What are kidney beans?

Native to the Americas, kidney beans are so called because of their shape and come in very many sizes and colours, from ivory-white to blood-red and black. Although differing a little in flavour and looks, they are often interchangeable in recipes.

How to prepare kidney beans

Red kidney beans are poisonous if not boiled furiously for 20 mins during their initial cooking. The secret is never, ever to cook them in the water in which they have been soaked but to drain and then rinse them well before putting into fresh water. The soaking water absorbs much of the ingredient that upsets the gut.

How to cook kidney beans

Dried beans should be soaked overnight. If you don’t have much time, start them in hot water and then four to five hours should be enough. Throw away the soaking water (see introduction) when the beans are plump and slightly softer and the skins are no longer wrinkled. Rinse them well. They must be cooked in water – without salt – before adding to any other dish, even for recipes such as baked beans or stews with tomato and especially, salty bacon. Only then do they get the additional slow cooking that allows them to absorb other flavours. It’s common in some dishes to cook them until they disintegrate, making a thicker, emulsified sauce.

Canned beans can be drained, rinsed and then used at once with other ingredients immediately.

All kidney beans once cooked can be enjoyed cold in salads or made into purées with the addition of oil and served as a dip. Red kidney beans are often associated with chilli con carne.

See our step-by-step guide on how to make chilli con carne.

Recipe suggestions:

Try a simple kidney bean curry, a mild chilli & bean pasta bake, chicken & bean enchiladas, or a slow-cooked bean casserole with classic French flavours.

For something a little different, try lamb chops with crushed kidney beans as an alternative to mash.

How to store kidney beans

Dried beans last for years if kept in a dry, dark place, safe from pests. Canned cooked beans last as long and should be a basic in every store cupboard.


Canned, pre-cooked beans are often more easily available than dried varieties. These are a very good choice for cooking with, saving hours of care, but should always be drained and rinsed before use.

Choose the best kidney beans

Dried kidney beans of all kinds should be whole and shiny. Long storage makes them prone to insect intrusion, so if buying in bulk, inspect carefully. Pre-packed dried beans are usually more reliable.

Canned pre-cooked kidney beans present no problems. Some come packed in water, which is thickened by starches naturally produced by the beans, but it can also contain preservatives, so this should be rinsed away.

For plenty of inspiration, try our collection of ultimate kidney bean recipes.