Popular Lima Beans in the U.S.

Lima beans are among the most popular shell beans in the United States. These smooth, flat shaped, sweet tasting beans have a rich, starchy, meaty texture and a creamy, distinctive flavor.

Lima beans are nutrient-dense and their richness generates feelings of satiety (they make you feel full). Often referred to in some southern states in the U.S. as “butter beans,” lima beans date back to 5,000 BC along the coastal regions of South America.

As lima beans are most often associated with succotash, a traditional Native American dish that combines this delicious bean with corn, many people think that they are native to the United States.

A Bit of Lima Bean History

Lima beans are believed to have originated in Guatemala and Southern Mexico and were traded along routes that led into North America, and eventually were carried to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Yet, one of lima beans’ proposed places of origin, the place where the early European explorers were thought to have first discovered them, is actually reflected in its name “Lima,” the capital of the South American country of Peru.

Early explorers stored dry lima beans for long periods on their ships, recognizing that lima beans were a nutritious and highly concentrated food source for the sailors.

The Fordhook AKA Butterbean

The most popular lima beans in the U.S. are the Fordhook, commonly known as the butterbean, and the baby lima bean. They have many other names as well, including Haba beans, Pallar beans, Burma beans, Guffin beans, Hibbert beans, Sieva beans, Rangoon beans, Madagascar beans, Paiga, Paigya, sugar beans… long list!

Lima beans feature a starchy, potato-like taste and a grainy, yet slightly buttery, texture.

Butterbean or Lima Beans Nutrition

Lima beans are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. In addition to lowering cholesterol, lima beans’ high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal, making these beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia. When combined with whole grains such as rice, lima beans provide virtually fat-free high quality protein.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine confirms that eating high fiber foods, such as lima beans, helps prevent heart disease. Lima beans’ contribution to heart health lies not just in their fiber, but in the significant amounts of folate, and magnesium these beans supply.

In fact, lima beans are a good source of B vitamins (vitamin B6, niacin, folate), protein (including the important amino acid , lysine), fiber (especially soluble fiber in the form of pectin), iron, potassium, and magnesium; and they have very little fat.

Studies suggest that intake of beans can help to lower LDL cholesterol levels, probably due to their soluble fiber content. Lima beans also contain the phytochemicals coumestrol and saponin, compounds that may impart anticancer benefits.

Fresh beans, such as baby limas, soybeans, and black-eyed peas, can be found at farmers’ markets and in the produce section of some grocery stores. Fresh beans require very little cooking time, as they have not been dried and don’t have to be rehydrated.

Try bean salsas; prepare a tomato salsa and add cooked beans, such as black beans, baby limas, white beans, or kidney beans. Leave the salsas chunky to add texture.

For a twist on the traditional native American dish succotash, make lima bean burritos. Fill corn tortillas with lima beans and corn kernels, and then top with chopped tomatoes, avocado and scallions.

Buying and Storing Butterbeans

Dried lima beans are available two forms – canned and pre-packaged containers and bulk bins. Make sure that the containers or bins are covered tightly.

Check the beans for any evidence of moisture or insect damage.

When purchasing fresh lima beans, make sure that they are firm, deep green and glossy and devoid of any blemishes or wrinkling. Also, the beans should not have any yellowish or brownish discoloration.

The shelled varieties are extremely perishable. Check them carefully for any signs of damage or decay. Opt for the ones that are greenish or greenish-white in color and have tender skins.

When buying frozen lima beans, shake the container properly before opening it, to ensure that the beans move freely and are not clumped together. Lack of free movements inside the container suggests that the beans have been thawed and then refrozen.

When storing dried lima beans, keep them in an airtight container, in a cool, dry and dark place. This way, they can be stored for a maximum of 6 months.

Fresh varieties of lime beans can be kept crisp and fresh for several days if they are stored in the refrigerator. They should never be thawed and should be stored whole in their pods.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

If you can find whole lima beans in the market, you can serve them as an appetizer sprinkled with seasoning just like edamame (whole soy bean pods).

Mix pureed lima beans with chopped garlic and your favorite fresh herbs. Use this spread as a sandwich filling or a dip for crudite.

The heartiness of lima beans make them a great soup bean, especially when added to a soup that features root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, beets, and/or rutabagas.

For a twist on the traditional native American dish succotash, make lima bean burritos. Fill corn tortillas with lima beans and corn kernels, and then top with chopped tomatoes, avocado and scallions.

Blend cooked lima beans and sweet potatoes together. Serve this tasty dish on a plate accompanied by your favorite grain and fresh vegetable.

Luscious Lima Bean Soup Recipe

  • 1 pound dry lima beans
  • 4 cups water
  • 5 carrots, chopped
  • 1 leek, bulb only, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 cubes vegetable bouillon
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add dry lima beans, and boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow the beans to sit, covered, for 1 to 2 hours to soften. Drain and rinse until water runs clear, discarding bean water.

In a soup pot, saute vegetables in olive oil until onions and celery are translucent. Add lima beans, and saute for another 2 to 3 minutes.

In the meantime, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the vegetable bouillon to the boiling water, and stir until dissolved. Add broth to the sauteed vegetables and beans. Add remaining water, and allow soup to simmer over a low flame for 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Serve steaming hot. Yield: 9 servings

Nutrition information per serving: Calories: 221; Total Fat: 3.5g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 42mg; Total Carbohydrates: 37.5g; Dietary Fiber: 10.9g; Protein: 11.4g

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