The Real Difference Between Navy Beans And Great Northern Beans

Quick quiz! You have to make a cassoulet, but what kind of bean do you need to use? If you immediately got stumped and answered "whatever bean I have in my cupboard," get ready to expand your horizons, especially when it comes to learning the difference between navy beans and great northern beans. According to Camellia, navy beans take their name from their extensive use as an ingredient in the U.S. Navy in the early 1900s, partially due to their high fiber content. These beans have thick skins and take anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes to cook, but make the perfect bean to use when you whip up hearty dishes, such as Boston baked beans, pork and beans, navy bean soup, and pasta e fagioli (via Leaf). 

Great northern beans have an equally long history. According to Leaf, these beans originated in North Dakota, where the Mandan Tribe domesticated them as a regular crop. Great northern beans resemble lima beans but have a thin skin, taking about 45 to 60 minutes to cook, and while both navy beans and great northern beans have a very similar, subtle flavor, their key difference lies in their texture, making great northern beans the ideal legume when you have to make more delicate dishes.

The perfect uses for great northern and navy beans

While navy beans star in dishes requiring thick, hearty recipes, great northern beans make the perfect addition to meals like minestrone soup, chicken chili, and — you guessed it — cassoulets. While both beans show off their true flavors and textures in the right recipes, both varieties of legumes share similar positive health qualities. According to Healthline, both white beans contain a ton of protein and fiber and provide a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin B6. When you want to eat healthy, you can't go wrong with either of these choices.

Picking the right bean for the right occasion can prove challenging, but after some trial and error, any home chef can choose navy beans and great northern beans for the right occasion. Just remember that the key difference lies in the beans' texture, and you can always remember which legume can stand up in a hearty dip or delicate soup.