What Beans Are Red Beans?

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If you have ever wanted to cook a dish that called for red beans, such as red beans and rice, you may have been confused about which red beans to use. There is more than one type of bean that is red in color and most of these red-colored beans are interchangeable in bean dishes.


The adzuki bean is an Oriental bean that is dark red in color. It is used to make pastes that go into breads, dumplings and sweet cakes. The adzuki bean is a highly desirable bean because of its rich red color. Dried adzuki beans are soaked and then cooked with rice. The adzuki bean is primarily grown in Japan and China, but can also be found in Korea, New Zealand, India, Taiwan, the Philippines and Thailand.

Small Red Beans

Perhaps the most common bean used in Cajun red beans and rice is the small red bean. The small red bean is also known as the Mexican red bean or simply the red bean. Small red beans have a brighter red color than pinto beans but they are similar to, and interchangeable with, pinto beans and kidney beans. They are smaller and rounder than kidney beans. Small red beans are used in chili and they are used to make refried beans.

Kidney Beans

Kidney beans can be either dark red or white in color and are shaped like a human kidney. The dark red kidney beans are used in dishes, such as red beans and rice, chili, soup or stew. Red kidney beans are sold as canned beans or dried beans. Don not eat raw kidney beans because they contain a toxin called phytohaemagglutnin, or kidney bean lectin. Eating raw kidney beans can cause diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Cooked kidney beans contain a smaller amount of kidney bean lectin and are safe to eat.

Pinto Beans

Pinto beans are usually beige, but they are mottled with reddish-brown splotches. Pinto beans can be substituted for red beans in red beans and rice. The pinto bean is the most consumed dried bean in the United States. Pinto beans are often used for making refried beans and they are usually mashed as a filling for burritos. Pinto beans have long been a staple food of the lower class where they are usually eaten with rice and cornbread. Pinto beans have the most fiber of any beans and are packed with protein.