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Pulses: Lima and Butter Beans - Are They Good For You And How Do You Cook Them?

Updated on November 26, 2016


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So: Do You Love Butter Beans?

Or do you love lima beans? If either one applies then so does the other, because they're the same thing. (Kind of. Butter beans - the UK version – are the same thing as mature lima beans – what you U.S. guys eat. But not the same thing as baby lima beans.) Maybe you've never tried either! (Or both). If so, then you have a whole new culinary treat awaiting you: but first, let me tell you all about them. Because it's a more complicated subject than you might think! (Or at least, it is, if you're not planning to just scoff them with a spoon straight out of the tin.)

Butter Beans Or Lima Beans?

Butter beans belong to the pulse, or legume, family of plants. This is something they have in common with peas, haricot beans, chick peas, kidney beans, etc. etc. etc. - it's a big old family. They are a large – nearly an inch in length – flat bean, and a pale creamy yellow in colour. As with most pulses, they require overnight soaking and at least a ten minute fast boil prior to cooking until tender. (Or some might say until soft: I like my butterbeans soft, mushy and mealy, to the point where they're almost a soup). They're a savoury, texture rich treat, delicious with liver and mashed potato: I understand that in America succotash – made primarily with sweetcorn and beans - is also popular. (Now we Brits can understand what Sylvester's 'Suffering Succotash' is all about – if you explain it to us.)

Lima Beans and Nutrition

So what do you need to know about butter beans as far as their nutritional qualities are concerned? Seeking information from the nutrtiondata website, it tells us that, for a 188 gram portion of mature lima beans, we can expect to receive thirty-nine grams of carbohydrate, 15 grams of protein and just one gram of fat. This is in addition to a whopping thirteen grams of dietary fibre: beans, beans, ever an excellent source of dietary fibre! (And that wasn't how you expected that sentence to end, was it?)

As with other beans, you can also get a complete protein (and that's one with all the necessary amino acids that the human body can't make in sufficient quantity) if you combine butter beans with a grain such as corn or wheat. (And I can say authoritatively that soft mushy butterbeans on cornmeal pancake is very very good.) Butter beans in themselves are an excellent source of protein but may be more calorifically rich than equivalent low-fat animal protein sources.

What Can Butter Beans Do For You?

Are there actual health benefits to eating butter beans and other members of the legume family? Certainly, studies have suggested that eating beans can reduce levels of LDL cholesterols, and also that bean-sourced carbohydrates are less quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, with potential benefits for blood sugar levels. Good news for those with blood sugar problems such as diabetes, or cardiovascular troubles, perhaps.

With all this concentration on what mature lima beans do contain, don't forget all the tricky things they don't have. These include gluten – yes, they're completely gluten-free! There's no milk, dairy or lactose in there either. This is good news for a lot of people. They are of course vegan too – so you vegan folks can go crazy with the nut roasts and bean spread!

Of course, an increasingly popular approach to cooking with and eating pulses in recent years is to sprout them. However, this is inadvisable with lima beans due to certain plant toxins such as haemaglutinnins. Don't try this at home!

But overall butter beans are a delicious option that is too often neglected: buy yourself a packet, and explore the possibilities today!


Better Homes & Gardens, Miller, J. "Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book." Des Moines: Meredith Corporation, 2006.

Ensminger, A.H. "Foods and nutrition encyclopedia." Boca Raton: CRC Press, LLC, 1994.

Phillips, R.D. "Starchy legumes in human nutrition, health and culture." Plant Foods For Human Nutrition. 44.3 (1993): 195-211.

Eats, Toots and Leaves

How do you like your lima beans?

See results

Songs About Beans!

Junkyard dogs and campus queens

Yeah, everybody likes butterbeans

B-52s, 'Butterbean'


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