Butter Beans vs. Lima Beans: What’s The Difference?

Written by Em Casalena
Published: October 27, 2022
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The seeds of the Phaseolus lunatus plant are referred to as butter beans, lima beans, and sieva beans. They are offered in both juvenile and mature forms and can be purchased fresh, frozen, or dried.

Believe it or not, lima beans and butter beans are actually from the same plant. The only real difference (which is often up for debate in the horticulture community) is that the term “lima beans” is used to describe younger, fresher beans. Regardless of what you call them, these beans are tasty, protein-rich, and pretty easy to grow!

Comparing Butter Beans vs. Lima Beans

Butter BeansLima Beans
ClassificationPhaseolus lunatusPhaseolus lunatus
Alternative NamesLima Beans, Sieva Beans, Wax Bean, Madagascar Beans, Rangoon BeansButter Beans, Sieva Beans, Wax Bean, Madagascar Beans, Rangoon Beans
OriginCentral and South America, notably PeruCentral and South America. notably Peru
DescriptionA bean or legume with a waxy, buttery texture and nutty flavor that is used in a wide range of American cooking.A bean or legume with a waxy, buttery texture and nutty flavor that is used in a wide range of American cooking. The term “lima beans” often refers to younger beans.
UsesCooking food such as succotash or salads.Cooking food such as succotash or salads.
Growth TipsAlways grow from beans in deep and warm soil. Make sure to space each bean a few inches apart.Always grow from beans in deep and warm soil. Make sure to space each bean a few inches apart.
Interesting FeaturesThese beans are considered toxic and must be cooked first in order to eat them.These beans contain tons of fiber and protein.

The Key Differences Between Butter Beans and Lima Beans

Fresh Lima Beans

Lima beans and butter beans are produced from exactly the same!

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Butter beans and lima beans are the exact same plant. Due to the buttery flavor of the cooked beans, many Americans in various areas occasionally refer to lima beans as “butter beans.” Although you may buy butter beans or lima beans at various stages of maturity, there is no distinction between the two. The younger green-hued beans, which are typically called baby lima beans, have a starchy texture like uncooked fava beans. They can be eaten raw or cooked. Despite its numerous variations, lima beans all come from the same plant. Geographical differences and personal preferences are the only causes of any apparent variances.

Butter beans are a kind of white bean from the phaseolus lunatus plant with a buttery, creamy texture (the terms “lima beans” and “butter beans” will be interchangeable for the remainder of this article). The American South is where the beans are most well-liked.

Butter Beans vs. Lima Beans: Classification

Despite having the same scientific name, Phaseolus lunatus, lima beans go by different names in different parts of the world. They are generally known as butter beans in the southern United States and the United Kingdom. They are known as lima beans elsewhere in the United States. There are also many more names for this type of bean besides lima bean or butter bean. The beans may also be known as butter peas, Gigante beans, Madagascar beans, Rangoon beans, or chad beans, depending on where you locate them. A typical smaller variation is baby lima beans, often known as sieva beans.

Butter Beans vs. Lima Beans: Description

Lima beans or butter beans are large, pale-green beans


Butter or lima beans are large, creamy, filling, and healthy beans. These South American-born legumes are utilized in a wide range of cuisines. They are offered fresh in the late summer growing season, as well as dried or fresh-frozen beans all year round.

Depending on the use, fresh young beans (also known as baby limas) have a thin skin covering a pale green bean that can be removed after cooking or left intact. The thicker, beige-colored skin of mature, dried butter beans turns soft when fully cooked. Butter beans have a mellow, buttery flavor and a smooth, creamy texture. They readily absorb flavors from the sauces they are cooked in. As opposed to cooked, dried beans, fresh butter beans have a little grassier, more vegetal flavor.

Butter Beans vs. Lima Beans: Uses

Butter beans can be used just like any other heritage bean. They are particularly well-liked in stews, salads, and bean soups. When cooked slowly and low in a stew, butter beans become creamy and thick, similar to navy beans or white kidney beans. As an alternative, you can add cooked beans to a brothy soup to add texture or incorporate them into a bean salad with other beans, vegetables, and herbs.

The dish succotash traditionally includes lima beans. The Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island’s traditional cuisine, succotash, utilizes butter beans with a variety of vegetables, including sweet corn, peppers, and okra.

Cooking lima beans with salted pork or ham is also very common. For a salty, flavorful side dish, simmer your lima beans with salted pork and butter. For more taste, color, and texture, add rich and leafy greens like collards, chard, or kale. Butter beans also work nicely in casseroles that are high in protein. Use butter beans in a cheesy or dairy-rich casserole with a crunchy breadcrumb or fried onion topping. Lima beans can also be used to make sweet baked beans.

Butter Beans vs. Lima Beans: Origin

Since 9,000 BC, lima beans have been produced in Peru. It bears the name of Lima, the capital of Peru. The botanical name of the plant, lunatus, which corresponds to the bean’s physical shape, means “half moon.” During the Incan era in the Andes, primary foods were potatoes, grains like quinoa, and lima beans. Through merchants, lima beans rapidly became popular in many nations. By the 1300s, lima beans were being produced in North America. They became well-known all over the world and adopted names like Madagascar beans or Rangoon beans. They are now California’s principal crop and are readily accessible around the United States.

Butter Beans vs. Lima Beans: How to Grow

Lima beans and butter beans come from exactly the same plant.

©Rulli Yulianto/Shutterstock.com

Lima beans are often directly sown around the last spring frost because they normally do not respond well to transplanting. Avoiding over-planting lima beans is the most crucial aspect of growing them. In chilly, moist soil, they will decay. However, many beans need a long growing season of at least 80 days. You can warm the soil by laying down dark-colored plastic to get a head start.

The majority of beans need to be planted with the eye of the beet facing down, two inches deep, roughly four inches apart, and two or more feet between rows. A sunny, well-drained, somewhat fertile, and slightly acidic site would be perfect. Additionally, for healthy growth and to ward off mold or mildew that can bother plants, bean plants should have adequate ventilation. Beans can work well with maize, strawberries, and cucumber and shouldn’t be grown in the same place more than once every four years. Avoid growing beans close to fennel or onion because these plants don’t get along and can hinder the growth of lima beans.

Depending on the cultivar, lima beans can grow on vines or in bushes. Bush beans should be planted with six inches separating each seed, either in rows or blocks. Before the seeds sprout, irrigate the soil quickly and frequently after planting the seeds one to two inches deep. To grow, pole beans will require some sort of support. Before you plant, make sure the trellis, teepee, fence, or other structure is in place. Plant seeds every six inches apart or between three and six per teepee.

Butter Beans vs. Lima Beans: Protections and Conservation

Because lima beans are a herbaceous vine with a rapid growth rate that can grow up to 21 feet in length and become weedy in the wild. It may quickly colonize secondary vegetation and damaged sites, creating thickets that crowd out natural vegetation. Deep roots, drought resistance, and broad environmental adaptation are further characteristics of this plant that aid in its ability to colonize new habitats, including damaged and infertile places. As a result, the lima bean has been classified as invasive in New Zealand, Fiji, the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico. This plant is not in danger of going extinct, and no government agency is currently protecting it.

Butter Beans vs. Lima Beans: Special Features

Lima beans are a good source of protein, magnesium, iron, fiber, and B vitamins. The green shell is a pod, and the tiny white seeds are legumes. Just before you eat, take out the pod. Lima beans must be cooked before eating since they are quite toxic when consumed raw.

While many plants tend to lack a lot of protein, members of the legume family pack a real protein punch. Since they are plants, lima beans are a fantastic complement to a vegetarian or vegan diet that requires a good amount of protein and vitamins.

No matter what you choose to call these beans, they really are a versatile legume to add to your diet. Just remember to cook them first!

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © isparklinglife/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are butter beans and lima beans the same?

Yes. There is little to no difference between lima beans and butter beans.

Why are lima beans often called butter beans?

This is a simple case of different linguistics and nicknames varying among different places. In the southern United States and much of the United Kingdom, they are called butter beans. Everywhere else, they are called lima beans or “limas.”

Are butter beans or lima beans hard to grow?

These beans are quite easy to grow, given you provide them with enough water and plant them in the appropriate agricultural zone.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

  1. North Carolina Extension, Available here: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/phaseolus-lunatus/
  2. US Department of Agriculture, Available here: https://www.nal.usda.gov/collections/stories/lima-beans
  3. , Available here: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/plantanswers/publications/vegetabletravelers/beans.html