How Butter Beans Got Their Flavorful Name

The etymology of beans may not be something you consider daily, but it sure is an interesting niche. Beans' names display a variety of origins. Black beans and kidney beans, for example, are named according to color and shape. Navy beans were used as rations in the U.S. Navy. Exploring more bean etymology also brings us to the butter bean — another name for the lima bean. Lima beans (named after the capital of Peru) come in a range of sizes and both white and green colors, depending on variety and stage or maturity. Butter bean is a unique moniker for these crescent-shaped beans used in the U.S. South and the U.K.

There is no complex backstory for how butter beans got their name. Butter beans have a naturally smooth and creamy consistency, a rich flavor, and often a color similar to butter. All their buttery qualities make this name a no-brainer. The different stages of maturity can render butter beans useful for many different recipes. Some butter beans (picture the large white ones), are more starchy, and break down easily in soups and stews. Other butter beans are still snappy while young, and can be great tossed into a salad. Geography could change the look of what butter beans are available near you and the name which they go by, but remember that butter beans and lima beans are interchangeable

Butter beans are popular in Southern food

Butter beans are best when recipes capitalize on their butteriness. They are a common ingredient in the U.S. South, where they are eaten in simple dishes, used in stew-like recipes, or paired with meats. One way Southerners eat butter beans is with bacon or ham. This creamy dish (that doesn't even need dairy) involves slowly simmering the beans with staple seasonings and tossing in diced ham or bacon at the very end. The resulting dish is a simplistic ode to the butter bean and a hearty meal when eaten with some cornbread. Another Southern side dish you need to try is succotash, a fresh medley of beans, corn, and other veggies. It's bright, packs intense flavor, and pairs well with chicken or fish.

Butter beans with shrimp is the ultimate Southern comfort food fix. This stew, which starts from a roux, marries butter beans with shrimp in a mix of veggies and seasonings. It's perfect when served over rice. When cooking with butter beans, remember that there are many types of beans and ways to cook them. Dry butter beans need to be soaked overnight to destroy their toxic compounds. After that, they're good to go, and become a versatile ingredient. Butter beans can bring their rich and velvety qualities to all sorts of dishes, just like how they live up to their flavorful name through Southern food.