What Are Black Beans?

A Guide to Buying, Cooking, and Storing Black Beans

Black beans (raw and cooked)

The Spruce / Peggy Trowbridge Filippone

Black beans are about the size of a pea, up to 1/2-inch long, with the slightly less pronounced boat shape common to kidney beans. They have a satiny black skin and a white center. Black beans are enjoyed by many cultures around the world, and are packed with flavor.

Fast Facts

  • Black beans are also known as turtle beans, caviar criollo, and frijoles negros.
  • These beans date back at least 7,000 years when they were a staple food in the diets of Central and South Americans.
  • Dried black beans can be stored indefinitely, but begin to lose their moisture after 1 to 2 years.

What Are Black Beans?

One of more than 500 varieties of kidney beans, the black bean is native to the Americas but has become popular around the world. In Louisiana Cajun and Creole cuisine, the turtle bean has become a staple. Black beans are about the size of an oblong pea, up to 1/2-inch long, with the slightly less pronounced boat-shape common to kidney beans. As per their name, black beans have black skin and a white center. When cooked, the beans have a creamy texture with a strong, slightly sweet flavor. Black beans are not expensive to purchase, especially in bulk.


Black beans are legumes, which include beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts. There are a number of types of black beans, including Domino, Black Magic, Blackhawk, Condor, and Raven. Black turtle beans are the most common and the most readily available in grocery stores in both dried and canned form.

Black Bean Uses

Canned black beans should be rinsed before using. They can be enjoyed cold, cooked, pureed, or baked. Dried black beans should be rinsed and soaked in water for two to four hours before cooking. Another option is a quick soak method. Bring beans to a boil in plenty of water for two minutes, remove from heat, and let stand for an hour. Drain before cooking.

To cook pre-soaked beans, rinse under water, then add three parts water to one part beans. Bring to a boil and then simmer for an hour to two. Beans should be tender when pierced with a fork. Dried beans can also be prepared in a pressure cooker or slow-cooker.

How to Cook With Black Beans

It can be helpful to make a big batch of beans and incorporate them into meals throughout the week. For breakfast, black beans are often enjoyed mixed with eggs or served alongside eggs, rice, and tortillas. Black beans are delicious cold in a salad, mashed as a dip, or mixed into a veggie burger. For heartier fare, black beans and rice is a classic, black bean chili is a popular variation on a beloved dish, and black bean soup is healthy and filling.

What Do Black Beans Taste Like?

Black beans are soft, creamy, and mild. They don't have an overwhelming flavor, which is why they are good in so many dishes. They take on flavor from salt and the ingredients they are cooked with.

Black Bean Substitutes

It's easy to swap out one type of bean for another, especially in recipes like soups, stews, or casseroles. Some will look quite different, have different textures, and tastes. Great northern and pinto beans are most similar to black beans in texture.

Black Bean Recipes

Eat them hot, cold, or baked into food items. Here are some ideas:

Where to Buy Black Beans

Black beans are sold in most major grocery stores in both canned and dried form. Choose canned beans with intact cans that are not rusted, bulging, or dented. If you buy dried beans, you can buy them in one-, five-, or ten-pound bags.

When buying in bulk, which is very inexpensive, purchase only as much as you will use in a month. If the bulk bins are open, make sure they are covered and there is no sign of moisture, spoilage, or pests. Tiny pinholes in dried beans indicate bug infestation and should be avoided. Avoid any shriveled or broken beans.


Keep dried black beans in a sealed, airtight container in a cool, dry place, for up to a year. Despite their long shelf-life, do not mix new beans with any remaining older dried beans when restocking your dried bean inventory. Dried beans of different ages will cook at different rates, as older beans will take longer to cook.

Canned black beans should also be stored in a dry place. Avoid denting or banging the can. Once cooked, beans can stay in the refrigerator for four to five days.

Cooked black beans freeze very well. To freeze cooked beans, portion the cooled beans into airtight containers and cover with cooking liquid. You may choose to add a little white wine vinegar as well (about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons per pound of dried beans), which can help keep the whole beans from splitting when frozen. You can freeze cooked black beans for up to six months, but after three months, their texture becomes dry. To use frozen beans, simply thaw in the refrigerator overnight or defrost in the microwave.