I can’t wait to tell you all about the Great Northern Beans! A few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the actual names of specific white beans. And now I’m thoroughly obsessed with beans, lentils, and all things legumes.
This passion started on a panicked grocery store run during that first week in March 2020. There was no meat, bread, or milk at the grocery store and I panicked. I have three little kids, and I had a primal instinct to buy something healthy and nutritious that could line our pantry shelves through the coming apocalypse.
I had no idea what to do with dried beans at the time, but I bought armfuls of dried and canned beans. A few years later beans have become so much more than a survival supply. Beans are now a heartwarming comfort food in my kitchen and cooking beans has become a weekend ritual for me. I love them freshly cooked in a flavorful broth and drizzled with olive oil. They also serve as an excellent meal prep item throughout the week.
Ok, let's get into the good stuff. 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.
What Do Great Northern Beans Tasty Like?
Let's delve into the basics of Great Northern beans to understand their characteristics and culinary applications.
- Common Name: Great Northern beans
- Aliases: "large white", "common beans"
- Texture: Meaty
- Size: Larger than navy beans and smaller than cannellini beans
- Shape: Oval-shaped beans
- Color: Off white
- Taste: Mild, subtle flavor
- Cooking Time of Dry Beans: 120 minutes after soaking
- Best Culinary Uses: Salad, soup, and chili
Great Northern beans boast a thin skin and tender texture, making them ideal for delicate dishes. They retain their shape and offer a subtle, delicate flavor, perfect for minestrone soup, chicken chili, cassoulets, and lighter baked dishes where their texture and taste can shine without dominating the overall dish.
Soup: Great Northern beans are renowned for their ability to absorb flavors, making them perfect for soups. Try adding them to a hearty vegetable great northern bean soup, a classic minestrone, or white bean soup for an extra dose of protein and a satisfying, creamy element. Try this white bean chicken chili recipe and mushroom and turkey soup.
Dip into Deliciousness: Transform great northern beans into a luscious dip. Combine them with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and your favorite herbs to create a smooth and nutritious dip that pairs perfectly with fresh vegetables or pita chips.
Salads: Toss great northern beans into your salads to enhance both the texture and nutritional profile. They blend seamlessly with a variety of vegetables, creating a satisfying and wholesome salad. Try white bean salad, kale and white bean salad with pesto dressing or broccoli rabe salad white bean with sun-dried tomatoes.
Mashed Magic: Move over mashed potatoes; great northern beans can be the star of your next mashed dish. Blend them with garlic, butter, and herbs for a flavorful alternative that's rich in protein and fiber.
Baked Goodness: Great northern beans can be a surprising but fantastic addition to baked goods. Experiment with incorporating them into brownies or cookies for a healthier twist, adding moisture and a subtle nutty flavor.
Savory Stews and Casseroles: Enhance the heartiness of stews and casseroles by including great northern beans. Their ability to absorb flavors will infuse your dishes with a delightful creaminess that will have your taste buds singing.
Bean Burgers and Patties: For a plant-based protein boost, consider crafting bean burgers or patties with great northern beans. Mix them with breadcrumbs, spices, and your favorite vegetables.
If you find yourself in the kitchen ready to cook a delicious recipe, but realize you're out of great northern beans, fear not! There are several bean varieties that can step in and bring their unique flavors and textures to the table. Here are some fantastic substitutes for great northern beans:
Pinto Beans: Pinto beans, with their earthy and slightly nutty flavor, make an excellent substitute for great northern beans. They have a similar creamy texture when cooked, making them a seamless addition to soups, stews, and casseroles. Consider using them in bean salads or mashing them for a hearty side dish.
Black Beans: For a darker and more robust option, black beans are a fantastic alternative. They add a hearty and satisfying element to dishes. Try incorporating black beans into your favorite bean-based recipes, such as dips, burritos, or even brownies for a unique twist.
White Navy Beans: White navy beans share a similar size and texture with great northern beans, making them a close substitute. They have a mild flavor that pairs well with a variety of ingredients. Use white navy beans in soups, chowders, and baked dishes to maintain a smooth and creamy consistency.
Cannellini Beans: Cannellini beans, also known as white kidney beans, are a superb replacement for great northern beans. They have a slightly larger size and a nutty flavor that works well in salads, pasta dishes, and casseroles. Their creamy texture makes them an excellent choice for purees and dips.
Stove Top Instructions
To prepare Great Northern beans on the stove top, start by rinsing one pound of dry beans under cold water. Place them in a dutch oven, cover with fresh water, and let them soak overnight at room temperature. The next day, drain and rinse the soaked beans, returning them to the large pot. Add chicken broth, bay leaves, and garlic cloves for aromatic depth. Bring to a gentle boil on medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes, allowing the beans to cook slowly until tender and creamy.
Instant Pot Instructions
For a quicker and more convenient preparation, use your trusty Instant Pot or pressure cooker. Rinse one pound of dry Great Northern beans under cold water and transfer them to the Instant Pot. Cover with fresh water and let them soak for an 8 hours at room temperature or use the Instant Pot's quick soak function. Drain and rinse the beans, then add chicken broth, bay leaves, salt, and red pepper flakes. Seal the Instant Pot and set it to high pressure for around 25 minutes. Allow natural release for optimal tenderness.
- Quick Soak Method: A convenient way to prepare dried beans in a shorter time frame compared to the traditional overnight soak. After rinsing the beans, place them in a pot, cover them with water, and bring to a rapid boil. Cook for 2-3 minutes, remove from heat, cover, and let the beans soak in hot water for approximately 1 hour.
- Add a leftover Ham Bone: Elevate the flavor by adding a ham hock. Simmer the ham bone with Great Northern beans, chicken stock or vegetable broth, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes for a smoky and meaty essence.
- Add herbs: add more flavor by adding fresh rosemary or thyme to the pot.
Bothy Beans: the simplest, and one of the most delicious ways to enjoy beans is simple in the flavorful broth they were cooked in, add a drizzle of olive oil, a great of fresh parmesan and serve with a piece of crusty bread.
Bean bowl: add your bean to a bowl of white brown or white rice, chopped fresh vegetables, pickled onions, and some of your favorite hot sauce.
Let's start with the nutritional profile of Great Northern beans. The USDA provides the following information for a 1-cup serving of thoroughly cooked (boiled) Great Northern White beans without salt:
- Calories: 122 g
- Protein: 14.7 g
- Fat: 0.79 g
- Carbohydrates: 37.3 g
- Fiber: 12.4 g
- Calcium: 120 mg
- Iron: 3.77 mg
- Magnesium: 88.5 mg
Are Great Northern beans good for you? Absolutely! Let's break down the nutritional benefits and explore their advantages based on scientific studies (see the complete list of references at the bottom of the post).
Carbohydrates and Fiber
Great Northern beans pack an even greater nutritional punch compared to their navy counterparts. Providing around 208 kCal per serving, they offer 37.3 grams of complex carbohydrates, primarily derived from starch. This high fiber content, with 12.3 grams per serving, supports blood sugar regulation, enhances satiety, and improves digestive function. In a country where less than 10% of people meet the recommended daily fiber intake, both Great Northern and navy beans stand out as valuable sources of fiber, making them smart choices for overall health. (1,2)
These white beans are a robust source of protein, with each cup providing 14.5 grams. Vegans and vegetarians often turn to Great Northern beans or other legumes to boost their protein intake. However, it's important to note that like other legumes, Great Northern beans are not complete sources of protein, lacking all nine essential amino acids. Pairing them with complementary grains ensures a well-rounded amino acid profile. (3)
Health Benefits of Legumes
Being legumes, Great Northern beans contribute to a nutrient-rich category studied extensively by nutrition researchers. Increased legume intake correlates with lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Including these beans in your diet can be a delicious and nutritious way to support overall health. (4)
The common bean traces its roots to the landscapes of South America. The journey of this humble legume begins with its ancestral wild bean, believed to have originated in the region encompassing Southern Ecuador and Northern Peru. From here the bean traveled southwards and northwards.
Heading south, the ancestral wild bean ventured as far as Salta in Northern Argentina, adapting and evolving in response to the diverse climates and ecosystems it encountered. Simultaneously, it spread northwards, reaching the arid expanses of Chihuahua, Mexico. Wildbeans can be found in the same geographic range today
Around 7,000 years ago, common beans were domesticated. These cultivated beans became valuable commodities, not just for sustenance but also for trade. Through extensive trade networks, they began their northward trajectory, eventually reaching the United States. (5)
Common beans, especially popular varieties like pinto and great northern beans, are extensively cultivated in the United States. The central U.S. states, often referred to as the "Bean Belt," including North Dakota, Michigan, and Nebraska, contribute significantly to the country's bean production. The legacy of bean cultivation by Native American tribes persists in these regions. (7)
- US Department of Agriculture -Nutrition facts Great Northern Beans
- Filling America's fiber intake gap: summary of a roundtable to probe realistic solutions with a focus on grain-based foods
- Dietary Protein and Amino Acids in Vegetarian Diets—A Review
- Legumes: Health Benefits and Culinary Approaches to Increase Intake
- “Beans: A History” by Ken Aldala
- The Story of Bean Breeding, White paper prepared for BeanCAP & PBG Works on the topic of dry bean production and breeding research in the U.S., James D. Kelly
- US Dry Bean Council