The 8 Best Healthy Substitutes for Beans in Chili
Last summer I took a Spanish class in Costa Rica, and during one class the teacher called on me and asked me to name something we disliked.
It was such a broad question that I fumbled for a moment, and then shrugged and said, “No me gustan frijoles.” (I don’t like beans.)
A few minutes later I was called on again, to say what our favorite food was, and everybody chuckled when I answered, “Burritos sin frijoles.” (burritos without beans)
I don’t hate beans. I’ll eat them. Sometimes.
But I’m definitely not a fan of beans. I always skip the beans when I order from Chipotle, and I don’t eat the baked beans at a barbecue.
And what my daughter used to call “cream beans” at Mexican restaurants? Ugh. No thank you.
So I started researching what other options there were for people who wanted to try something other than beans in their chili.
It turns out that there are a lot of healthy alternatives!
What Other Beans Can You Substitute for Kidney Beans in Chili?
First let’s talk about what you can do if you’re not anti-bean in general, but you don’t particularly like kidney beans (or just don’t have them in the house at the moment.)
In this case, there are several other types of beans that you can use. It’s basically just a matter of personal preference.
- Black beans: Black beans have a similar texture and flavor to kidney beans, and they’re a popular substitute in chili recipes. I’ve heard them described as having an “earthy” flavor, although I’m not exactly sure what that means.
- Pinto beans: Pinto beans are what refried beans (definitely not a fan!) are made of. They’re softer than black beans and have a slightly nutty flavor.
- Cannellini beans: Surprise — cannellini beans are a kidney bean — just a white kidney bean! They’re the same size and shape as they’re red cousins, and they’re often used in Italian dishes. They have a mild flavor and a creamy texture.
- Navy beans: Navy beans have the same creamy white color as cannellini beans, but are smaller and rounder.
- Chickpeas: Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, have a nutty flavor and a slightly firm texture. They’re a good substitute for kidney beans in chili if you want to add a different flavor and texture to your dish.
Why Substitute Beans in Chili?
Now let’s talk about removing beans of all colors, shapes, and sizes from our chili.
There are several reasons why you might want to do that:
You dislike the mushy texture of beans
That’s my main issue with beans. They’re creamy, but they’re savory, and that causes a weird disconnect in my brain. Creamy should be reserved for things like rice pudding and ice cream.
For some people, beans can cause digestive issues such as bloating and gas. Replacing beans with other ingredients let’s them still enjoy bowl of chili without any uncomfortable side effects.
Variety and Flavor
It’s possible that you’re a friend to all beans, but you get tired of the same old, same old, and just want to try something new to jazz up your chili a little.
I’ve never been to Texas, but according to House of Yum, true Texas chili, or chili con carne, doesn’t contain beans (or onions or tomatoes).
As I understand it, the reason is that these ingredients change the flavor too much and make it too much like a stew.
So the simplest solution to avoiding beans in your chili is to just make Texas chili.
Best Substitutes for Beans in Chili
Here are 8 great options that you can substitute for the beans in your favorite chili recipe.
Wait … aren’t lentils beans?
Nope. Lentils are grain legumes that contains lots of fiber and protein.
“Legumes” and “beans” aren’t synonymous. All beans are legumes, but not all legumes are beans.
According to Master Class, lentils are much smaller and flatter than beans, which are usually plump and oval or kidney shaped.
Also, lentils are lower in indigestible sugars and lower in carbs than beans are. And they also have a shorter cooking time than beans, so your chili will probably be ready a bit quicker than usual.
They do have a similar texture and flavor to beans, which means — surprise, surprise! — that I’m personally not a big fan of lentils either.
To use lentils in your chili recipe, start by rinsing them thoroughly and soaking them for a few hours. Then add them to the pot with your other ingredients and simmer until they’re tender.
You may need to add a bit more liquid to the pot to accommodate the lentils.
Here’s another legume that isn’t a bean!
Split peas are a great source of protein, fiber, and other nutrients. They’re made by splitting the whole pea in half, which makes them cook faster and easier to digest than whole peas. Split peas come in two varieties: green and yellow.
They’re an excellent substitute for beans in chili because they add a thick, creamy texture and a slightly sweet flavor.
To use split peas in chili, simply add them to the pot along with the other ingredients and allow them to cook until they’re tender. You may need to adjust the amount of liquid in the recipe to accommodate the split peas, as they will absorb quite a bit of liquid as they cook.
Quinoa is a versatile and nutritious grain that can also be used as a substitute for beans in chili. It has a slightly nutty flavor and a texture that is similar to beans, which makes it a great addition to chili.
To use quinoa or brown rice in your chili recipe, rinse it thoroughly and add it to the pot with your other ingredients. Again, you may need to adjust the amount of liquid in the recipe to accommodate the quinoa.
You can also add other gluten-rice grains, like brown rice, polenta, or grits.
Another option for bean-free chili is to use vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, or eggplant. You’ll end up with a chili packed with nutrients and fiber — and fewer carbs.
Soy is a great low-carb substitute for beans. You can use tofu, endamame, whole soybeans, tempeh or texturized vegetable protein (TVP).
To me, adding potatoes does start to transform the dish from “chili” to “stew,” but I guess it doesn’t matter what we call it.
Personally, I recommend sweet potatoes — plus some cinnamon or nutmeg.
Toasted Seeds and Nuts
I love cashews, walnuts, pecans, or almonds in my cookies and brownies, but I never would have thought to add it to my chili — what a great idea!
If nuts are too pricey, or you’re dealing with a nut allergy, consider using sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds.
An easy way to avoid the carbs, digestive issues, and yucky texture of beans is to just double your meat! You can use ground beef, ground turkey, chicken, and/or pork sausage. Don’t be afraid to mix meats.