Beans are an incredibly popular food used in traditional Latin American dishes, and are becoming even more popular worldwide with the increased interest in plant-based diets. When comparing black beans vs. pinto beans and deciding which to use in your meals, it’s important to consider how they differ in terms of nutrition, flavor, color, and their uses in traditional dishes.
Let’s learn more about these differences so you can get cooking!
Origins of black beans vs. pinto beans
Black beans and pinto beans are both members of the Fabaceae family and Phaseolus vulgaris species, also known as “common beans”1. They are both native to Peru and Mexico2 and have historically been used in many traditional Latin American dishes. Black beans and pinto beans play an important role in indigenous diets. They’ve been consumed in South and Central America for over 8,000 years!
Thanks to their impressive health benefits and culinary versatility, they’ve also become popular in cuisines around the world.
Nutrition & health
Black and pinto beans are members of the legume family and are classified under both the vegetable and protein foods groups under USDA’s MyPlate meal planning guidelines. This is because they provide fiber and antioxidants (similar to vegetables) while also being excellent sources of protein.
Overall, black and pinto beans have very similar amounts of macronutrients, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They’re both low in saturated fat and cholesterol and provide the same amount of protein, fat, fiber, sodium, iron, and zinc, with some slight differences in other nutrients.
Pinto beans are slightly higher in calories, with about 18 more calories per cup than black beans. Most of these extra calories come from the four additional grams of carbohydrates that pinto beans contain.
Pinto beans are slightly higher in potassium, a nutrient important for maintaining normal blood pressure levels, as well as calcium, which we know to be essential for strong bones and teeth. Additionally, their slightly higher folate content makes them a great choice for pregnant women.
Black beans, on the other hand, are higher in magnesium3. This mineral supports proper nerve and muscle function and is required for the body to produce glutathione, a powerful antioxidant.
Both beans are great sources of antioxidants and phenolic acids, with black beans being a better source of anthocyanins (thanks to their dark purplish color). They’re also higher in ergothioneine4, an uncommon antioxidant found in black and red beans, liver, kidney, and oyster mushrooms studied for its ability to protect the body against oxidative stress.
Pinto beans are a better source of kaempferol2, an anti-inflammatory flavonol linked to a lower risk of developing chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and cancer.
When looking at the big picture, the small nutritional differences between black beans and pinto beans probably aren’t as important as the things they have in common, such as being good sources of fiber, protein, micronutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds. Both beans should be enjoyed in the diet, along with other varieties of beans, to provide the greatest variety and unique benefits of each type.
Health benefits of black beans vs. pinto beans
In addition to being incredibly nutrient-dense, beans are associated with an abundance of health benefits. Eating beans has been shown to lower total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which are both markers of increased risk for heart disease.2 In fact, beans are so good for the heart that eating them at least four times a week5 is linked to lower risks of both cardiovascular and coronary heart disease.
The amazing phenolic compounds and antioxidants in beans also help reduce the risk of prostate, colon, and breast cancers, as well as other chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and obesity.2
Beans are also effective in managing blood sugar levels thanks to their high fiber content, which slows down how quickly the body digests and absorbs carbohydrates from a meal.
All in all, black and pinto beans provide similar health benefits since their nutrient content is pretty much the same. One isn’t really healthier than the other, and it’s best to include both regularly in the diet in order to reap the benefits of both.
Black beans and pinto beans are both available in dried or canned forms. Dried beans tend to be more cost-effective and can be infused with more flavor when cooked with various seasonings. It’s also easier to control the added sodium content when cooking beans yourself.
Comparatively, canned beans are a convenient option that are fully cooked and can be added directly to recipes and meals once drained. They can be added to recipes in a pinch since they don’t need to be soaked overnight and require minimal cooking equipment.
Canned beans won’t be able to absorb as much flavor as dried beans since they’ve already absorbed so much water, but one way to account for this is to use canned beans with added salt and rinse them well under cool water before adding to a recipe. The inside of the beans will be more flavorful, and rinsing will remove most of the excess salt from the outside of the beans.
When cooked without any seasonings, both black and pinto beans taste pretty bland. This is actually a benefit, however, as beans tend to take on the flavors of whatever they’re cooked with.
Black beans have a slightly more intense, earthy flavor due to their anthocyanin content, while pinto beans are milder and will blend in better with other ingredients.
Black beans have a beautiful dark purplish-black color due to their high levels of anthocyanin, the pigment known for giving blueberries, blackberries, and red or black grapes their color as well. Because they’re so dark, black beans stand out in any dish; they aren’t meant to take a back seat. When cooked from dried, black beans impart their color to other ingredients they’re cooked with.
Pinto beans are a light brown color, with spotting of darker brown throughout. They can be cooked in a wider variety of recipes without impacting the overall color of the dish.
Cooked black beans are firmer in texture than pinto beans, which are softer and slightly creamier. While both are eaten whole or mashed, the soft, creamy texture of pinto beans lends them particularly well to being mashed.
Black beans are used more often in dishes that need a firmer texture and bite, such as tacos and black bean burgers, although they become softer and more mashable the longer they’re cooked.
Both types of beans are eaten whole, mashed, or blended in traditional Latin American dishes and other types of recipes. Black beans are commonly used in dishes such as:
- Frijoles negros – simmered in a pot with onion, herbs, and spices
- Black bean soup – beans may be whole or partially blended to thicken the soup
- Black bean tacos
- Venezuelan arepas – black beans can be used to stuff the arepas or served alongside them
- Gallo pinto – the national dish of Costa Rica; a blend of rice and beans cooked with salsa Lizano
- Moros y Cristianos – a Cuban rice and bean dish
- Enfrijoladas – a Mexican dish similar to enchiladas, where tortillas are dipped in a creamy black bean sauce, filled, and topped with more sauce
- Black bean burgers
- Chilled black bean and vegetable salads
- Burritos and burrito bowls
- Black bean brownies
Pinto beans are often prepared in these ways:
- Refried beans – mashed with a source of fat and served as a side in Tex-Mex dishes or spread on bolillo rolls to make molletes (Mexican open-faced sandwiches)
- Frijoles charros – simmered in a pot with tomatoes, garlic, jalapeños, and meat (leave the latter out for a plant-based vegan version)
- Added to plant-based chili and served with cornbread
- Burritos and burrito bowls
Black beans and pinto beans are both incredibly nutritious legumes, serving as excellent sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in plant-based diets. While they have minor differences in terms of nutrition, they offer similar benefits for regulating blood sugar, reducing inflammation, and lowering the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Where black and pinto beans truly differ are in their color, texture, flavor, and uses in traditional recipes. Ultimately, the right choice will depend on your personal taste preferences and the dish you plan to use them in. Try incorporating both types of beans into your cooking to add variety to plant-based meals!
Black Beans vs. Pinto Beans – FAQ
Are black beans or pinto beans healthier?
Overall, black beans and pinto beans are equally healthy. They’re both great sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and help reduce inflammation in the body. Black beans contain more magnesium, while pinto beans contain slightly more calories, carbohydrates, calcium, and potassium. Including both types of beans will provide you with the benefits of each.
Are black beans or pinto beans better for weight loss?
Black beans and pinto beans are equally helpful for weight loss since their nutrition profiles are so similar. They are great sources of fiber and plant-based protein, which are both important for making meals filling and satisfying.
Do black beans or pinto beans have more protein?
Black beans and pinto beans have the same amount of protein, about 15 grams per 1 cup serving.
Do black beans or pinto beans have more carbs?
Pinto beans have slightly more carbohydrates than black beans. 1 cup of cooked pinto beans contains 45 grams of carbohydrates, while the same amount of black beans contains 41 grams. Overall, this difference is minimal.
Are black beans or pinto beans better for acid reflux?
Both black and pinto beans may be helpful for acid reflux. They’re usually cooked with garlic, onions, acidic foods like lime and tomatoes, or spicy ingredients like chilies and peppers, however, which can trigger acid reflux in some individuals. Keep your personal triggers in mind when deciding how best to prepare your beans.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. Common beans. https://www.britannica.com/plant/common-bean. Accessed 4/19/23.
- Ganesan K, Xu B. Polyphenol-Rich Dry Common Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) and Their Health Benefits. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Nov 4;18(11):2331. doi: 10.3390/ijms18112331. PMID: 29113066; PMCID: PMC5713300.
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Magnesium – Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 4/19/23.
- Borodina I, Kenny LC, McCarthy CM, Paramasivan K, Pretorius E, Roberts TJ, van der Hoek SA, Kell DB. The biology of ergothioneine, an antioxidant nutraceutical. Nutr Res Rev. 2020 Dec;33(2):190-217. doi: 10.1017/S0954422419000301. Epub 2020 Feb 13. PMID: 32051057; PMCID: PMC7653990.
- Mullins AP, Arjmandi BH. Health Benefits of Plant-Based Nutrition: Focus on Beans in Cardiometabolic Diseases. Nutrients. 2021 Feb 5;13(2):519. doi: 10.3390/nu13020519. PMID: 33562498; PMCID: PMC7915747.