Lima Beans

Lima Beans 101 – The Basics

About Lima Beans
Lima beans, often called butter beans because of their buttery texture, are thought to have originated in South America. Early European explorers first discovered them in Lima, Peru. With that, their name as “lima beans” was established. It is believed that the beans have been cultivated in Peru for over 7,000 years. They were carried around the world by explorers and have since become an important crop in Africa and Asia. In the United States, most commercial production is in California.

There are many types of lima beans, with the most popular in the United States being the Fordhook (also known as the butter bean), and the baby lima bean. The pod is flat, oblong, slightly curved, and usually about three inches long. The pods often contain two to four seeds that have come to be known as lima beans. The seeds are usually a cream to green color. However, some varieties can have white, red, purple, brown or even black seeds. Limas have a starchy, potato-like flavor and a grainy yet slightly buttery texture.

Nutrition and Health Benefits of Lima Beans
Lima beans are an excellent source of molybdenum, with one cup providing 313% of our daily needs of this important trace mineral. Limas are a very good source of dietary fiber, copper and manganese. They are also a good source of folate, phosphorus, protein, potassium, Vitamin B1, iron, magnesium and Vitamin B6. One cup of cooked lima beans has 216 calories, 13 grams of fiber, and almost 15 grams of protein. They have very little fat, zero cholesterol, and are very low in sodium.

Caution. Lima beans should never be eaten raw. This includes grinding them for flour, which should not be done. They contain compounds that, when damaged, can release cyanide. To destroy the enzymes that release these compounds, it is extremely important to soak and completely cook your lima beans before eating them. Once this is done, they can be a very beneficial addition to a healthy diet.

Iron. One cup of cooked lima beans provides about 25% of our Daily Value of iron. This can be important, especially if you have low iron levels. Serve your lima beans with a Vitamin C-rich food (such as bell peppers or citrus fruits) in the same meal and your iron absorption will be increased.

Heart Health. Lima beans are rich in fiber, folate, potassium, and magnesium, all of which contribute in unique ways to improve and maintain heart health. Limas are rich in soluble dietary fiber which helps to remove cholesterol from the body, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease. Folate, which is plentiful in lima beans, is known to help keep homocysteine levels in check, thereby helping to reduce the risk of heart disease. Limas are rich in potassium and magnesium. These are important in helping blood vessels to relax, maintaining proper blood pressure.

Free Radical Protection. Limas are a very good source of manganese. This mineral is a key factor in antioxidant compounds that seek out and destroy harmful molecules in the body, reducing oxidative stress. This helps the immune system to function at its best warding off disease and helping to prevent various health conditions.

Sulfite Sensitivity. Lima beans are an excellent source of molybdenum, a trace mineral that is part of the enzyme that metabolizes sulfites. Sulfites are added to many foods and even medications as preservatives. Yet, some people are sensitive to sulfites, causing a rapid heartbeat, headache and disorientation. Those who react to sulfites may be deficient in molybdenum. If this is the case, lima beans may help alleviate that problem.

How to Select and Store Lima Beans
Fresh Lima Beans. Fresh lima beans are not easily found, and are usually sold in specialty markets or farmer’s markets where they are locally grown. If you find fresh lima beans, look for ones that are firm, dark green and glossy, and without blemishes, wrinkling or yellowing. They are extremely perishable, so if they are shelled, examine them closely for mold or decay.

Fresh lima beans in their pods should be refrigerated and used within a few days. For optimal storage, shell the beans, blanch them, then freeze or dehydrate them. Frozen lima beans do not need to be thawed before being cooked. Once cooked, they should be used quickly as they will only keep refrigerated (in a covered container) for 3 to 4 days.

Dried Lima Beans. Many grocery stores carry dried lima beans, as prepackaged or in bulk bins. Make sure there is no evidence of moisture or insect damage. Store your dried lima beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place, where they will keep at good quality for 2 to 3 years. However, when stored properly, they will be safe to eat well beyond that.

Canned Lima Beans. Most grocery stores stock canned lima beans, and they are usually stamped with a “best by” date. For long-term storage, look for a stamped date as far in the future as you can find. Read ingredient labels, as some canned lima beans may contain additives that you may or may not want. Salt, coloring agents, firming agents, and flavorings may be added. Organic lima beans may not have coloring or firming agents, but still may have some flavorings added, so it’s important to read the ingredients list to be sure the contents will meet your needs. Also, some canned foods still contain liners made with BPA (Bisphenol-A), an anticorrosive agent, whereas others are not. If BPA is a concern to you, be sure to read the label carefully and also check for information stamped on either end of the can itself. If there is no mention of BPA anywhere on the can, it most likely has a liner that contains BPA.

Canned lima beans should be stored in a cool, dry place. If you notice rust, leaking, extreme damage to the can, or bulging, discard the can. The contents may not be safe to eat. If your canned beans have an off odor, flavor or appearance, or if there is mold in them, they should be discarded. Unopened, properly stored cans of lima beans will maintain a good quality for 3 to 5 years, but will be safe to eat beyond that, even if it is beyond the “best by” date. Note that over time, even though the beans will be safe to eat, the flavor, texture and color may change.

Once opened, canned lima beans should be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container and used within 3 to 4 days. If you cannot use them within that time, simply place the lima beans in a covered, airtight container and store them in the freezer. They will maintain their best quality for 2 months, but will be safe to eat beyond that.

Frozen vs Canned vs Dried Lima Beans
Cost. When comparing the cost per serving, there were a number of options to compare: frozen limas in steamable packaging, frozen limas in non-steamable packaging, dried lima beans (baby and large), and canned lima beans (non-organic (baby and large), organic, and seasoned). There was a wide swing in price per serving based on prices I found at the moment and the type of bean, brand, vendor and organic vs non-organic options available. Because prices can vary so much considering all the variables, the best way to find the cheapest price per serving would be to carry a calculator to the store with you and compare among what is available at the time. However, here are my findings that could very likely apply to most scenarios.

Cost per 1/2 cup serving:
$0.13 Baby dried lima beans (generic brand) at $1.72 per 16 oz bag
$0.17 Large dried lima beans (generic brand) at $2.22 per 16 oz bag
$0.27 Frozen lima beans (generic brand) in regular packaging at $1.34 per 16 oz bag
$0.27 Canned large butter beans (Bush’s) at $0.94 per 16 oz can
$0.33 Canned seasoned lima beans (Margaret Holmes) at $1.16 per 15 oz can
$0.34 Frozen lima beans (generic brand) in steamable packaging at $1.34 per 12 oz bag
$0.67 Canned organic butter beans (Eden brand) at $2.34 per 15 oz can

Overall, the dried lima beans were the cheapest per serving, with BABY limas, generic brand, at a large discount store being the cheapest at $0.13 per serving. Considering the difference in cost per serving between the dried lima beans and the next in line with respect to cost, it seems safe to assume that dried lima beans are your cheapest option. Even when considering the cost of electricity or gas and water to prepare the beans, the dried beans will probably still be your least costly.

When comparing canned vs frozen lima beans, the frozen generic brand in regular (not steamable) packaging tied in price per serving with Bush’s brand canned large butter beans. This was an interesting discovery and makes some brands of canned beans worth adding to your pantry for an emergency food or when time for food preparation is short.

Price per serving increased with specialty packaging (steamable) or treatment of the beans (seasoned or organic). So, it’s helpful to have this knowledge when shopping for lima beans, understanding which would be your least expensive per serving, and knowing that you’ll pay more per serving for specific options, especially organic.

Overall winner = Dried baby lima beans

Convenience. Needless to say, canned beans are more convenient than dried beans, and even frozen lima beans since they still need to be cooked. You simply open the can, rinse and drain the beans, and they’re ready to use. The canned beans are an excellent choice if you’re always short on time and can’t (or don’t want to) take the time to cook dried beans. However, it does not take a lot of time to prepare frozen lima beans. They usually cook in about 15 minutes. They can be put on the stove first to cook as other foods are being prepared. So, they are a close second to canned beans with regard to convenience. With that being said, canned beans should be a staple item kept in your pantry in case of an emergency. If the power goes out or if you temporarily lose your water supply, canned beans can be eaten straight from the can (where frozen or dried beans cannot be eaten without being cooked first). Canned beans can be a lifesaving source of food when there is no way to cook. It’s better to be prepared, and not need it, then need it and not be prepared!

Many people believe cooking dried beans is a big ordeal. However, when considering “hands on” time, it’s actually very little. It takes little time to sort and rinse the beans then cover them with water in a pot. After being soaked, it takes little time to drain them then refill the pot with water. The cooking process pretty much takes care of itself. Then draining them takes little time, again. So, it’s really not hard nor time-consuming to cook dried beans when considering actual hands-on time. Furthermore, they can be cooked in a slow cooker or pressure cooker to make things a little simpler.

Overall winner = Canned lima beans

Nutritional Value. The nutritional value of canned or frozen lima beans is about the same as cooked dried lima beans. Either way, the beans need to be cooked completely before being eaten or canned, so they should have about the same nutrient content. So, this factor should not be a determinant when considering which form of lima bean to buy.

Overall winner = Three-way tie

Additives. If you want to avoid any additives in your foods, cooking dried or frozen lima beans is an excellent option. In this case, you can control what is added to the beans. Canned beans may have added salt and other ingredients as firming or color retention agents. Organic canned beans will not have firming or color retention agents, but still may have added salt. Some beans are canned without salt, so read the label to be sure. So, organic beans may be a good choice for you. Otherwise, cooking dried beans gives you complete control as to what is added to your beans. Frozen lima beans usually do not have any additives in them, so they are another excellent option if you’re avoiding additives of any sort. When in doubt, read the label to be sure.

Overall winner = Tie between dried and frozen lima beans

BPA. BPA (bisphenol-A) is an anticorrosive agent that has been used in can linings and other applications such as water bottles, bottle caps, water supply lines and even dental sealants. Research has found that this agent may cause harmful effects such as increased blood pressure and damage to unborn fetuses and young children. If you’re concerned about the possible harmful effects of BPA, it’s wise to look for cans labeled as BPA-free. Progressively, more manufacturers are using BPA-free cans, but not all. So, it pays to read the label or the information that was stamped on the end of the can. To avoid BPA from cans, cooking dried or frozen beans ensures you’re not ingesting any of the chemical.

Overall winner = Tie between dried and frozen lima beans

Flavor and Texture. Taste perception is subjective and differs from person to person. However, the overall consensus is that cooked dried beans taste better than canned beans. I agree with that statement (in my humble opinion). When adding frozen lima beans to the comparison test, I personally find the flavor of frozen lima beans to be the best among the three options (canned, frozen, dried and cooked). If flavor is a big factor for you, then cooking frozen lima beans may be your best option, followed by cooked dried, then canned. The advantage of cooking your own frozen or dried beans gives you the opportunity to flavor them to your liking. Adding onions, garlic, and/or herbs during the cooking process allows flavors to infuse in the beans that would not otherwise happen. If you still need the convenience of canned beans, adding them to soups, stews or other dishes where they will be combined with a lot of other foods, may mask the flavor difference of canned beans.

Overall winner = Frozen lima beans

How to Prepare Dried Lima Beans
First sort through your dried beans to remove any stones, debris, or damaged beans. Then give them a good rinse, and drain the beans. Then they need to be soaked. There are two ways to soak your dried lima beans…

Long Soaking Method. Simply place your sorted and rinsed beans in a large pot with a lid. Cover them with at least two inches of water and allow them to sit in the covered pot for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Drain the water and cover them by at least one inch of fresh water. Cook as directed below.

Quick Soaking Method. Place your sorted and rinsed beans in a large pot with a lid. Cover them with at least two inches of water and bring them to a boil. Boil the beans for two minutes, then remove the pot from the heat. Cover the pot with its lid, then allow them to sit for two hours. Drain the water and cover them by at least one inch of fresh water. Cook as directed below.

Cooking Your Soaked Beans. Bring your soaked beans that have been covered with fresh water to a boil. Lower the heat to simmer and tilt the lid on the pot. Allow them to simmer slowly until the beans are tender. This will usually take about 45 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms as they are cooking.

Important! Do not add any salty or acidic ingredients to your beans as they are cooking. This will cause them to become firm and will be hard to cook properly. If seasoning is desired, add any salty or acidic ingredients toward the end of cooking time. If desired, aromatic ingredients such as onions, garlic, and herbs may be added at the start of cooking to flavor your lima beans.

Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Lima Beans
* Try a succotash burrito or taco filling. Combine cooked lima beans with corn, chopped tomatoes and scallions. Top with diced avocado, cilantro, and a little hot pepper if desired. Enjoy!

* Blend cooked lima beans and sweet potatoes together. Serve with your favorite grain and vegetable.

* Add lima beans to your favorite vegetable soup.

* Lima beans are very versatile. Use them as a main dish, a side dish, in soups, stews, and curries, and even in salads. Get creative!

* Try roasted lima beans! Dry cooked lima beans on a cloth or paper towel. Transfer them to a bowl, coat them with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, lime juice, and some cayenne powder or paprika. Spread on a baking sheet and roast at 425F until they are slightly browned. Watch carefully, as they can burn easily. Enjoy them hot or at room temperature. Store extras in the refrigerator to enjoy later.

* For easy and flavorful lima beans, cook a pack of frozen lima beans in stock or broth of your choice. Add in a little onion, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and you’re done!

Herbs/Spices That Go Well with Lima Beans
Basil, bay leaf, chervil, chili pepper flakes, cilantro, dill, fennel seeds, garlic, horseradish, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, pepper (black), rosemary, sage, salt, sorrel, sumac, thyme

Foods That Go Well with Lima Beans
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Bacon, beans (green), chicken, ham, pork, seafood

Vegetables: Bell peppers, carrots, chives, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, scallions, spinach, squash (winter and summer), tomatoes and tomato paste

Fruits: Lemon, olives

Grains and Grain Products: Corn, quinoa, rice

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, buttermilk, cheese (esp. cheddar, feta, Parmesan), cream, yogurt

Other Foods: Molasses, oil (esp. olive), tamari, vinegar (esp. cider, red wine), wine (dry white)

Lima Beans have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Casseroles, dips, purees, salad (i.e. three bean), soups, Southern (U.S.) cuisine, spreads, stews, succotash

Suggested Flavor or Food Combos Using Lima Beans
Add lima beans to any of the following combinations…

Chili pepper flakes + garlic + lemon juice + olive oil
Corn + tomatoes (succotash)
Corn + garlic + rosemary + tomatoes (succotash)
Fennel + garlic
Feta cheese + olives + tomatoes
Feta cheese + spinach
Garlic + lemon + olive oil + oregano
Garlic + onions
Scallions + yogurt

Recipe Links
Corn and Lima Bean Salad

Garlicky Lima Bean Spread

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken with Basil Lima Beans

Herbed Lima Bean Hummus

Southern Lima Beans with Rice

Baby Lima Beans (Butterbeans)

Lemon Salmon with Lima Beans

Lima Bean Tahini Dip

Farmer’s Caviar

Butterbeans with Butter, Mint, and Lime

Greek Style Baked Lima Beans


Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

About Judi
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

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