What are Navy Beans?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Navy beans are pea sized white beans which can be used in a variety of dishes. These very common beans are known by a variety of alternate names, including haricot beans, Boston beans, pea beans, and Yankee beans, and they are closely related to larger white beans such as Great Northern and cannelloni beans. Most markets carry navy beans, typically in both dried and canned form, and they are also very easy to grow in the garden, if you have a little bit of room.

Navy beans.
Navy beans.

Beans have been cultivated in many regions of the world for centuries, and white beans are among the most basic of bean varieties. This food happens to be extremely nutritious, being typically high in both protein and fiber, and beans often have large amounts of trace minerals such as magnesium, as well, making them an excellent dietary supplement. Bean plants are also good for the garden, since they are nitrogen fixers, meaning that they will improve the condition of the soil they are grown in.

Navy beans should be rinsed under cold water in a colander before using.
Navy beans should be rinsed under cold water in a colander before using.

The flavor of navy beans is fairly mild, and the texture tends to be rather dense. The common name “navy bean” is a reference to the fact that the beans were once widely included among the staple supplies of the United States Navy, since dried beans do not go bad, and they provide an excellent source of nutrition. Many classic American bean dishes call for these beans as a result, since they were so widespread and well known; Boston baked beans, for example, are made with them.

If you purchase navy beans in a can, they should be rinsed before use. Ideally you should tip the beans out into a colander and run cool water over them for a minute or two before throwing them into a recipe. Canned beans are ready to use; they need only be heated through to be eaten, although a little bit of slow stewing won't hurt them. If you buy dried beans of any kind, you will need to rinse them and pick through them for stones and small pieces of bean stalk, and they should ideally be soaked overnight and rinsed again before they are cooked. Depending on the cooking technique you use, the dried beans will take several hours to cook after rinsing and soaking.

If you want to grow navy beans in your garden, look for a sheltered sunny spot and amend the soil with a little bit of compost and mulch before planting bean seeds or starters; if you live in a colder area, you may want to start bean plants indoors in the early spring and then move them outside after the last chance of frost has passed. Stake the bean plants as they grow, encouraging them to lift their vines after the ground to prevent rot. You can harvest the beans when they are green to be used whole as green beans, or you can let the plants die off and dry out at the end of the summer and then collect the dried beans for storage.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Just pick out the bad beans and stones, wash them and boil them with salt pork for a couple of hours until tender (time varies according to freshness of the beans). No need to pre-soak them. Season with salt, pepper, a little sugar, tabasco and a couple chile arbol pods about halfway through cooking. Simple seasoning is better than complex. Onions, garlic and herbs can be added but simple is better. Serve them plain with crusty bread and butter and ketchup or barbecue sauce, radishes, parsley, and other fresh herbs and scallions at the table.


Is it okay to use great northern beans? I couldn't find navy beans.


@feasting – Really, most beans are kind of bland. The flavor comes in the form of what you cook them with or add to them.

The best place for a navy bean is in soup, in my opinion. My mother makes a wonderful minestrone soup, and navy beans are one of the main ingredients.

It's a tomato based soup containing spaghetti noodles, corn, carrots, onion, black beans, and navy beans. There are plenty of spices added, too, and I believe that these are what give the beans their flavor. You just can't really separate the taste of the beans from that of the liquid.


Which is more flavorful, navy beans or black beans? I'm trying to get my husband to eat more vegetables, and his main complaint is that they lack flavor.

It's been so long since I tried navy beans that I can't remember what they taste like. I've had black beans in various soups, and they were always good, but they took on the flavor of the soup, so it's hard to tell how they might taste on their own.


I had no idea you could eat navy beans inside the pod as green beans. I always thought green beans were from a specific type of plant, but I guess maybe many types of beans can be eaten in this way.


@anon83159 – You don't rinse them to get them clean. You rinse them so that they won't cause as much gas and bloating for you after you eat them.

You may notice that whenever you rinse canned beans in a colander, a lot of bubbles form. The first time I saw this, I thought I had accidentally spilled dish soap in there!

Later on, I read that the bubbling action is actually good, because it means you are rinsing away the flatulence potential, or at least most of it. I always rinse my canned beans, because I am more comfortable after eating them.


@anon61889-- No, that's normal. It doesn't mean that they're old. The skins tend to come off when they're boiled. If anything, it means they were boiled a little too much.

My mom cooks with dry navy beans pretty often. I generally like beans and I'm not picky with my food but I don't like navy beans. They don't taste like anything, there so bland!

I feel bad for the guys in the navy that used to eat this stuff on a regular basis. They must have been so sick of it.


To anon59599: I would suggest cooking the beans by themselves until completely done because adding salt or acidic food like tomato sauce or paste, etc., will cause the beans to not get soft.


anon83159, it's a good idea to rinse any canned bean because they have a lot of crap on them such as sodium etc.


OK-- guess I am missing something. The article says to rinse beans that are purchased in a can, but canned beans are ready to heat and eat-- which is it?


how do I order navy beans?


why are the skins coming off on my navy beans when i rinse then in cold water? too old?


navy beans can also be called white beans. (i think)


To post #5: Those aren't beans, they're marbles.


I soaked Navy beans for 12 hours then cooked in crockpot on high for six hrs then on low for four hours. They still weren't soft. So then I put them on the stove for four hours and they still aren't soft. What is wrong?


why are they called navy beans?


what is the difference between white beans and navy beans?


What is the difference (in taste) between Great Northern Beans and Navy Beans?


Do Pinto beans go by any other name?

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