Top 10 best substitutes for adzuki beans in sweet and savory dishes

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  June 27, 2022

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Adzuki beans, aduki beans, red mung beans, whatever you call it; not having them when your recipe calls for them is a pain.

Adzuki beans can be hard to find sometimes, as they are less common than other types of beans, at least in the West.

Top 10 best substitutes for adzuki beans in sweet and savory dishes

Since your presence tells me that you are ok with replacing your adzuki beans with something else in your recipe today, I might have some exciting substitutes for you!

Yes, they might not exactly have the same flavor, and a single option can not be a do-it-all substitute for every recipe. Still, they’ll undoubtedly suffice in most of your dishes.

As for the best of the best substitute for adzuki beans, I would probably give it to black beans. Due to the taste and texture similarity, and good nutritional value, they are an excellent replacement for adzuki beans.

That being clear, let’s jump into a deep discussion about each option you can possibly try.

What to look for in an adzuki bean substitute

Ok, so I have already established that not all of the options are a do-it-all for every recipe, right?

This leads us to the fact that you might have to choose different beans for different dishes most of the time.

Thus, it becomes extremely important to know the type of taste and texture you are looking for.

If I have to describe the taste of adzuki beans, they have a very mild and nutty taste, with a very conspicuous hint of sweetness that makes them a highly preferred choice for sweet dishes in general.

In fact, that’s one of the reasons why there’s no perfect substitute for adzuki beans in desserts; no bean is as sweet.

Favorite Asian Recipes
Favorite Asian Recipes

Some of the most common dishes that contain adzuki beans as their primary ingredient include the east Asian staple, Anko, and other sweet dishes like oshiruko, and brownies.

The best thing? You won’t even have to add a sweetener in most cases after boiling the beans.

Texture-wise, adzuki beans are very soft and smooth, however, not completely smooth as it’s other alternatives, like cannellini, for example.

If I had to describe the closest bean to adzuki beans in terms of texture, it would be kidney beans. Both have almost the same softness after boiling, however, adzuki beans are just a little less grainy.

Adzuki beans and how to best replace them in a recipe

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Talking of the alternatives, here are some general questions you would like to ask yourself as far as the overall taste and texture is involved:

Is the dish you are making one of the east Asian desserts, like Anko?

In that case, you would like to use a bean that is a little nutty, preferably sweet, and generally very soft textured with as little graininess as possible.

Or is it a savory bean dish that calls for a little nuttiness, meatiness, and a generally robust flavor to complement the overall taste? .

Or maybe, some sweet and savory dishes that call for a combination of both? Once you have that figured out, pick the option that serves your purpose best!

Best substitutes for adzuki beans

Now you know what to look for in a replacement for adzuki beans, let’s dive into my list of favorite alternatives.

Black beans: best substitute for adzuki beans overall

Consumed as a staple food in central and south America, black beans or black turtle beans are a great adzuki beans substitute you can confidently use in both sweet and savory dishes.

Black beans have a soft, creamy, and mild taste that complements vegan stews, soups, salads, burritos, enchiladas, and even stir-fries.

Plus, you can also make black bean paste that you can use as a filling for sweet dishes like mooncake (one of my favorite Asian ball-shaped foods) or Dou Sha Bao (red bean buns).

If you really want to get close to the adzuki beans flavor, you can add some ground cashew or peanuts for extra nuttiness and some sugar or another sweetener like rice syrup for sweetness.

Black beans as the best replacement for adzuki beans

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Apart from that, black beans are also packed with great nutrients that have proven effects on decreasing blood pressure and maintaining blood sugar levels.

The aforementioned effect is even enhanced when you consume black beans with other high-carb food, especially rice!

Its consumption has also been linked to increasing the gut bacteria that increase insulin sensitivity. However, there’s some room for research there.

All in all, with a very soft texture and creamy taste, black turtle beans can easily replace adzuki beans in a long list of dishes!

The best way to cook dry black beans, or any dry bean, is by using a pressure cooker. This sounds scary to some, but it is easier than you think:

Red kidney beans: best substitute for adzuki beans in savory dishes

Red kidney beans are a great substitute for adzuki beans and almost share the same texture and taste, however, with a little meatiness.

Since adzuki are also called red beans, an unfamiliar eye can easily mistake them for one another.

However, red beans have their signature kidney shape with a size twice that of red adzuki beans.

Red kidney beans as a replacement for adzuki beans

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You can confidently use red beans to substitute adzuki beans in savory dishes like miso soup, mushroom soup, stews, and practically anything that isn’t sweet.

You can also use red kidney beans to make red bean paste, with the same ingredients, method, and uses as adzuki beans.

But guess what, where the meatiness is one of red kidney beans’ greatest qualities, it certainly makes them unfit to replace adzuki beans in sweet recipes, for me at least.

Even the slightest hint of meatiness in a desert would be a complete turn-off for me. But if you like it, there’s no restriction. In fact, a lot of people do!

For me, I would mix them with some veggies salad and sprinkle them with a bunch of spices to turn the meatiness into pure pleasure.

Believe me when I say this, they taste much better that way.

As for the nutritional value and health benefits of red beans, they are incredibly high in fiber and play a huge role in lowering the overall blood pressure and reducing the susceptibility to heart diseases.

Additionally, red beans are a great source of folate; a nutrient especially important for pregnant women as it helps with the neurological development of the fetus.

All in all, it’s one of the most nutritionally rich and tastiest adzuki bean substitutes you can use in savory dishes.

Mung beans

Even though mung beans belong to the same family as adzuki beans, their taste is way more different than each other except for the little sweetness.

Unlike adzuki beans, mung beans are smaller in size and have a green color. Still, they both share the same shape.

Mung beans as a subsitute for adzuki beans

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Mung beans have an exciting, earthy, nutty, and slightly sweet taste that beautifully complements almost every savory dish, along with a few sweet dishes.

It is traditionally grown in South Asian countries like Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh and is used to make curries and complement dishes like sticky and parboiled rice.

There’s also a special south Asian dish from the Northeastern part of Pakistan and Afghanistan, natively called Ghate Wreje (or Motay Chawal), in which mashed mung beans, parboiled rice, and pulled beef are mixed.

They are then cooked over a slow wood fire, added with many different spices, and served as a signature winter dish.

Anyways, back to the real thing, you can substitute adzuki beans with mung beans in a bunch of dishes, including bean soups, rice dishes, stews, noodles, and salad.

Although many people also like to use it in desserts, I wouldn’t highly recommend that as the earthy notes can alter the dish’s overall taste.

But if you like it, well, go for it!

The health benefits of mung beans include better digestive mobility and decreased LDL or harmful cholesterol levels.

If you LOVE the taste of mung beans just like me, try making this Easy Vegan Mung Bean Egg Recipe

Pinto beans

Pinto beans can be substituted for both adzuki beans and kidney beans as the flavor and texture of all these beans are close enough.

However, pinto beans are just a little sweeter.

Known as frijoles pintos in Spanish, the pinto bean is mainly grown in Mexico and most of the southwestern parts of the United States, with common use in dishes made in North and Central America.

Use pinto beans as a substitute for adzuki beans

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You can either eat pinto beans whole, mashed, or fried, or put them in vegetable soups, stews, dips, and even burritos. They are also used as a complementary dish with rice.

Additionally, Pinto beans are also a good source of protein, fibers, vitamins, and minerals, and have proven positive effects on overall blood sugar levels and heart health.

As well as, they are a rich source of antioxidants and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Overall, a good substitute for adzuki beans. Just make sure to soak it before using it to lower the cooking time, and get that extra soft texture.

Also learn what are the top 12 best substitutes for black beans in chilis, salads, and stews

Cannellini beans

Also known as the white kidney beans, cannellini beans have a very mellow, starchy, and buttery taste, with a subtle note of nuttiness and a very creamy texture.

Cannellini beans are a great replacement for adzuki beans in many dishes

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Although cannellini beans are often used to substitute red kidney beans in a myriad of dishes, you can also use them to substitute adzuki beans in several dishes, including salads, stews, pasta, and soups.

They also make quite good white bean paste, with the same steps you would follow for red bean paste. The only extra step would be to peel off the skin to maintain the creamy texture.

Despite the huge difference between the taste of adzuki beans and white kidney beans, cannellini beans are used in many Asian dishes (especially the savory ones) and are often a preferable replacement for adzuki beans.

As for the health benefits, white kidney beans are a rich source of proteins, fibers, and folate, and help in maintaining blood pressure and strengthening bones.

In simple words, a great option if you don’t care about the color aesthetics much.

Fava beans

If you don’t mind the extra effort of blanching and removing the green shells of fava beans, they sure are a thing of taste to replace adzuki beans.

You can also make it easy for yourself and buy the already blanched and shelled kind.

Not suited for sweet dishes, fava beans, or broad beans, have a dominantly buttery and nutty flavor with an underlying bitterness that beautifully complements their overall taste.

Using fava beans as a substitute for adzuki beans

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Recipe-wise, broad beans or fava beans are very versatile and are used in many ways.

Soups, stews, pastes, salad, falafel, you name it. Not to mention that you can boil, steam, roast, and even fry them.

Medically, fava beans are packed with health-friendly goodies that boost immunity, help with blood pressure, aid in weight loss, and even treat symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Though not perfect, fava beans are a decent option when you don’t have anything else at hand.

Butter beans

Well, if you have liked any of the alternatives above by now, I can easily assume that you don’t mind replacing adzuki with something that tastes totally different!

That being said, butter beans are another adzuki beans substitute you would love to try.

These have a very smooth and creamy texture and, as you can imagine, a very mild buttery flavor.

Butter beans as a substitute for adzuki beans

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If the butter beans are fresh, you will also taste a grassy and vegetal flavor in them compared to dried or cooked beans.

However, I would never recommend eating them fresh due to some health concerns.

Since butter beans are pretty famous for soaking up sauces and absorbing flavors, they are always considered an excellent option for savory dishes, including soups, stews, and casseroles.

You can also use butter beans to substitute adzuki bean paste, which you can use as a filling for most of your favorite sweet Asian recipes, including mooncakes, doushabao, and manjo.

The only difference is that the taste might not be as beany and earthy as adzuki beans.

Other than that, butter beans are also rich in vitamins and minerals, along with ample soluble fiber that aids digestion.

Not to mention their role in lowering high blood pressure.

In other words, butter beans are a great-tasting nutritional powerhouse and one of the best adzuki bean substitutes.

Black sesame seeds

I would not call it the most versatile choice when we talk about adzuki beans substitutes, but when there’s nothing else you can find, black sesame seeds can be a good option.

They have a nutty and earthy taste and can be used in a limited number of sweet and mild-flavored dishes, including fillings and pastes for sticky rice cakes.

Black sesame seeds as a possible substitute for adzuki beans

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Obviously not as popular as regular sesame seeds in Chinese and Japanese cuisine, these are still very much a popular choice for desserts and sweet pastes.

Health benefits of black sesame seeds include improved nervous system, healthy bones, and improved blood vessel function.

Cranberry beans

Cranberry beans have a roughly similar shape to kidney beans. However, what distinguishes them is the beige-pink color aestheticized by red-brown spots.

They have a mildly sweet taste, with dominant notes of chestnut-like flavor that makes them sort of unique compared to other enlisted options.

Cranberry beans as a substitute for adzuki beans

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When cooked, cranberry beans, also called borlotti beans, have a very creamy texture and a little less pronounced flavor compared to aduki beans.

Thus, you can use them in various savory recipes like stews dishes and soups.

It is also a popular substitute for pinto beans and cannellini beans, given that you don’t mind the color contrast!

Split yellow mung beans

Split yellow mung beans are another awesome alternative if you are more into sweet dishes.

Like many other beans on the list, these also have a mildly sweet and nutty taste and are commonly used in Asian dishes.

Split yellow mung beans mung dal as a substitute for adzuki beans

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When adzuki beans aren’t available, you can always put yellow mung beans in your curries, soups, and stews, and use them in a paste and filling for moon cakes, sesame balls, hopia, etc.

Apart from that, yellow mung beans are also quite healthy, with proven benefits such as regulating blood sugar levels, improving heart health, and preventing colorectal cancer.

Use it in a 1:1 ratio for adzuki beans for the best results.

FAQs

Are red beans and adzuki beans the same?

No, they aren’t! Though the term “red beans” is often used interchangeably for both azuki and kidney beans due to their slight color similarity, they should not be confused for one another.

Are goya small red beans the same as adzuki beans?

No, both are different. Although both are referred to as red beans due to the color similarity, they are not the same, though they can be used as substitutes.

Are black beans and adzuki beans the same?

Well, there’s a variety of adzuki beans that has black color.

But if you are referring to black turtle beans, then no, adzuki beans and black beans are entirely different.

Find out what are the best substitutions for black beans when cooking stews or salads

Conclusion

There are a variety of adzuki bean substitutes that can be used if they are not available.

In this article, we went through all the possible substitutes you can use in different dishes, the savory ones especially.

Since all of the substitutes above have their own unique flavor and texture, all of them will add something different to your dish, some better than the other.

So the next time you are looking for an adzuki bean substitute, don’t hesitate to try one of these options.

Just be a bit careful with the requirements of your recipe. You don’t want to put something bitter and earthy in a dessert ;)

Next, check out the top 10 best substitute for edamame if you can’t find it in the shops

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.