Chili Beans vs Kidney Beans: What’s the Difference?

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Chili beans vs kidney beans, which should you use? What exactly are chili beans, anyway? Both types of beans are regularly used in dishes and have unique flavors and textures. Below we’ll cover the similarities and differences between the two, so you can make the best choice for your recipes.

close up of kidney beans

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Beans are a great source of fiber and protein and make meals heartier and more filling. They’re also so versatile and can be used in so many different meals and in different ways. Two popular types of beans are chili beans and kidney beans. I think before we can answer the differences between the two, we need to identify what chili beans and kidney beans actually are. 

What are Chili Beans?

“Chili beans” is kind of a nickname for small red beans. The name “chili beans” is given to red beans that have been cooked with a combination of spices and herbs, including chili powder, garlic, onion, and cumin, that make a chili sauce.

So even though they’re known for their use as chili beans, they have plenty of other uses. Unlike kidney beans, red beans (chili beans) don’t come in different colors. Red beans are common beans that are used to make a lot of Mexican dishes and Spanish dishes.

What are Kidney Beans?

Kidney beans are the types of beans that get their name because they’re shaped like a human kidney. They are larger than red beans, have a tougher skin, and are more dense overall than red beans.

The different types of kidney beans are light red, dark red, or even white. Dark red kidney beans are usually used in calico baked beans and traditional chili recipes, combined with different types of beans. White kidney beans are often confused with great northern beans, cannellini beans, navy beans, and other white beans, but the same is true with these. White kidney beans are tougher, larger beans.

The Differences Between Chili Beans vs Kidney Beans

The key differences between red beans and kidney beans are not huge differences. Even though each of these beans works best used in certain ways, that doesn’t mean they aren’t interchangeable in recipes. One would be a great substitute for the other if you needed them to be. In my opinion, the most important differences are in the texture when it comes to choosing the type of legume you’re going to use in a recipe. 

Flavor

When it comes to taste, the two types of beans do have slightly different flavors. Red beans are slightly sweet and nutty, and kidney beans have a more earthy flavor.

Both types of beans are great for adding flavor and bulk to a dish, but red chili beans are usually used in dishes that require a subtle sweet taste because they do have a slightly sweeter taste than most other beans. Still, the flavor difference isn’t so bold that you couldn’t substitute one for the other. 

Texture 

Red beans are much softer than kidney beans. Red beans break down more quickly when cooked, which means they’re great for adding a creamy texture to dishes. It also makes it a good option for a dish like rice and beans.

The difference in texture between these beans is actually a pretty significant difference, so if the texture is something that you’re very particular about, you may have a preference between these two options. Kidney beans are firmer and hold their shape better when cooked. This makes them ideal for dishes that need a firmer texture, like bean salads or slow cooker chicken tortilla soup

Nutrition 

Both red beans and kidney beans provide an excellent source of protein, dietary fiber, and overall health benefits. Either type of beans will be an excellent choice if you’re just trying to improve your health.

Red beans are higher in iron and calcium than kidney beans, which makes them a great choice for vegetarians and vegans. Kidney beans are higher in magnesium and potassium, making them a great choice for people who need an extra boost of energy. 

Uses 

There are all sorts of popular ways to use both of these types of beans. Chili beans and kidney beans can be used in a variety of dishes.

Red beans are commonly used in stews, soups, casseroles, and for recipes like traditional Mexican red beans and rice.

Kidney beans are usually used in salads, chili recipes, and burritos. I use two different kinds in this taco soup. They’re the best beans for dishes that require them to hold together well. White kidney beans are used in dishes like white chicken chili, along with other white beans.

Both types of beans can also be used as a side dish or as part of a main course. 

The verdict

When it comes down to it, both red beans and kidney beans have their own unique flavor and texture. Kidney beans and all their different varieties are probably the most popular bean of the two. But the type of bean you choose will depend on the dish you’re making and your individual preferences.

Some people have strong opinions about the differences in these beans, but most people don’t even realize there is a difference. Both types of beans are nutritious and delicious and a great choice for any meal!

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