Adzuki beans are a quite unique type of beans originating in China, which are largely used and mainly known as an ingredient in many Japanese recipes when made into red bean paste.
When choosing an adzuki bean substitute, it’s important to start from the recipe at hand. In fact, it’s not always possible to replace this bean successfully, but there are different options you can try depending on the recipe.
The best substitutes for adzuki beans
The first thing you need to know when looking for a substitute for adzuki beans is that the adzuki is a very particular kind of bean that is hard to replace and there are some recipes that require adzuki beans exclusively.
In fact, this type of bean is a famous ingredient in many Asian sweets and desserts, however, it’s one of the very few types of beans that can be used in those recipes, so don’t use an adzuki bean substitute in a dessert.
Their signature sweetness is the reason why these Chinese beans are so in-demand for sweet recipes and have made their international breakthrough in recent years, as the world becomes more and more interested in Asian recipes and Asian ingredients.
Adzuki beans are also used in a large variety of non-sweet recipes because of their savory taste, but they might not be easy to find everywhere. When using beans similar to adzuki beans, it’s fundamental to match the right substitute with the right recipe.
1. Red beans
Red beans are usually the first choice when looking for an adzuki bean alternative because with their small and round appearance, they look quite like adzuki.
In fact, adzuki beans are sometimes called red adzuki beans or even just red beans, that’s why it’s easy to confuse them.
Red beans can be used in place of adzuki beans in most recipes, except of course sweet recipes. They’re suitable for all recipes that call for canned or dried beans, and they can also be used in salads.
You won’t get a perfect adzuki bean taste, but if you’re up for something new and slightly different, then red beans can make a good adzuki beans substitute.
2. Kidney beans
This second option might not come as a surprise, since kidney beans and red beans are often considered interchangeable or even used together in the same recipe.
Some people think these two types of beans are one and the same, but kidney beans are actually different from red beans, even though they make an equally good adzuki beans substitute.
Kidney beans owe their name to their kidney shape, and they are also bigger in size than red beans. Nonetheless, they make for a perfect substitute for adzuki beans because they share the same texture and a similar taste.
You can use kidney beans in all non-sweet recipes that require adzuki.
3. Black turtle beans
Black turtle beans aren’t the only black beans around, however when people think of black beans, what they usually have in mind are black turtle beans. This bean variety isn’t as known as others, but it can work as an adzuki bean alternative in many recipes, just like red beans.
Black turtle beans are a variety of the common bean, small and round like adzuki beans, but differ in their black color and shiny surface. They’re commonly used in Latin American cuisine and for vegetarian dishes, because of their meaty texture.
if you want to resemble the same taste of adzuki beans, black turtle beans are probably not your first choice. However, they taste really good and are a good source of minerals and other nutrients, so you should take them into consideration.
4. Cannellini beans
Cannellini beans are a type of Italian beans that are creamy, white, and have a kidney shape, that’s why they’re included in the kidney beans family and are often referred to as White Kidney Beans, though they might also have other names depending on the country.
Their flavor, much like green bell peppers, is earthy, but with a nutty shade, and when cooked they taste mild and have a fluffy texture, but retain their shape and are perfect for chili, salads, soups, and stews.
Since they are very similar to the classic dark red kidney beans, they can be used as a substitute for said beans, but also for red beans and adzuki beans.
5. Mung beans
Mung beans are fairly new on the American market, but very popular in Asian cuisine. This bean is perfect when you need to substitute adzuki beans in red bean paste, mochi, and other Asian recipes.
With an increasing interest in plant-based foods as a substitute for meat dishes, mung beans have known increasing popularity because they are extremely rich in proteins.
Mung beans are good both for savory and sweet dishes. Unlike the previous adzuki beans substitutes, you can use mung beans in desserts because of their mild sugary flavor.
These versatile beans are easy to add to your diet, however, make sure to cook them properly because uncooked mung beans have been known for causing nausea and diarrhea.
6. Black sesame
Black sesame seeds have an earthy and nutty flavor similar to cannellini beans and just like adzuki beans, they’re widely used in Asian recipes and as a filling ingredient in many Japanese recipes, including sushi rolls.
Black sesame seeds often appear as an ingredient across Asian countries, including India and Korea, because they are extremely versatile, in fact, they can be ground into a powder and then turned into a spreadable paste that can be used as an alternative to peanut butter for a healthier and nutrient-packed breakfast.
Although black sesame doesn’t have a sweet flavor, it matches greatly with sweet ingredients like red bean paste and matcha, which is why black sesame is used in a variety of Asian desserts.
As an adzuki beans substitute, black sesame can therefore be used both in savory and sweet dishes.
Chestnuts are often used together with adzuki beans in recipes because they add flavoring to bean paste, but they can also be used as a substitute for adzuki beans when you can’t find the original product.
When cooked, chestnuts are very flavorful and can make a savory addition to many recipes, including salads.
If you choose to use chestnuts as an adzuki bean alternative, you can obtain the best results using them as the filling ingredient in Japanese recipes.
How to choose an adzuki beans substitute.
Adzuki beans are mainly known for their role as a dessert filling ingredient but are actually one of the most versatile beans out there, which is why it might not be easy to decide how to choose the right substitute for your recipes.
Asia lovers are probably well-acquainted with adzuki beans because they often show up in Asian shows, movies, and cartoons (especially Japanese ones) as filling paste for popular sweets like dorayaki and mochi.
That is part of the reason why adzuki beans have become so popular worldwide, even though their popularity doesn’t yet translate into easy availability.
When you cannot find adzuki beans, consider the recipe you want to re-create and make an informed choice by picking the most suitable adzuki beans alternative:
– Savory dishes: beans are easily interchangeable and one could argue you could use any type of beans to substitute adzuki beans in savory dishes, however, if you’re looking for the closest alternative in terms of looks and taste, you should pick either red beans or dark red kidney beans. You can also use white kidney beans, known as cannellini beans, if the color is not a problem but be mindful that cannellini beans might be creamier than other varieties.
– Desserts: adzuki beans are impossible to replace in desserts because of their unique characteristics. This doesn’t mean you have to give up on your sweet recipe if you’re willing to adapt. There are other beans that could work in desserts, namely mung beans, and chestnuts. Black sesame seeds are also used in desserts, but they work better when matched with sweeter ingredients, as they’re not sweet themselves.
– Versatility: when it comes to an ingredient that can substitute adzuki beans and also fit in most recipes, not many alternatives can beat black sesame seeds. Not only these seeds can replace adzuki in savory dishes, but they also work well in desserts when matched with sweet ingredients or red bean paste itself, so you can use them with or without adzuki beans. They also make a good and nutritional addition to your breakfast, as they can be found in several forms, including a spreadable paste.
– Asian recipes: if you’re experimenting with Asian recipes and you’re out of adzuki beans, you can easily swap them with other Asian beans like mung beans, but also with other filling ingredients like chestnuts, black sesame seeds, and even sweet potatoes.
As you can see, if you can’t get your hands on adzuki beans, you can take this chance to experiment with adzuki beans substitutes and explore new flavors.