What is Lima Bean (Butter Bean, Fordhook)?

Phaseolus lunatus L.

Bean Family: Leguminosae (Fabaceae)

Lima bean is one of the most widely available beans. The two common cultivars in North America, come in two sizes. The large lima bean is called Fordhook or Butter Bean or Madagascar Bean and the smaller lima bean is called Baby Lima (Henderson, Dixie). The beans are named after Lima, the Capital of Peru.

Below is a photo of Large Lima Bean and Baby Lima 

Lima bean is truly a cosmopolitan crop, cultivated as far north as Canada, as far south as Argentina, and is widespread in Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia. It’s also very variable, because different varieties are cultivated in these diverse ecological zones, where it’s grown. (Springer.com)

Large Lima Bean (Fordhook or Butter Bean)

Large Lima bean is a cultivated variety of the Lima bean, Phaseolus lunatus. The beans are large, flattened and cream coloured. They are harvested when mature and dried . Dried beans need to be soaked before cooking and they require a lengthy cooking time. Large lima can also be sold green, frozen and canned.

The dried large Lima beans are more starchy. They can be added to soups and casseroles and also used to make succotash.

Baby Lima  (Henderson, Dixie or Sieva Type)

Baby Lima is a cultivated variety of the Lima bean, Phaseolus lunatus. It is mostly harvested green because it’s ideal for canning and freezing. It’s also harvested when mature and dried. This, of course, causes a lot of confusion because some people think that Baby Lima is a separate species from the large sized Fordhook (Butter Bean, Large Lima) .

The baby Lima is a milder tasting variety compared to the bigger lima. It’s sold frozen as well as dried and canned. In some parts of the USA baby lima is referred to as Butter Bean.

Nutrition of Large Lima Beans

Lima beans are high in dietary fibre and low in fat. 100g Large Lima Beans provides 338 calories and the following: (BulkBarn)

  • Fat: 0.6g; Sodium: 18mg
  • Cholesterol: 0g;
  • Carbohydrate 63g (Fibre 19g, sugar 8g);
  • Protein: 21g;
  • Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): Calcium 10% and Iron (80%)

Cultivated Varieties of Lima Beans outside USA and Canada

Since Lima bean is widely cultivated, the names of the cultivated varieties may differ from place to place and the common names may differ from language to language and place to place.Here are some of the common names that refer to Lima bean, just to give you an idea of how variable it’s. (this list is not complete):

Butter bean, Madagascar bean, Broad bean, Carolina Bean, Civet Bean, Rangoon Bean, Sieva bean, Java bean, Burma bean, White Burma, Frash bean, Duffin bean (En); Haricot de Lima, pois du Cap, pois souche, pois savon (French); Feijão de Lima, feijão favona, feijão espadinho (Portuguese). Mfiwi (Swahili). (PROTA)

The shape of Lima beans may be kidney, rhomboid to round, the size 1-3cm long. The colour is very variable from white, grey, yellow, brown, red, orange, purple or black and may be speckled, mottled or full coloured. I hope this gives you an idea of how variable the Lima bean is, even if your corner of the world has only two types.


Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

8 thoughts

  1. After three years of looking for frozen fordhook Lima beans in the markets where I used to find them, I finally scored today at an Acme in a little Silver, NJ. Needless to say, I bought the only four left, Heaven awaits.

    1. I buy my Fordhook limas at my grocery store, if your grocery doesn’t carry them see if they can order them for you.

      1. Thank you Kathy. The bulk food store in my area only carries dried butter beans. They don’t stock frozen. I hope Array finds your answer useful. Have a great summer!


    2. Hope you have found some Fordhook Limas by now. I too purchase mine at my local grocer, which is Publix . Have you tried Amazon ?

      I just finished a bag . Simply divine !

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