Black beans vs. Pinto beans- Which is the healthiest bean? Can you substitute one for the other in a recipe? I am here to answer all your bean questions! Texture, flavor, cooking uses, and a little historical context for true legume geeks like me! Both beans are a variety of the “common beans,” and there are similarities and differences to uncover.
My Love of Beans– I am exploring more about all types of beans and lentils, as legumes are my current obsession. My current reading list includes “Beans: A History” by Ken Aldala, “Cool Beans” by Joe Yonam, and “Bean by Bean” by Crescent Dragonwagon.
In my kitchen comparison, “Black Beans vs. Pinto Beans,” I made a batch of beans from dried beans for a warm side and soup. I used a can of each for two different bean salads to compare texture and flavor. I also got the kids involved in a taste test.
I have structured this post in order of most relevance to the average (not bean-obsessed) home cook, starting with general information about culinary applications and nutrition facts. For my fellow legum lovers, I have followed with more history and cultural context about each bean.
- Culinary Use, Taste, and Texture
- Nutrition Facts
- Historical and Cultural Context
- The Taste Test
Black Beans: Commonly known as black beans, these legumes are also referred to as black turtle beans. They have a small, oval shape with a shiny black exterior and a creamy white interior. Black beans boast a hearty, earthy flavor that becomes rich and creamy when cooked. They are often used in various dishes, such as rice and beans, feijoada (a Brazilian stew), and black bean soup. Their cooking time can vary but typically requires soaking and simmering to achieve a tender consistency.
Pinto Beans: Pinto beans are recognizable by their medium-sized, oval shape and distinctive reddish-brown color with mottled spots. When cooked, they turn a pinkish-beige hue. Pinto beans have a slightly nutty flavor and a creamy texture. They are popularly used in dishes like burritos, refried beans, and various types of soups and broths. The cooking time for dried pinto beans is relatively moderate and also involves soaking and simmering to ensure they are fully cooked and tender.
The main difference between these two beans is their appearance and size. Black in color the black bean is smaller than the mottled brown and white colored pinto bean. A cooked black bean has a firmer texture, and thicker skin that provides a chewy bite. Pinto beans have thin, tender skin with a softer consistency.
In grocery stores, you will find both beans in canned and dry form. You will also find pinto beans in canned refried beans. I use canned beans more than dry just because they are so convenient but I recently discovered how tasty dried beans are when slow cooking them at home.
- Common Name: Black Bean
- Aliases: black turtle bean
- Texture: slightly firm
- Size: Smaller
- Shape: oval-shaped
- Color: black with a white interior
- Taste: mildly sweet flavor and subtle earthiness
- Cooking Time of Dry Beans: 60-90 minutes
- Best Culinary Uses: Rice and bean, feijoada, black bean soup
- Common Name: Pinto Bean
- Aliases: speckled beans
- Texture: creamy
- Size: larger
- Shape: oval-shaped
- Color: Brown with Spots, pink when cooked
- Taste: nutty
- Cooking Time of Dry Beans: 2 hours
- Best Culinary Uses: burritos, refried beans, and in broth
Regarding culinary uses, black and pinto beans can often be used interchangeably in recipes. While slight differences in flavor and texture might be minor, these substitutions generally work well in dishes that call for cooked beans. Kidney beans are another “common” type of bean (phaseolus vulgaris) which makes it another excellent choice for black bean and pinto bean substitutions.
Black beans and Pinto beans Dishes:
Because these beans are so similar, they work well with many of the same dishes.
- Rice and beans- so simple, but it’s a satisfying crowd-pleaser. Rice and beans are a frequent school lunch and quick dinner in our house. The kids like it with a bit of shredded cheese or guacamole. I love it with pickled onions, taco sauce, and cilantro garlic sauce.
- Tacos and burritos- whether you are having chicken, salmon, or lentil tacos add these beans to layer some more flavors and up the protein in your meal.
- Dips and Spreads- refried pintos beans are the base for this summer bean dip and black beans work great for this olive hummus.
- Side dish- this black bean recipe is a delicious side and my most frequently made recipe! It works well with chicken, roasted vegetables, and eggs and one of my favorites is as a topping for pizza.
- Soups and stews- Of course, there is black bean soup, pinto bean soup, and chili. But the possibilities is endless- throw either type of bean into your next chicken noodle or vegetable soup for extra fiber and protein.
- Salads- Throwing a can of beans into a salad is one of the easy ways to make a salad into a full meal. Of course, there are bean salads- try them with corn and lime or shallots and scallions.
- Burgers and patties- I have not had a beef burger since I started making these black bean burgers.
1. Pressure Cooking: Pressure cooking is a time-efficient way to achieve tender beans without spending hours simmering on the stove.
- Preparation: Sort and rinse the beans thoroughly, removing debris or damaged beans—no need to soak if using a pressure cooker.
- Cooking: Place the cleaned beans in the pressure cooker and cover them with water or broth. The liquid should be about 2-3 inches above the beans. Add seasonings if desired.
- Cooking Time: Depending on the type of bean and your pressure cooker, cooking times can vary. As a general guideline, black beans and pinto beans typically take around 20-30 minutes under pressure.
- Release Pressure: Once the beans have cooked, allow the pressure to release naturally, or use the quick-release method if your pressure cooker allows.
2. Slow Cooker: A slow cooker is a convenient way to cook beans, requiring minimal hands-on attention.
- Preparation: Clean the beans and discard any unwanted particles. Soaking the beans overnight can help reduce cooking time and improve digestibility, but it’s optional.
- Cooking: Place the beans in the slow cooker and cover them with water or broth. Add seasonings and any other desired ingredients.
- Cooking Time: Set the slow cooker to low and cook the beans for 6-8 hours or until tender. Cooking times may vary based on the slow cooker and the type of bean.
3. Boiling on the Stovetop:
- Preparation: Sort through the beans, remove debris, and rinse them thoroughly. Soaking the beans overnight is recommended for this method.
- Cooking: Place the soaked beans in a large pot and cover them with water or broth. The liquid should be around 2-3 inches above the beans. Add seasonings if desired.
- Cooking Time: Bring the beans to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if needed. The cooking time varies based on the type and age of the beans.
- Taste Test: Periodically taste a bean to determine its doneness. Beans should be tender but not mushy.
The USDA provides nutrition information for 1 cup serving of each bean thoroughly cooked (boiled) without salt. (1, 2, 3) (NOTE that if you are cooking them, you are likely going to be adding some salt for flavor- so if you are following a low-sodium diet, make adjustments to your recipes accordingly)
Nutrition Facts for Black Beans:
- Calories 227 kCal
- Fat .9 g
- Protein 15.2 g
- Carbohydrates 40 g
- Fiber 15 g
- Sodium 1 mg
- Calcium 46.4 mg
- Iron 3 mg
- Magnesium 120 mg
- Potassium 611 mg
Nutrition Facts for Pinto Beans:
- Calories 245 kCal
- Fat 1 g
- Protein 15 g
- Carbohydrates 44 g
- Fiber 15
- Sodium 407 mg
- Calcium 69 mg
- Iron 3 mg
- Magnesium 85 mg
- Potassium 746 mg
Are Black beans healthy? Yes, they are rich in essential nutrients, plant-based protein, fiber, and antioxidants that help manage blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol levels.
Are Pinto beans healthy? Yes, they are rich in essential nutrients, plant-based protein, fiber, and antioxidants that help manage blood pressure, sugar, and cholesterol levels.
Are pinto beans or black beans more healthy? Black and pinto beans have virtually the exact amounts of carbs, protein, fiber, and fat. They also have similar mineral and antioxidant content.
Carbohydrates and Fiber
Black beans and great pinto beans are nutritional powerhouses, offering a rich blend of carbohydrates and fiber. A single serving of black beans provides approximately 227 kcal, with 40 grams of complex carbohydrates. Pinto beans pack 44gs of complex carbohydrates and 245 kcal. Most of these carbohydrates are starch, making black beans an excellent source of quick and sustained energy. In addition, black and pinto beans offer an impressive 15 grams of dietary fiber per serving. This significant fiber content plays a crucial role in various aspects of health, such as stabilizing blood sugar levels, promoting feelings of fullness, and supporting a healthy digestive system (4).
Less than 10% of people in the United States get their recommended daily amount of fiber, 25 grams for women and 38 for men. Both black beans and pinto beans excel as sources of fiber, making them valuable additions to any diet.
Despite their high carb content, their low glycemic index means they’re digested slowly, moderating their blood sugar effects (5). Multiple studies show that diets rich in low glycemic index may help improve blood sugar regulation (6).
White beans are a good source of protein. Each cup of black beans and pinto beans provides 15 grams of protein. For this reason, many vegans and vegetarians use black and pinot beans or other legumes to boost their protein intake.
While Pinto and black beans are good protein sources, they are not complete protein sources- they do not have all nine essential amino acids your body needs. You can ensure you get all the essential amino acids in your diet by pairing white beans with grains like rice, barley, corn, and wheat- which have complementary proteins.
Beans, Beans Good for the Heart
Eating pinto beans can significantly decrease total and LDL (bad) cholesterol (7). Pinto beans are also rich in magnesium and potassium, which help prevent high blood pressure, a crucial risk factor for heart disease (8, 9). Consuming black beans has a vasorelaxant effect, which helps relax the muscles within blood vessels to lower blood pressure (10).
Health Benefits of Legumes
Research suggests that increasing your intake of legumes, including beans and lentils certain health benefits, including significantly lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and type 2 diabetes (11).
Common Ancestor: Both black beans and pinto beans belong to the same species, Phaseolus vulgaris, often called the common bean. This species is believed to have originated in the region that is now Central and South America (12). Over time, different varieties of P. vulgaris were cultivated and adapted to various climates and conditions, developing distinctive bean types, including black beans and pinto beans.
The cultivation and consumption of common beans significantly contributed to the diets of indigenous societies, providing them with valuable nutrients and sustenance (13). As cultures connected through trade and exploration, beans became part of global cuisines. European explorers introduced beans to other parts of the world, incorporating them into dishes and culinary traditions far beyond their place of origin (14).
Black Beans: Black beans are native to the Americas and have a rich history intertwined with indigenous cultures. These beans were a vital source of sustenance for ancient civilizations such as the Mayans (15). Archaeological evidence suggests that black beans were cultivated as early as 7,000 years ago in regions that are now Mexico and Central America (16).
The cultivation of black beans extended beyond their places of origin, spreading to South America and the Caribbean through trade and cultural exchange. In Brazil, black beans became a crucial ingredient in the traditional dish “feijoada,” a hearty stew made with black beans and various cuts of pork (17).
Pinto Beans: Like black beans, pinto beans are also rooted in the Americas. These beans have a fascinating history that traces back to indigenous peoples who cultivated and consumed them for thousands of years. The word “pinto” in Spanish means “painted,” which describes the beans’ appearance with their mottled spots.
Pinto beans were a staple in the diet of Native American tribes, including those in what is now the southwestern United States and Mexico (18). They were valued for their nutritional content, storability, and versatility. Pinto beans played an essential role in sustaining communities through times of scarcity and were often combined with other indigenous crops like corn and squash.
The histories of black beans and pinto beans are deeply intertwined with the indigenous cultures of the Americas (19). These legumes have played a crucial role in sustaining communities for thousands of years, and their adaptability and nutritional value have made them important ingredients in various cuisines worldwide.
In Mexican cuisine, pinto beans shine as a cornerstone of dishes like refried beans, frijoles, and hearty stews. Their creamy texture and earthy flavor are perfectly complemented by the vibrant spices and herbs found in this culinary tradition. Meanwhile, black beans emerge as a culinary star in both Latin American dishes, gracing the table with dishes such as Moros y Cristianos in Cuba and Gallo Pinto in Costa Rica. The deep, robust taste of black beans effortlessly pairs with a medley of ingredients, creating a symphony of flavors that pay homage to the rich history of these regions.
The Taste Test:
To conclude comparative analyses of black beans vs. pinto beans, I put to the ultimate test- a kid taste test!
When photographing for other post-Navy Beans vs. Great Northern Beans– my daughter asked what I was working on. I told her it was a “vs.” post similar to the animal vs book we read at bedtime. In the book series; the kids really enjoy them. In each book, a“imals battle a”ter you learn about each animal. (Mountain Lion vs. Coyote, Barracuda vs. Moray Eel, that kind of thing)
One of the animals is crowned the winner at the end of each book. So naturally, Annette asked who wins in my vs. post between navy bean and Great northern beans. But how to decide who wins? Taste? Texture? Cooking versatility? Interesting botanical history? A taste test! And Annette volunteered to be the judge. And now she is my official bean taste tester.
Disclaimer- Annette is eight years old at the test date, and this post's writing. She is just starting to be more interested in “grown-up food.” No longer scared of trying spicy food, but still mainly excited to have pizza and french fries. While she mostly still has the pallet of a kiddo- she is defiantly a better taste tester than my three and 6-year-old.
The big winner of the 8-year-old test is the Blackbean!!
This ruling may be significantly influenced by the fact that she has been living off my canned black bean recipe since she first ate solid food.
More from the world of beans:
- Lima Beans vs. Edamame Beans
- Canned Black Bean Recipes
- Black bean stuffed Squash
- Broccoli Rabe salad White Bean With Sun-dried Tomatoes
- Kale and White Bean Salad with Pesto Dressing
- Smoky Slow Cooker Stewed Lentils and Chickpeas
- Buffalo Chickpeas Wrap
2. U.S. Department of Agriculture: Nutrition Facts for Black Beans
3. U.S. Department of Agriculture: Nutrition Facts for Pinto Beans
13. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture- Phaseolus vulgaris -The Common Bean!