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The 5 Best Similar Substitutes For Kidney Beans In Chili

Beef and kidney bean chili in a skillet

There is nothing more warming than a hot bowl of chili on a cold winter day, and making the chili even heartier by adding kidney beans and pairing it with a loaf of crusty French bread is my idea of comfort food. Now, I know that in certain parts of the U.S. people don’t like beans in their chili, but for those of us who do, what happens if you are out of kidney beans and there is no time to go to the grocery store?

The best substitutes for kidney beans in chili are red beans, cannellini beans, pink beans, pinto beans, and black beans. You can also use cranberry beans, fava beans, and great northerns. In fact, you can use almost any kind of bean except limas which are too soft for chili or slow cooking in general.

In the following paragraphs, I will discuss each of these options and how they fit as a substitute for kidney beans in chili.

1. Red Beans

Red beans are my number one pick as a substitute for kidney beans. The two types of beans are very similar in texture and taste except small red beans have a slightly milder flavor than kidney beans.

Red beans originated in Haiti and are best known for their use in traditional Louisiana cuisine and for the dish named for them, red beans and rice. New Orleans and South Louisiana history tells us that red beans and rice has been a staple of families in that region since the late 19th and early 20th century when the beans were seasoned with the leftovers from Sunday’s ham and slow-cooked all day on Monday. And, because Monday was wash day, the slow-cooked red beans and rice allowed the ladies to do their laundry and have a good hearty meal ready to eat when the laundry was done and their families were ready for supper.

In the South Louisiana area, red beans and kidney beans are used interchangeably in red beans and rice and other traditional Cajun dishes. So, because they are so similar, substituting red beans for kidney beans in chili will more than likely go unnoticed.

2. Cannellini Beans

Cannellini beans are smoother, creamier, white instead of red, and have a slightly different taste than kidney beans, but they are the same size and shape as kidney beans and are often referred to as white kidney beans. Cannellini beans are most often used in Mediterranean dishes.

Even though they can be substituted for kidney beans in chili, they will definitely be noticed because the white beans will stand out where red kidney beans blend in. But cannellini beans will work very well in white chili made with turkey or chicken rather than beef and the color will blend perfectly.

3. Pink Beans

Pink beans are smaller, rounder, and milder in flavor than kidney beans and are often known as chili beans. They are more similar in size and shape to great northern beans and pinto beans and work very well as a substitute for both kidney beans and pinto beans. While pink beans are most often used in making chili con carne and refried beans, they are harvested when they are young and tender and not allowed to dry in the field.

Pink beans are very popular in Caribbean food, old West, and Mexican-American dishes and have a rich meaty taste. And interestingly enough, according to the Camellia brand website, “Common beans” (black, Great Northern, navy, pink, pinto, and red kidney beans) share a bean ancestor that originated in Peru.” 

Pink beans are the type of bean used in making Boston Baked Beans and are also known as navy beans. They are called navy beans because, in the late 1800s, they became part of the diet of servicemen in the United States Navy.

Their use as a substitute for kidney beans in chili will probably not be noticed unless someone notices the slight color and size difference from kidney beans.

4. Pinto Beans

Pinto is another type of bean that is often used as a substitute for kidney beans in chili. The small tan bean has specks and, like kidney beans, is firm and holds together well when cooking.

Like pink beans, pinto beans are often used in refried beans and Tex-Mex dishes and will not be noticeable as a substitute for kidney beans in chili.

An interesting fact to keep in mind if you are into healthy eating, pinto beans are the highest in fiber of all the different types of dried beans.

5. Black Beans

Black beans have been used in the Americas for over 7,000 years and play an important role in Mexican, Spanish, Caribbean, and South American cuisine. They are a very nutritious member of the legume family and are high in protein and fiber.

I have personally added black beans to chili instead of kidney beans, and while you can definitely spot the black beans throughout the chili, there is no significant difference in the taste.

What Other Types of Beans Can Be Used in Chili as a Substitute for Kidney Beans?

Cranberry Beans

Cranberry beans, also called borlotti beans, are white beans with pink specks that are very similar in size and texture to kidney beans. When cooked, the beans turn darker and look very much like a kidney bean.

They have a firm texture and a distinctive nutty flavor that would work very well as a substitute for kidney beans in chili. The only reason I did not add the cranberry bean to the list of the best substitutes for kidney beans in chili is because they are not always available.

I was introduced to cranberry beans during the past 10 years, and before that had never heard of them. Although they are not as easy to find as the other types of beans, they have only recently become more readily available.

Fava Beans

While fava beans more closely resemble lima beans than kidney beans, they can be substituted for kidney beans in many dishes.  Fava beans are very versatile and are often used in African, Asian, European, Middle Eastern, and South American dishes. They have a creamy and nutty taste and are especially good as snacks.

Fava beans can be substituted for kidney beans in chili, but the taste difference will more than likely be noticed. Fava beans are especially good when used in vegetarian chili.

Great Northerns

The great northern bean can also be substituted for kidney beans in chili. But, as with the cannellini bean, great northerns will stand out when used in chili because of the color and would be better used in making white chili.

What is the Best Substitute For Kidney Beans in Chili?

Beef and kidney bean chili in a skillet

Of all the beans mentioned here as substitutes for kidney beans in chili, the red bean is the substitute that will fit into your favorite chili recipe and will go unnoticed by anyone eating the chili because, even though smaller, they are so similar to kidney beans in taste and texture that they will not make any major changes to the taste or the appearance of the chili.

Beans Are The Perfect Staple For All Pantries

Beans are a nutrient-rich food that is easily stored, which makes adding a variety of beans to your pantry a good idea. Since there is such a great assortment of beans available in different colors, sizes, and textures, a variety of the different types of beans will give you many choices when meal planning and present you with nutritious meals even when beans are served on their own.

Not only are beans so versatile, but they are also available in different forms. There are canned beans for when time is short, and a meal must be prepared quickly. But there are dry beans for those days when a bean soup simmered all day is what you have in mind.

And don’t forget that beans are not only convenient, easily stored, and have a long shelf life, but they are also high in protein and fiber and low in fat, and are considered a “superfood.” All these qualities make them one of the best choices as a staple to keep stocked in your pantry at all times.

Final Bite

Chili is one of those foods that can be made ahead of time and will stay good in the refrigerator for at least 3 or 4 days and can be frozen and even canned to add to the stockpile of food that we keep on hand for an emergency.

Just remember that if you are making chili and you don’t have any kidney beans on hand, nor do you have any of the beans recommended in this article as the best substitutes, you can use any kind of beans in your chili that you might have on hand or even a lentil or two. And, if worse comes to worst and you don’t have any beans, just serve it like the Texans do with no beans, and top it with sour cream, chopped green onions, and cheese for a meal that may be different than what you normally have, but who knows, you may find you like it!

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

For more, don’t miss 9 Best Substitutes for Cannellini Beans (White Kidney Beans).