Lima beans and fava beans are often confused, even though they have less in common than we might think. These two types of beans are both legumes coming from the same biological subdivision, but there is not much more than they share.
When cooking, you might come across a recipe that calls for either lima beans or fava beans, and if you’re out of one or the other you might wonder if you can just swap limas for favas and vice versa. This fava beans vs lima beans comparison have all the answers you need.
What is the difference between fava beans and lima beans?
Fava beans vs lima beans: this comparison often leaves people confused, helped by how sometimes we see pictures on the packages that make the two types of beans look completely the same.
Actually, these two beans couldn’t be more different and if you’ve ever tasted both, you’ll know that they have little in common except the genus (Fabaceae) and the color (in some varieties).
If you’re wondering what exactly are the differences between fava beans and lima beans, because you don’t know which one to use in your recipe or if you can substitute one for the other, below you’ll find information on how these two beans differ in origin, appearance, texture, flavor, and availability.
Something both fava beans and lima beans have in common is that they’re both very old legumes. Both of them date back thousands of years, but their origin takes place on completely different sides of the world.
In fact, while lima beans are native to South America and owe their name to the city of Lima, in Peru, where they were first discovered, fava beans come from the Old World, specifically from North Africa.
Actually, fava beans are much older than lima beans. While lima beans are thought to date back around 2000 years BC, the favas were already cultivated more than 6000 years BC, when they were also a common part of the Mediterranean diet already.
Favas have been cultivated for so long that as of now we don’t know if there was ever a wild variety. When the centuries of explorations began, adventurers brought fava beans in America and around the world because of their nutritional value.
The main reason why fava beans and lima beans are often confused is that they’re often shown without their shells on the package picture. Both beans are light-colored once shelled and look almost identical, so much that you might even buy one for the other!
However, fresh beans have different colors. Specifically, fava beans are usually green and bigger than lima beans, while the latter can appear in different colors, including green, brown, black, purple, or white with dark red/purple traces.
Another way to distinguish fava beans from lima beans at first glance is by looking for the seed. In common beans, including lima beans, the seed is in the middle, indicating the point where the bean was attached to its pod. In fava beans, the seed is “in the corner” or on the top of the bean.
The texture of these beans is one of the reasons why people prefer one over the other, and on the losing side, there’s usually the lima bean.
Fava beans have a firm texture that remains consistent when cooked. Lima beans, on the other hand, are much softer than favas and the cooking process makes them even softer.
Lima beans also have a starchier texture than fava beans, which combined with their softness makes for a very particular feeling when you eat them, that not everyone might like.
However, fresh lima beans are quite different from frozen lima beans in terms of texture and flavor, so you should try fresh lima beans when it’s the season before you completely give up on them.
One of the reasons why lima beans became popular is because of their not-beany flavor. In fact, lima beans taste is among the less beany flavors you can find.
They taste nutty and a little sweet, and when cooked they remain mild and soft. Be careful not to overcook them, because they can easily develop a strong flavor, along the lines of broccoli and Brussel sprouts, sulfurous and quite bitter.
Fava beans are definitely less starchy than lima beans and their flavor is generally considered more diversified and richer than lima beans. With lima beans, they share a nutty note and a light sweetness, but the overall fava beans taste is quite different, bitter, and with just a barely discernible hint of cheese.
Choosing between these two beans in a recipe is a matter of personal taste and also a matter of what would better fit in the recipe you have in mind.
Fava beans have a stronger taste, so they may overpower a recipe that calls for lima beans. On the other hand, using lima beans to substitute fava beans might make the final flavor of your dish milder than you wished for.
If you’re looking for a fava beans substitute, you should go for edamame rather than lima beans. At the same time, if you’re looking for a lima beans substitute, go for white kidney beans.
When looking at the availability of fresh products, these two types of beans are polar opposites.
Lima beans are a warm crop and you can find the best ones during the fall months. On the contrary, fava beans are a winter crop like barley.
Of course, you can find both of these products in frozen form, which are available year-round. However, you can expect a change in flavor and texture when buying frozen products instead of fresh ones and some people found that there is no comparison between frozen lima beans and fresh lima beans, the latter being the best.
What are fava beans?
Fava beans, also called broad beans, are one of the oldest crops in the world. They are harvested in spring and can be eaten both cooked and raw. Small pods are sometimes eaten whole, but usually, the beans are removed from the pod.
The beans are green, flat, and large, covered with a clear skin that is usually removed before cooking them.
Fava beans taste mild and delicate, with a slightly nutty and bitter flavor, very vegetal. That’s why they’re popular among veggie lovers.
These beans are eaten across the globe, so there are many recipes to try out, but it’s easier if you choose whether you want to eat fresh or dry fava beans beforehand. The two require different preparations and cooking methods.
You can cook fava beans in basically every way, but you can also add them raw in salads. The only limit to how you can use these beans is your creativity and personal taste.
What are lima beans?
Lima beans, or butter beans, are grown mainly for their edible seeds. They take their name from the city of Lima, in Peru, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years.
There are several varieties of lima beans, which might come in different colors. There is also a variety of small beans that is called baby lima beans.
Lima beans are harvested during the fall season. Fresh lima beans are light green like fava beans, while matured lima beans are dry and beige.
Fresh lima beans are the most popular variety in the U.S., however, not everyone likes their starchy consistency. If you’ve had bad experiences with fresh limas, try dry lima beans, which have a creamy texture and buttery flavor that could make all the difference.
Are fava beans the same as lima beans?
Despite the general confusion surrounding these two beans, fava beans are not the same as lima beans.
In fact, they couldn’t be more different, especially for what concerns their flavor, which is the main thing to consider when using one of them in your recipe.
Another question that is often asked is whether you can substitute butter beans for lima beans. You can, because butter beans are just another name for lima beans and the two are exactly the same, just like broad beans are nothing but fava beans.
You can also replace fava beans with lima beans, but it would be better to use cannellini beans if the recipe calls for limas. When it calls for favas, use edamame instead.
Now you may be wondering: lima beans vs fava beans, which one is better in the end? When all’s said and done, it’s a matter of personal requirements.
If your concern is the freshness of the product, you will need to alternate the two throughout the year, since the lima bean is a warm-season crop and the fava bean is a winter crop. This will also guarantee you always get the best flavor from both.
Once you tasted both of them, you will get an idea of which bean is best for you. In fact, it’s really only about personal taste, because these two beans taste so different that not everyone who enjoys lima beans enjoys fava beans, and vice versa.