Italian “Butter Beans” Are Not Lima Beans

For much of the last year, I’ve been looking for canned or frozen green Lima beans. I like these simply buttered. Yes, I’m one of those strange people who like Lima beans. The big white ones are often called “butter beans” here, and I did find some of them canned. For me, they are OK, but not quite as good. I also found a 2 lb bag of dry white Limas. But overall, pickings were very slim. “Why?” remains a bit elusive. Some areas had land converted to houses. Others to more profitable grains. But usually that kind of thing just changes where a crop is grown, not if it is grown.

As the mystery wore on, and while prepping for the lock down, I found canned “butter beans” at a local Italian grocery store. One side in English proclaims “Butter Beans” with a picture of fat white beans. Perhaps a bit more plump than usual, but Limas come in very flat and more plump types. The other side, in Italian, proclaims “Fagioli Bianchi Di Spagna” which I think means ~”white beans of Spain”. So I bought a half dozen cans.

Yesterday, we had our first can for dinner. Well, I opened the can and they looked very rounded. So off to duckduck it…

https://www.coltivarelorto.it/AB/280-fagioli/0104-280-0001.html

Il fagiolo di Spagna è originario dell’America del Sud. Ha semi appiattiti di grandi dimensioni, e viene consumato sia fresco che secco. Questo fagiolo, conosciuto anche come runner beans nei paesi di lingua inglese, appartiene ad una specie diversa rispetto al fagiolo comune.

Infatti, il nome scientifico della specie è Phaseolus coccineus, mentre il fagiolo classico appartiene alla specie Phaseolus vulgaris. E’ molto coltivato, non solo per la produttività, ma anche per la bellezza della pianta. Inizialmente venne introdotto in Europa solo per le sue proprietà ornamentali. Successivamente si cominciarono ad apprezzare le proprietà nutritive, e oggi è il fagiolo più coltivato nel Regno Unito.

These are called Runner Beans in English. They are not common beans “vulgaris”, nor Lima beans “lunatis”, but runner beans “coccineus”.

They are a nice, meaty neutral flavored bean, but would benefit from an acidic tomato sauce and seasoning. Buttered is a bit bland.

So just be advised: Italian “Butter Beans” are not Limas, don’t have the flavor you expect, and are not American Butter Beans.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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22 Responses to Italian “Butter Beans” Are Not Lima Beans

  1. Pingback: Italian “Butter Beans” Are Not Lima Beans – The Ambassador of Food by Chef Shan Foote: Food,Thoughts, and Musing of a Self Taught Chef

  2. Henry Lyles says:

    doing a quick look on the interwebs it seems that you can find Lima Beans pretty easily.. mind you I’m down here in Texas but wanted to share: https://www.cajungrocer.com/camellia-green-baby-lima-beans

  3. E.M.Smith says:

    I suppose it is possible the local grocers have decided it is a “regional” food… so just not stocking them. Or California is at the end of the supply chain… We grow Limas for drying, but the canned green ones come from near Delaware…

    Guess next time I’m crossing the country I’ll need to check Lima status in various states.

  4. Nessimmersion says:

    Living in Northern Scotland, the climate is possibly a touch different to yourself, however even here Runner Beans as they’re known here, are very productive.
    Normally started under cover / glass until date of last frost is past so can’t be planted outside till 2nd week of June.
    They scramble over every South, East or west facing wall, very strong climbers, up to 12 feet in height, but need support.
    Start cropping in mid August, eating the whole pod, eventually getting fed up of the damn things by September so let the rest of the pods mature and pick in mid October.
    Normally from say 2 dozen plants, I’ll get enough veg for 30 meals for family of four, enough whole padded beans to fill 3-4 jam jars and enough remaining beans for a crop next year.
    I find the red flowered versions crop heavier than the white.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    Runner beans grow well in the San Francisco bay area. I’ve grown them often. Usually Scarlet Runner, but also white. They will slow production IF the summer temps get too hot. 95 F+ range.

    Humming birds and our Golden bumble bee love them!

    I’d never seen them in a can before, though.

  6. H.R. says:

    E.M.: “Yes, I’m one of those strange people who like Lima beans.”

    What? I thought people who didn’t like them were “a wee bit off.”

    I got all the lima beans I wanted in my grade school cafeteria. Most kids were more than happy to shovel them my way. Small school district, same kids year after year and by 5th or 6th grade there were far fewer offers for extras off someone’s tray.

    Smoked eel was a hard sell too. Nobody wanted to trade peanut butter sandwiches for my smoked eel sandwiches, but then I wouldn’t have traded anyway.

  7. Bill In Oz says:

    Ph Coccineous evolved in Central America as a climbing understory plant. They prefer some shade from hot sun and don’t like water with any salt in it. That makes them hard to grow here in South Australia with out hot sunny summers and slightly saline water. But I have grown them when I lived elsewhere. Nice good tucker.. There used to be lots of varieties in the USA available from the mail order seed companies.( Seed savers Network in 1980’s-90’s. Here in Oz there is just Scarlet Runner sold now.

  8. ossqss says:

    Yeah, not a Lima bean fan here. I would rather eat the plain Pita chips. Talk about something from the past, they taste like Elmer’s glue from when I was young, but I have gotten used to them every time we have Lima beans :-)

    Gonna look into those crawlers and wonder it they could grow year round in FL. That could be a year round bonus farm in small quarters.

  9. philjourdan says:

    People do not like butter beans? WHO?

    Succotash!!!!

    But I actually love them in any form. Guess I am one of the weird ones.

  10. philjourdan says:

    My wife’s friend in Dallas cannot find pinto beans But they are plentiful here. Shortages are regional. While we have a large Hispanic population, it is mostly from central America where pintos are not in demand.

  11. pinroot says:

    I grew up in the south, and we had butter beans all the time. As I recall they were a type of runner bean. The pod was similar to sweet peas, but larger and flatter. As kids, we had to pick and shell them. Mom would cook them usually with a slice of bacon and some okra. Slimy okra and butter beans, something I couldn’t get enough of :)

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    @Pinroot:

    The pod you describe is a Lima bean pod. Runner bean pods are like a very large fiberous roundish green bean pod. Like 9 inces long and as fat as your thumb. When mature, they get a kind of woven look to the surface. Often 1/2 dozen or even 9 big fat roundish seeds, each about an inch to 3/4 long when fresh drying down to 3/4 or 1/2 inch long for dry. Shape much like a slightly flattened jelly bean. Limas are mostly very flat, 3 to 6 seeds per pod, pods more glossy and with a more pronounced tip point.

    Limas (lunatus):

    Runners (coccineus):

    UPDATE: I added species names to the common names in the photo headings.

  13. E.M.Smith says:

    BTW, being a Damn Yankee, I don’t understand why anyone would eat okra.

    My mum tried cooking it once. Pot of slimy goop without a lot of flavor. I’ve had properly done fried okra in Texas. Better, but still would be better as battered fried yams or carrots… IMHO.

    So is it something you must grow up with to like?

  14. cdquarles says:

    Okra is an acquired taste, and, mostly Southern. Grandma’s goulash/succotash wouldn’t be the same without okra. That said, fried okra or green tomatoes are much better than boiled ;).

  15. cdquarles says:

    Oh, not all butter beans are runners. Some are bush beans; or at least both kinds were grown here in the Heart of Dixie :).

  16. E.M.Smith says:

    Are you using “runner” to mean vining, or to mean “coccineus” species?

    There is some confusion in the terminology in general use, especially the term “half runner” that near as I can tell means “halfway between bush and vining common bean” (phaseolus vulgaris) while in buying seeds, runner bean means phaseolus coccineus sp. In general description of vining types, some folks use “runner” to mean big long vine type (pole beans) of any species (vulgaris, coccineus, lunatis).

    I personally reserve use of “runner” to coccineus sp. only, as that is the only name commonly used for coccineus sp. Then I use pole or vining for describing length of stems (or bush if short). Just makes it easier for me to keep a tidy sort…

  17. cdquarles says:

    Yep, EM, I’m using the colloquial gardener speak here for them, meaning pole versus bush type; where the specific species/subspecies name isn’t used.

  18. pinroot says:

    @EM – This is the variety of butter bean we grew:
    https://www.monticelloshop.org/carolina-or-sieva-lima-bean-seeds-phaseolus-lunatus/
    They look similar to the lunatus you show.
    As for okra, maybe it’s an acquired taste (like a lot of things I guess), but then again we also grew up eating oysters, which some people consider slimy. I like okra fried, but boiled or in a stew is fine. I’ve actually seen dehydrated okra at a local farmer’s market, and strangely enough, as you chew them, they slime up, so I don’t know what gives them that slime.

  19. Compu Gator says:

    E.M.Smith [posted] 8 April 2020 [GMT]:
    For much of the last year, I’ve been looking for canned or frozen green Lima beans. I like these simply buttered. Yes, I’m one of those strange people who like Lima beans. The big white ones are often called “butter beans” here, and I did find some of them canned. For me, they are OK, but not quite as good. I also found a 2 lb bag of dry white Limas. But overall, pickings were very slim. “Why?” remains a bit elusive.

    A large grocery in Orlando, part of the Florida-based Publix chain, seems to be doing a creditable job of restocking:

    • On Mar. 25 (Wed.), I was able to buy beans including Del Monte “Harvest Select” lima beans in cans (I still haven’t seen any in cheaper house labels).

    • On Mar. 28 (Sat.), I was able to buy its house-brand Fordhook lima beans from a frozen-food case there (so I did so!) [†].

    I dunno whether either product is reliably back in stock, or whether I had the blessing or good fortune to arrive shortly after restocking. I have no idea whether it might eventually be shown to be an inadequate amount.

    ——-
    Note †: I accepted the risk of mingling with large crowds of shoppers on Mar. 28 (Sat.), because I needed to retrieve a prescription for high-priority medic’ns that was overdue to be refilled.

  20. Compu Gator says:

    E.M.Smith [replied] 9 April 2020 at 5:17 pm [GMT]:
    I personally reserve use of “runner” to coccineus sp. only, as that is the only name commonly used for coccineus sp. [×]

    Odd that the species seems not to be commonly known by a name like “scarlet-flower bean”: According to The Sunday Times, it was grown as an ornamental in the late 1970s for its bright flowers[*]. ‘Twas Linnaeus who named the species, using unchanged the classical Latin adjective “coccine·us, -a, -um“, which means “scarlet-colored“. Altho’ white-flowered varieties have been cultivated.

    E.M.Smith [posted] 8 April 2020 [GMT]:
    They are a nice, meaty neutral flavored bean, but would benefit from an acidic tomato sauce and seasoning. Buttered is a bit bland.

    Thanks for the culinary warning. Apparently the Greeks who grow them agree with you:
    “Giant beans, a Mediterranean side dish: cooked runner beans in tomato sauce.”
    “Giant beans, a Mediterranean side dish: cooked runner beans in tomato sauce.” Photo by Henry Burrows as retouched by user ‘Hic_et_nunc’ [◙].

    I’m no fan of recipes that drown ingredients in tomato sauce. If I’d stocked up on such bland beans, I might try to reinvent the preparation for a starchy dish that I was treated to by a cubicle-mate long ago. He said it was common home-cooking among religiously vegetarian Indians: Boiled potatoes, cut into several pieces (but not as small as U.S. “home fries”), then heavily spiced with curry powder. I failed to ask whether the curry powder was applied to the potato pieces in a separate cooking step, e.g., sautéing, perhaps with onions & garlic (or their dried forms)?

    ——-
    Note ×: Beware that in zoological terminology, “sp.” properly only follows the name of a genus, and means “all–or maybe just various–species within the named genus“, e.g., Phaseolus. Or esp. for archaeologists or ethnobotanists, “I’m not sure which species, but I’m sure it’s in the named genus“. So “Phaseolus sp.” might be seen often in writings on beans, but in this context, “coccineus sp.” is formally nonsensical, and would conflict with any genus named Coccineus (i.e., if such exists). On your own blog, you can, of course, do whatever you want, and in this instnce, it was easy to figure out what you meant.

    Note *: Via Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phaseolus_coccineus . Cited but not linked: The Two Hour Garden. The Sunday Times (1978).

    Note ◙: Broader table setting https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Giant_beans_and_stuffed_vine_leaves.jpg by Henry Burrows (CC-by-SA-2), via ‘Flickr upload bot’(!?), then cropped to 1 dish by ‘Hic_et_nunc’ as
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Giant_beans_(Gigantes).jpg . I’m unsure how WordPress will handle my image-related coding above.

    Reply from EMS from here to end:

    Biggest issue is with Wiki who name a PAGE describing a photo with a name ending in jpg (that WordPress properly figures out is html not really jpg), so just makes it a link so you need to scroll down in that page and pick an iMAGE URL of the size and type you want. Then just past that into WordPress unadorned. Like:

    “https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fe/Giant_beans_and_stuffed_vine_leaves.jpg/640px-Giant_beans_and_stuffed_vine_leaves.jpg”

    “https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fe/Giant_beans_%28Gigantes%29.jpg/640px-Giant_beans_%28Gigantes%29.jpg”

    Secondary problem, also wiki, is using special chars like ( and ) in URLs that requure unicode substitution if you paste them into WordPress.

    Final issue is wrapping the URL in open / close angles to make proper html in WordPress is a challenge at the best of times. More details here:

    https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/urls-html-unicode-wordpress-antics/

  21. philjourdan says:

    Okra is like Cilantro. A flavoring, not a dish. But then my sister always insisted upon Okra and Tomatoes for her birthday dinner (she is a year younger than I). So not acquired as we grew up together, Just a taste. I love it in gumbo. I hate it as a stand alone. I tolerate it as fried.

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