Navy Beans: A Tiny but Mighty Pantry Staple

Navy Beans

Filling, versatile, and quick-cooking, navy beans are an indispensable staple in the kitchen. Learn more about the humble navy beans, how they taste, and how to cook them.

The History of Navy Beans

Also called pea beans or haricot beans, navy beans got their name from their reputation as a food staple for the U.S. Navy; the beans have been served to U.S. Navy soldiers since the 1800s.

Navy beans are a cultivar of an ancient wild bean native to the Americas. The wild bean was first domesticated in Mexico and Peru about 5000 years ago and cultivation gradually spread throughout the Americas. By the 16th century, when the Europeans arrived, there was a wide variety of beans being grown in the continent, including navy beans.

Image Credit: Flickr user six course dinnerCC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

How Navy Beans Taste

Navy beans have a very delicate, slightly nutty taste that easily takes on other flavors. Its flavor profile can be compared to plain tofu. The beans are about the size of a pea and have an ivory white hue and defined oval shape. When cooked, they develop a smooth and creamy texture and can easily be broken down or mashed with a spoon.

Uses for Navy Beans

Navy beans are most popularly recognized as the main ingredient of Boston baked beans. They are also used in Senate bean soup, a staple in the U.S. Senate restaurant in Washington.

Navy beans’ small size makes them ideal for quick cooking. Toss them into baked beans, soups, and stews in the last few minutes to preserve their shape or cook them down longer and use as a thickener. To shorten the cooking time even more, soak the beans overnight in cold water or for an hour in very hot water.

For a quick and delicious side dish or appetizer, braise navy beans in water or stock with your choice of seasonings and add-ins. You can also puree navy beans for a rich and hearty bean dip, tender white bean pâté, or even a creamy filling for bean pies. Their mild, neutral flavor makes them a good fit in both savory and sweet recipes.

Feature Image: Flickr user Alexandra Guerson ( CC BY-NC 2.0 )

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