What Really Separates Lima Beans From Edamame

A bean may be tiny, but the variety of beans on the market is a lot bigger — take a stroll by the canned goods section of the grocery store to see for yourself. Knowing all the different types of beans and how to use them can be overwhelming. While some bean types are the same thing by with a different name, like chickpeas and garbanzo beans, others merely look alike but come from an entirely different plant. Lima beans and edamame are two kinds of legumes that fall into the latter category.

Lima beans can be light green in color, which makes them appear similar to edamame. However, lima beans and edamame are not the same. Not only did these beans originate in different parts of the world, but they also have different flavors and textures. Understanding these differences can help you get the most out of both types of beans.

All you need to know about lima beans

Lima beans, also known as butter beans, have roots as a wild species in Central America but were domesticated and grown by Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas — the name of the bean is a tribute to the Incan homeland (modern-day Peru) and the capital city, Lima. Native to the Americas, lima beans play a significant role in the traditions and cuisines of indigenous groups. They were a member of the native "three sisters," or the main three crops grown by indigenous communities; the other two were corn and squash. When the beans are very fresh, even in their pods, and still green, we tend to refer to them as lima beans, which are great in more fresh preparations like salads. 

Lima beans have a buttery, creamy taste and consistency, lending them the alternative name of butter beans, and they are larger than most other beans, lending them the other name, gigante beans. Their size makes them a great addition to soups and stews that call for beans, like hearty Italian ribollita soup, as they become even more tender and plump as they soak up the broth. They are also the namesake ingredient of Southern Lima Beans, the all-American comfort food.

Edamame is a different bean with a different story

Edamame comes from Japan, which is worlds away from the first lima bean. It is a soybean harvested before it is fully mature. Unlike lima beans, which go by the same name no matter when you harvest them, edamame's maturity level distinguishes it from the rest of the soybean family in terms of flavor, color and texture. Though soybeans have been grown in China for over 7000 years, The Japan Times notes that the custom of eating fresh green soybeans started in the mid-Heian Period, around 794-1185.

Edamame has a sweet, earthy, and nutty flavor. The ratio of protein to starch is higher in edamame than in lima beans, giving it more of a firm, chewy bite. They make a great snack fresh from the pod, roasted with other traditional Asian flavors, or sprinkled atop of a salad or poke bowl. When all is said and done, the more beans you can work into your meals the better, no matter the type.