The humble black bean is delicious, nutritious, and has a million uses. But if you need black beans for a recipe and don’t have them on hand, don’t sweat it. There’s a simple swap available for every recipe.
As a long-time professional cook with a vegetarian diet, I’ve cooked a heck of a lot of beans and legumes.
This list will show you the best substitutes for everything from salads to soups and chili to refried beans. There’s even a non-legume option if you prefer to avoid them altogether.
All the substitutes in this list can be used as a 1:1 swap for black beans, except for number 9.
Top 10 Black Bean Substitutes
1. Kidney Beans
The plump, red kidney bean can stand in for black beans in cold salads, chili, and soups. They’re a nice textural addition to Mexican dishes, too.
Kidney beans are large and have a creamy texture once they’re cooked. They’re easy to cook from dry but are also easy to find canned if you want to save some time.
The only disadvantage to using them in place of black beans is that they differ in size and texture. This may not be ideal for dishes where small beans are needed.
If you’re cooking dry kidney beans, expect them to take 1½ – 2 hours to cook after soaking overnight.
2. Pinto Beans
This tan-colored, often speckled bean is a close replacement for black beans in most dishes. Try them in soups, chili, and Mexican-inspired dishes. They’re also a great option for refried beans and other dips.
Due to their creamy texture, pinto beans are versatile and delicious. They’re easy to find dry or canned and are always affordable. Also, since they are so similar in size to black beans, they’re an easy swap to make.
If you want a bean that’s dark in color like black beans, you won’t find that with the pinto bean. But the flavor is quite similar.
Dry pinto beans will take around 1½ – 2 hours to cook after soaking.
Chickpeas have a ton of uses in many different cultures, as black beans do. They’re excellent to use in salads, soups, chilis, and dips as a substitute.
Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas hold their shape quite well after cooking. This makes them visually appealing for most dishes. Additionally, they’re super high in protein and have a buttery flavor.
Chickpeas do have a different shape and color than black beans, so consider this when planning your recipes.
To top it off, chickpeas are easy to find just about anywhere, dry or canned. If you’re cooking dry chickpeas, after soaking they’ll take 1-1 ½ hours to cook.
Pro Tip: To speed up the cooking time for dry chickpeas, add a teaspoon of baking soda to your soaking water and another teaspoon to the fresh water when you cook them. It will help break down the outer skin and produce super tender beans in no time.
Lentils are a black bean substitute with multiple varieties to choose from. They’re tasty in soups, stews, and cold salads. They can also make refried bean-style dips and serve as a taco filling.
While canned lentils do exist, I recommend cooking dry lentils yourself. They don’t take long to cook compared to other beans and don’t require soaking overnight. They’re also way more flavorful when they’re cooked fresh.
Here are a few types of lentils to choose from:
- Black Lentils– Also known as Beluga lentils, these are the only substitute on this list that match the color of black beans. They have a deep, earthy flavor and keep their shape well upon cooking. Expect them to take 20-30 minutes to cook.
- Green Lentils– Green lentils are often an olive-green color and have an earthy flavor with a slight peppery taste. They’ll take around 45 minutes to cook, so you’ll want to factor that into your recipe.
- French Green Lentils– One of my favorites, the French green lentil is another type that holds its shape wonderfully after cooking. Only grown in France, these lentils are a dark, streaky green and have a delectable peppery flavor. Like other green lentils, their cook time clocks in at 40-45 minutes.
- Brown Lentils– These are another delightful earthy-tasting lentil. I love that these taste a little salty after cooking before you’ve added any salt to the pot. Brown lentils take around 20-30 minutes to cook.
- Split Red Lentils– Small, split red lentils are fairly quick-cooking. They’re excellent for soups since they contribute thickness and flavor. Because they’re split, they do turn to mush when cooked. Use them for soups and stews, or pour them over rice. They’ll cook in 25-30 minutes.
Pro Tip: Once lentils are cleaned and in the pot, bring the water and lentils to a boil. Once they come to a boil, simmer on low for the best shape retention and flavor.
5. Great Northern Beans
This creamy white bean is a perfect substitute for black beans in cold salads, soups, and chili. Great Northerns also make melt-in-your-mouth casseroles and dips.
Although they’re similar in taste and texture to black beans, they’re nowhere near the same color. If you need that color contrast, go for a darker substitute like lentils or kidney beans. They also differ in shape and are flatter like lima beans.
You can find Great Northern beans canned, or cook the dry beans yourself. To reduce the cooking time, you’ll want to soak dry beans overnight. After that, they should only take around 40-45 minutes.
6. Cannellini Beans
Cannellini beans are similar in appearance to Great Northern beans. They work well instead of black beans in soups, cold salads, and dips.
These beans are slightly bigger than Great Northern beans and are popular in Italy. They absorb flavor like a sponge. Cannellini beans also keep their shape better than other white beans, making them ideal for soups and stews.
This is another bean that’s available dry or canned. Expect them to take at least 1 to 1½ hours to cook thoroughly after soaking.
7. Edamame (Soybeans)
This bright green substitute for black beans is ideal for cold salads, stir-fries, soups, and even dips. They’re also enjoyable to eat by themselves with a touch of salt.
Edamame holds its shape and is a firmer type of bean than black beans. So consider these as a substitute that makes great leftovers once they’re cooked. They’re also known for their high protein content.
Compared to black beans, edamame does have a different taste. It’s nuttier and has a different shape and texture as well. Their deliciousness and bright color make them a pleasant surprise in a typical black bean dish.
To cook this substitute, try frozen shelled edamame for the fastest cooking time (just a minute or two in boiling water). The whole pods can also be bought frozen and briefly steamed, boiled, or microwaved for snacking.
Here’s another bright green replacement for black beans. Peas can add flavor and color to cold salads and stir-fries.
Their slightly sweet flavor lends well to Indian-inspired dishes and starchy dishes with potatoes. And if you ask me, they’re scrumptious on their own with olive oil, salt, and pepper. As a bonus, peas are one of the highest-protein substitutes on this list.
If you’re thinking about using peas as a black bean substitute, consider if their sweet flavor will blend well with the other flavors in your dish. I also wouldn’t recommend them for use in soups since they don’t hold up too well and can get mushy.
Peas can be bought frozen, canned, or fresh. Fresh is always best, but frozen is my second choice; they can be steamed or boiled and ready in just a few minutes.
Cauliflower can be a low-carb substitute for black beans. It’s a tasty choice for stuffed vegetables, casseroles, and stews. Once cooked, it can also replace black beans in cold salads.
This cruciferous veggie has a distinct flavor that doesn’t taste like black beans. However, it does soak up spices and flavors quite well. This makes it a high-fiber replacement for those on paleo or keto diets or anyone who just wants a change of pace.
Of course, the texture of cauliflower is much different than black beans. The good news is that it can be chopped up or ground to a consistency that suits your dish.
To use cauliflower for black beans, cut it up to your desired size. Then bake, roast, or steam until just tender. It cooks rather quickly.
Alternatively, raw cauliflower can be chopped and ground in a food processor to make cauliflower “rice.” Then steam it, or toss it right in your stir-fry and cook until tender.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean cake that can be a tasty replacement for black beans. It adds a satisfying meaty texture to chili, stir-fries, and soups. It’s also enjoyable to eat cold and makes any salad or sandwich more filling.
Tempeh has a nutty, slightly fermented flavor and can work as a meat substitute in just about any dish. I’m a huge fan of its crispy outside and chewy inside that it gets when fried.
Since it comes in slabs, it can be sliced, chopped, or crumbled for your dish. Then it can be marinated, fried, steamed, or baked. Its versatility makes it a joy to cook with.
Because tempeh is a fermented product, its taste may not be for everyone. And while I’m crazy about its firm and chewy texture, it is quite different from the texture of black beans.
Pro Tip: To get tempeh to absorb more flavors, try steaming it first. Use a whole slab or pre-cut it and steam for 5-10 minutes. It will soften up and soak up marinades faster and more effectively.
Final Tips for Black Bean Substitutes
When using lentils to replace black beans, you may want to wait to salt them until they’re done. Some varieties have a natural mineral saltiness, so they’ll hardly need any at all.
If you decide to try cauliflower in place of black beans, you might be wondering what to do with the stems. Cauliflower stems can be eaten, but I’d recommend peeling them and cutting them smaller than the florets. This ensures they’ll cook in the same amount of time.
Finally, if you can find it, black bean tempeh can be a delightful substitute. It’s made with black beans instead of soy and has a chewy texture like the original. Give it a try!
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the best black bean substitute to use as a puree in baking?
White beans like Great Northern and cannellini beans are excellent replacements for black beans in baked goods. They puree well and don’t have strong flavors.
What’s the best substitute for black beans in chili?
Use kidney beans or pinto beans in chili for a similar texture and flavor to black beans.
How can I replace black beans in cold salads?
Chickpeas make a perfect replacement for black beans in cold salads. You can use them straight from the can or cook dry ones and cool them quickly using cold water.