Butter Beans

If you’re not from the south, you may not be familiar with the vegetable known as a “butter bean”.

Technically they are what other parts of the nation call lima beans and belong to that genus and species Phaseolus lunatusis. They are sometimes called sieve beans, calico beans or Madagascar beans. But, most frequently in the South, they are known simply as “butter beans”.

Like other beans, the butter bean contains fiber, iron and B-vitamins. They are a rich source of low-fat protein.  A ½ cup serving of butter beans contains 5 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, 17 grams of carbs, and 4 grams of dietary fiber for 100 calories.

Lima/butter beans grow in pods that are removed before eaten. They can be eaten “green/fresh” when they are young. Or left on the plant to mature more and harvested for “dried” beans.

If you’re purchasing or preparing freshly shucked butter beans it’s important to remember NOT to eat the beans before cooking. Lima and butter beans contain a substance called linamarin and if they are eaten raw forms hydrogen cyanide which is poisonous.

Luckily butter beans and Lima beans are not usually consumed uncooked.  Cooking the beans for 20 minutes will destroy the toxin.

A few things to think about:

  • the linamarin is still present in the dried beans-they need to be heated/cooked after soaking.
  • read packages of frozen Lima or butter beans to ensure they have been cooked—simple blanching—which is common in frozen foods may not be enough to destroy the linamarin.
  • make sure your Lima and butter beans are thoroughly cooked before serving

No matter what you call them, butter beans are good eating.

Here is a favorite recipe for Vegetarian Paella using lima or butter beans:

Vegetarian Paella
Serves: 4 | Serving Size: 2 cups
Total Time: 25 min | Prep: 10 min | Cook: 15 min

Ingredients:

Olive oil cooking spray
1/2 onion, dice medium
1/2 red bell pepper, dice medium
1 carrot, peel and slice thin
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup sliced kale
1 plum tomato, dice medium
1 cup low-sodium tomato juice
1 cup water
2 cups instant brown rice
2 cups frozen Lima beans

Directions:

Heat a wide, shallow 3-quart sauce pan over medium-high heat. Lightly spray with olive oil cooking spray. Add onions, peppers, carrots, and mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes until vegetables begin to brown.

Add the rest of the ingredients and reduce heat to medium. Cover pan and cook for 5-6 minutes until liquid is absorbed by rice and rice is tender.

Serves 4. Each 2 cups serving: 311 calories, 2g fat, 0g saturated fat, 0gtrans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 40mg sodium, 64g carbohydrate, 7g fiber, 6g sugars, 11g protein.

By: Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

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updated on 08-23-2019