintos.

They have a sweet and savory flavor with hints of earthiness. Their texture is soft, which allows for easy mashing.

They’re popular in both Mexican and Caribbean recipes. You can use them in burritos, enchiladas, quinoa chili, black bean soup, and more.

Note that you’ll need to give yourself some extra time in the kitchen. Black turtle beans take longer to cook than pintos.

Fun Fact: The color of a bean affects its antioxidant capacity. As the darkest type of bean, black turtle beans have the highest level of antioxidant compounds.

Verdict: While they have a similar texture and size, black turtle beans aren’t an exact taste match, so using them as a recipe alternative is a matter of personal preference.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are quick answers to common questions about pinto beans replacements:

What are the Best Substitutes for Pinto Beans?

If you’re looking for the most direct comparison, go with black beans (not black turtle beans, which is a different type). Black beans closely resemble pintos in size, shape, texture, and taste.
The biggest difference between the two types is color. 

Are Pinto Beans and Kidney Beans the Same Thing?

They aren’t. Kidney beans are larger with tougher skin. They’re also red, while pinto beans are brown or tan.

Although the two beans have their differences, kidney beans are still a popular and effective substitute for pintos. Both are extremely common in all sorts of Mexican cuisine, chilis, and casseroles.

Are Cannellini Beans the Same as Pinto Beans?

They’re not. Cannellini beans are white kidney beans. They’re often used in Italian dishes like minestrone soup and Mexican dishes, such as burritos.

Interestingly, pinto beans are a popular substitute for cannellini beans, as the former is usually easier to find in stores.

Can I Substitute Pinto Beans for Black Beans?

You can. Bean substitutions are a two-way street. If your recipe calls for black beans, but you don’t have any, pinto beans are the closest alternative.

Note that black beans have less cholesterol than pinto beans. If high cholesterol is an issue for you, you might not want to make a permanent switch from black beans to pinto beans in your diet.

What Do Pinto Beans Taste Like?

Many people feel pinto beans have the perfect amount of flavor – not overwhelming, but just enough to notice. Their taste is earth, creamy, and rich but mild.

Pinto beans blend well with various foods, especially meats, spicy sauces, vegetables, and cheeses.

Conclusion

While nothing tastes quite like a pinto bean, several other beans come close in many ways. If you’re looking for the most direct pinto beans alternative, black beans are your best bet.

Navy and kidney beans also deliver similar flavors, both in dishes and as a side. Finally, Great Northern beans and Black Turtle beans offer slight taste variations that fit well into Mexican dishes, Italian cuisine, and many other recipes that call for pintos.

Whether you need a quick substitution to complete a meal in the making, or you’re looking for fun ways to add variety to your favorite dishes, these pinto bean alternatives are sure to please your palette.

About Lisa Price
Lisa Price
Lisa is Food Champ's resident fitness enthusiast and nutrition expert. She holds a nutrition degree in her home state of Florida and works for a large health system to ensure sound nutrition and dietetics information is passed on to all members.
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