Is there an alternate name for "Great Northern Beans"? Or a good substitute?

Because she couldn't find them anywhere, a friend asked a question here a few hours ago -- asking where to buy Great Northern Beans. But as she wants to buy them today -- in NYC -- so I think she asked the wrong question.

So maybe the right question to ask is "is there another name for Great Northern Beans"? Or possibly, "what are the characteristics of Great Northern Beans and what would make a good substitute in a recipe?"

  • Posted by: Peter
  • November 5, 2010


702551 September 30, 2017
Butter beans, cannellini beans, haricot beans, lima beans and Great Northern beans are all cultivars of the same species Phaseolus vulgaris which also includes other common beans such as red kidney beans and black turtle beans.

Horticulturist Oscar Will allegedly received the Great Northern beans from a Hidatsa Indian in the late 19th century. Will was instrumental in preserving some of the heritage cultivars.

Unless you buy seed packets from the USA, it is unlikely that one would find Great Northern bean cultivar in the UK. The cultivar is commonly planted in the Great Plains states in the USA, but less commonly elsewhere.

Any white bean is likely a good candidate for replacing the Great Northern bean.
jic October 2, 2017
Butter beans and lima beans are Phaseolus lunatus, not Phaseolus vulgaris.
Janjones July 13, 2014
Are these what we English call butter beans? I.e. Bigger than cannellini/haricot beans ?
jic September 30, 2017
No, butter beans are a type of lima beans. I don't think great northern beans are widely available in England.
mainecook61 November 5, 2010
Navy beans or yellow eye beans.
susan G. November 5, 2010
Another alternative is baby limas.
Mr_Vittles November 5, 2010
Navy beans and Cannelini will do in a pinch, but I know a lot of people who will only use Great Northerns because they swear they make a difference in their version of baked beans. Personally, I use whatever is most convenient, my local Winco sells them in bulk bins.
Kayb November 5, 2010
Navy beans are a bit smaller, cannelini a bit larger, but I can't make a big difference in the taste. I tend to prefer navies, myself. But I can't imagine not being able to find Great Northern -- I can usually get them even if a store doesn't carry navies or cannelini
Cara E. November 5, 2010
Yeah, I think any white bean will do.
TiggyBee November 5, 2010
TiggyBee November 5, 2010
She could try navy beans or cannellini. I imagine the bulk bins at Whole Foods would have them
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