Pinto beans are one of the most common associations to the world-famous Mexican cuisine. In Spanish, they’re called frijol pinto, which translates to “speckled bean”.
These beans are not only popular for their unique flavor, but also their versatility in cooking, as they can be cooked, fried, mashed, served as a side dish – but they’re mostly used as a filling.
If you’re having a hard time finding good quality pinto beans, or you’d simply like to try a decent pinto beans substitute, keep on reading to discover the best alternatives.
The best substitutes for pinto beans
Pinto beans are the most popular variety of common beans not only in Mexico but in the Southwestern United States, as well.
They can be cooked in broth or on their own, but they’re also delicious mashed or refried.
However, you’ve probably had your pinto beans as a filling in tostadas, burritos, and tacos, or served with a side tortilla or sopaipilla.
Pinto beans are best prepared when soaked before cooking since it significantly shortens the cooking time.
If you decide not to soak them prior to cooking, the process may take two to three hours until they reach the desired softness.
However, you may also shorten the cooking process by using a pressure cooker, which will only take around 3 minutes for soaked beans.
These beans are a great source of protein, and they’re also rich in fiber, which makes them an extremely nutritive choice.
They can also be cooked from dried, but it is advised to soak your dried pinto beans before using them in your recipes. Soaking has also been found to help maintain the beans whole while cooking.
You can also find canned pinto beans, which are a quite convenient option when you don’t have the time to cook them on your own.
With canned beans, you want to make sure to give them a good rinse and drain them. And if you’re storing your leftover beans in the fridge, whether it be canned or home-cooked beans, make sure to add some liquid to prevent them from drying out.
You may come across different types of pinto beans, including Burke, Hidatsa, Alavese pinto bean, and Othello.
No matter the type of pinto beans you’re trying to replace, or the recipe you’re following, our list of substitutes offers at least one adequate replacement.
1. Black beans
If you’re looking for a head-on pinto beans alternative, there’s hardly anything that can compete with black beans.
The only issue could be the pigment, in case you don’t want your dish to pick up the black color of the beans.
Other than that, black beans have a taste very similar to pinto beans, to the point where you’d hardly be able to tell the difference.
While you can purchase canned black beans, keep in mind that the homemade version, with the right combination of seasonings, is unmatched.
Black beans, just like pinto beans, can be served as a side dish, used as a component in fillings, or even be the main dish.
In case you’re using dry black beans, make sure to give them enough time to cook properly, since they can easily end up undercooked.
2. Borlotti beans
Borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans, usually have a beige pink color, and they’re covered in reddish spots.
When cooked, these beans transition into more light brown color and the vibrancy of the colors disappears.
While pinto beans are a staple dish in Mexican cuisine, borlotti beans are typical for Italian and Portuguese cooking, especially in traditional dishes such as Feijao a Portuguesa.
Just like pinto beans, borlotti beans offer the best results when soaked overnight or cooked in a pressure cooker to shorten the cooking time.
One of the best things about these beans, which certainly adds to their versatility, is that they hold their shape even when reheated.
3. Navy beans
Navy beans are often referred to as haricot or Boston beans, and they’re typically a bit smaller than other legumes.
They’re one of the most commonly used beans due to their light, savory taste, and smooth texture when cooked.
You don’t have to soak navy beans overnight, but we’d recommend soaking them in cold water at least 4 hours before preparing them – until they double in size.
Navy beans are an ideal substitute for white pinto beans, especially if the pigment matters in your recipe.
They can be cooked, mashed, baked, added into your favorite vegetarian dishes, sautéed with onions, or chilled and added to salads for extra volume and protein.
Due to their mild flavor, they compliment spiced dishes such as curry very well, and they can also be mixed with spicy salsa for a nice contrast of aromas.
4. Red beans
Red beans can be a pretty good substitute for pinto beans in chili, especially if you’re fond of a more sweet taste.
Red beans pair particularly well with rice – hence the famous Louisiana Style red beans and rice recipe.
Many people mistake red beans for kidney beans. They are, however, two different kinds of beans, since red beans are much smaller, and have a lighter, almost pinkish color.
Besides being combined with rice and used in chili, red beans can also be added to stews, and they’re delicious when refried.
5. Kidney beans
Even though they do resemble red beans, you’ll be able to recognize kidney beans thanks to their dark-red or ivory-white color, and a kidney-like shape (hence the name).
You can also cook and make them into a purée, serve them mashed as a dip, or add them to pretty much any filling.
They differ in size, texture, and often in color, but kidney beans are a great substitute for pinto beans, especially in slow-cooked dishes.
An important piece of information regarding kidney beans is that they can never be consumed raw since they contain a dangerous toxin.
When preparing them, make sure to let them boil for at least 10 minutes to eliminate toxicity.
6. Cannellini beans
Cannellini beans belong to the group of legumes known as white beans, slightly kidney-shaped.
They can be used in stews, soups, salads, and they have a unique mild, nutty flavor, and a fluffy, distinct texture ideal for mashing.
Just like other dried beans, dried cannellini beans should be soaked in water for a minimum of 5 hours, but if you can, leave them overnight.
There are countless delicious cannellini bean recipes, including smashed bean dip, bean tartine, confit pork belly with cannellini beans, and casserole.
Due to their smooth texture, they are great as a hummus replacement, quick dips, and purées. If you’re in the mood for a quick bean dish, get a can of cannellini beans and throw it into a pan with some garlic and onions.
7. Great northern beans
Great northern beans are yet another variant of white beans, very popular in North America. They are quite mild, delicate, neutral in flavor, which allows for numerous combinations in cooking.
Despite their name, the great northern beans are very small in size, they have a smooth texture, and a dose of sweetness that can brighten any complex dish, like stew or chili.
They are also used to enhance the flavor of other savory ingredients, or bind them together, especially in dishes with more vegetables and types of meat.
Of course, you can prepare these beans on their own, and just top them with some spices and butter.
8. Black turtle beans
Black turtle beans have a rather mild, neutral flavor, and they’re commonly used in Mexican and Caribbean cuisines.
They’re also soft in texture and make for a great mash, as well as a delicious addition to stews, soups, and other kinds of slow-cooked dishes.
Their flavor would be best described as sweet, slightly earthy, yet savory enough to balance out any dish.
This pinto beans substitute is a wise choice if you’re looking to replace pinto beans in Mexican dishes such as burritos, enchiladas, and black bean soup.
However, keep in mind that black turtle beans may have to be cooked a bit longer than pinto beans.
9. Anasazi beans
These beans have been used in Mexican cooking since ancient times, and the name Anasazi comes from a tribe that first cultivated them.
Anasazi beans are also called Appaloosa beans, and they are usually deep maroon with white speckles all over, but when cooked, they turn pink.
You’ll commonly encounter Anasazi beans in Mexican, Latin, and Southwestern cooking.
This substitute for pinto beans is a great choice if you’re making hearty stews, refried beans, or chilis.
Adding beans such as Anasazi in your dishes will provide that thick, almost gravy-like texture without the addition of any thickening agents.
Of course, if at a certain point you want to thin out your bean dish, you can simply add some water or beef stock.
10. Adzuki beans
Adzuki beans are mostly grown in East Asia and the Himalayas, and even though they come in many colors, you’ll mostly come across red adzuki beans.
These beans are mostly used in Japanese and Chinese cuisine, and not only in savory dishes but in desserts, too!
As a dessert filling, adzuki beans are cooked with the addition of sugar, which forms a unique kind of paste added to ice cream, mochi, or mooncakes.
When it comes to savory dishes, adzuki beans are a great addition to your grain bowls, hummus, beans and rice, flour bread, and curries.
What’s more, if you decide to soak them in water, adzuki beans will sprout in 2-4 days, and you can eat raw sprouts in salads and dips, or even cook them in soups and stews.
If you want to go one step further, you can even make your own flour by dehydrating the adzuki sprouts.
11. Lima beans
If you’re looking to replace pinto beans with something more vibrant and exotic – there isn’t a more aesthetically pleasing alternative than lima beans.
Due to their vibrant green color, lima beans are often served as side dishes and garnish in one. However, colorfulness isn’t all these beans have to offer, as they have an extremely smooth, buttery texture.
Due to their specific buttery texture and predominantly starchy consistency, lima beans are also known as butter beans.
Although they can be a bit hard to find, they’re worth the hassle since they’re not only delicious but extremely nutritious, as well.
How to choose a pinto beans substitute
You don’t have to stress over the fact you don’t have the exact type of bean the recipe calls for since most bean types are interchangeable.
As long as you don’t mind the dark pigment that will transfer onto the rest of the dish, black beans, black turtle beans, red beans, and kidney beans are all great options you can use in place of pinto beans in all your favorite Mexican recipes.
White beans such as navy beans, cannellini beans, and great northern beans are typically softer and creamier when cooked, so they’re ideal for your bean mash, soups, stews, and other dishes that don’t require beans to preserve their shape.
Borlotti beans and Anasazi beans are known for their characteristic color combinations, so they make for great side dishes if you’re looking to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing plate.
In that case, you should go for canned options, as they don’t require any cooking that would change the color.
And if you’re in the mood to experiment, both adzuki beans and lima beans are quite unique in their respective ways.
Adzuki beans, due to their dominant sweetness, can be used in desserts, while lima beans offer eye-catching vibrancy that will add a touch of color to any plate.