Do you know the difference between fava beans and lima beans? Did you even know that there was a difference?
A bean's a bean, right?
Wrong. While fava beans and lima beans might look similar, they have many differences. It's really important to know these differences, so that you can use each bean in the right way.
So, let's pit fava beans vs lima beans and get to know the flavor profile and texture of fava beans and lima beans, as well as how to cook and get the best out of each bean.
What are lima beans?
Lima beans, also known as butter beans, double beans, Madagascar bean or wax bean, is a small green or beige bean with a mild flavor and creamy texture. They belong to a category of foods known as legumes, which means they come in the form of beans within pods.
Lima beans are named after the place in which they were first cultivated – Lima, the capital city of Peru. They date back thousands of years – some say back to 2,000 BC others say 7,000BC – and were a staple food for the Incan empire.
The proper name for Lima beans is 'lunatus', meaning half-moon or crescent-shaped, in reference to the shape of the lima bean pods.
There are three key types of lima bean: large, small and dwarf. Dwarf lima beans, also known as baby lima beans, are often preferred due to their milder flavor profile and the fact that they cook quicker.
What are fava beans?
Okay, fava beans are way more commonly known as 'broad beans.' Something's just clicked right? Yes, fava beans are those flat green beans with the tough, leathery skin to it and usually needs to be removed before cooking.
Fava beans are native to North Africa and, like Lima beans, have been around for a very long time. It's thought that they originated around 6,000 BC. As well as Africa, they were eaten by ancient cultures in China, Egypt and Greece (Pythagoras wrote about them) and were cooked and served by Romans at sacred funeral banquets. Quite the legacy then.
Now are a seasonal crop grown all over the world and are used in many different cuisines, including Mediterranean, American, African and Asian.
Fava beans tend to be more expensive than other bean varieties. This is mainly because they are very labor intensive – they need to be removed from their tough skin, separated from the waxy skin that encircles every bean.
What are the main similarities?
We say 'general' appearance, as there are quite a few subtle differences in the way fava beans and lava beans look (more on this in the following section). However, generally speaking, both the pods and the beans themselves often look similar.
Both beans are part of the folklore of food, with their origins dating back a long time – in fact, thousands of years!
What are the main differences?
Despite having a number of similarities, there are actually quite a few key differences between lima beans and fava beans. Let’s break them down:
The biggest difference between lima beans and fava beans comes down to taste.
Lima beans taste quite mild, with slight nutty and sweet undertones. They are also very starchy in taste, which puts many foodies off. However, those who really love lima beans point to their mild flavor being a real plus point, especially as they can soak up other flavors when added to a dish.
Overcook them though and they turn quite bitter.
With a far more 'beany' taste, fava beans taste richer than lima beans. They have a real earthy flavor and nutty taste that makes them great in salads, especially fresh fava beans. Fava beans also have much more of a 'vegetable' flavor while lima beans tend to taste much milder.
There’s a big difference between fava and lima beans when it comes to availability. Lima beans grow in the spring and fall/autumn months, whereas fava beans are a winter crop that can withstand extremely cold temperatures. They are generally available in spring, from March until May.
However, both fava beans and lima beans are available frozen all year round. They won't taste quite as wonderful as the fresh frozen though!
As we said earlier, fava beans and lima beans look quite similar at first glance. However, look a little deeper and there are a lot of visual differences.
Fresh fava beans are normally green in appearance, whereas lima beans can often be white, pale cream, brown or purple/red.
The pods of lima beans are usually quite wide and flat, shaped like a crescent moon. Whereas a fava bean's pod, while still long and thin, is more rounded and bumpier.
Another difference between fava beans and lima beans is the texture once cooked. Lima beans have a starchier texture and, although both beans become quite soft and buttery once cooked, fava beans don't fall apart like lima beans. They are firmer and keep their shape, while lima beans tend to crumble or act kind of like sponges that soak up flavor.
Eating them raw
Okay, here's a BIG difference between the two. While fava beans can sometimes be eaten raw, pod and all (only fresh young beans), lima beans are not to eaten raw. This is because they contain a chemical compound known as 'linamarin', which turns into cyanide when eaten.
So, be aware that eating lima beans or butter beans raw can be dangerous.
Are they both readily available?
Fava beans are available in the springtime, usually between March and May. Lima beans are available throughout the summer into the fall/autumn, but it's best to buy fresh lima beans in August and September.
Both lima beans and fava beans are available all year round when frozen or dried, but of course fresh is best!
Can you substitute lima beans for fava beans and vice-versa?
Yes, you can. However, before using one in place of the other, you should first consider the flavor profile of the dish and whether there would be any better alternatives.
Both beans are great additions to soups and stews, so you could use them interchangeably in this instance. Keep in mind that fava beans have more flavor, so you might need to add some richness your soup or stew – soy sauce, or Worcestershire sauce will do the trick.
Still, when it comes to finding the ideal fava bean substitute, edamame beans are a lot more similar. They have a comparable taste and can be served within their pods.
For lima bean substitutes, look no further than kidney beans or chickpeas.
How do you cook lima beans and fava beans?
Cooking lima beans
Lima beans are often lightly cooked and added to salads, or cooked into stews and soups. You can also cook them and add cream or butter, to make creamed lima beans.
Dried lima beans need to be soaked first. This is usually done overnight, or for at least eight hours. Soaking removes excess gas from the bean.
Fresh lima beans should be cooked under tender, but still with a bit of a crunch. They are normally boiled on a medium high heat for around 6-10 minutes.
Cooking fava beans
Like lima beans, fave beans can be added straight to stews and soups to bring added richness and a thicker texture. They can be gently boiled, fried with garlic and herbs, then pureed for a delicious dip.
Generally, fava beans should be lightly cooked – just boiled for a few minutes until just tender. They'll retain their rich, sweet, earthy flavor and won't change color. You can also sauté, roast or fry them.
Dried fava beans are also used in recipes with a longer cooking time, such as stews and soups. This is a big part of Italian cuisine. In fact, the Italians sometimes cook fava beans and use them to make filling salads.
Storing lima beans and fava beans
Both fresh lima and fava beans should be stored in the fridge. Keep them in their pods and store them in a plastic bag. They'll keep fresh for around 3-4 days, but the sooner you use them the better.
The dried variety of both beans should be stored in an airtight container or jar, away from sunlight and in a cool, dry place. You can keep dry fava and lima beans for 2-3 years.
Other types of beans
There are lots of other types of beans that are quite similar to lima beans and fava beans. They include runner beans (very similar to lima beans), kidney beans, mung beans, red beans and cannellini beans.
Lima bean and fava bean recipes
Want to find out just how delicious these two beans can be? Try these recipes:
- Broad beans with bacon – so satisfying and delicious, this is a quick and easy fava bean recipe you won't want to miss
- Broad beans and lemon risotto – the richness of fava beans makes them the perfect addition to a classic risotto
- Broad bean bruschetta with parma ham – this recipe is just 'wow'!
- Butter bean salad with avocado, pesto and pumpkin seeds – beautifully simple and yet so easy
- Butter bean soup – a wonderfully warming soup
- Vegan green bean recipes – a big medley of recipes for you to try!
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