Black Beans vs. Pinto Beans: Everything You Need to Know

black beans vs pinto beans

An old playground rhyme says that beans are a musical fruit that can make you toot. But beyond their ability to induce flatulence, these versatile legumes have a plethora of health benefits!

As a bonus, they come in several delicious varieties. Two types that people frequently compare are black beans and pinto beans. Both varieties have a similar flavor and appear in similar dishes. Therefore, you may be wondering if there is any difference between them. To settle the black beans vs. pinto beans debate, here is a complete breakdown of these two wonderful legumes.

Black Beans Introduction

Black Beans

If you’re a fan of Mexican food, then you know what an absolute godsend black beans are. These delicious legumes get their name from their satiny black skin and are famous for their creamy white center.

Like most other legumes, they come in several distinct varieties, including Domino, Black Magic, Blackhawk, Condor, and Raven. While they can range in size, overall, they’re around ½ inches long and have a slightly pronounced boat shape.

Black beans have been a staple in many Latin American salads, vegetarian casseroles, and chilis for many centuries. People first domesticated them some 7,000 years ago in Peru. The country has rocky, mountainous soil and a warm, humid climate. In short, it offers perfect conditions for cultivating the flowering black bean vine.

After the Spanish invaded and conquered the continent, they came into contact with these beans as well. Recognizing the vines as nitrogen fixers — plants with the ability to enrich the soil they grow in — they took the beans to Europe with them. From there, these hearty legumes spread all over the world, making their way to Asia via the Silk Road.

Nowadays, apart from traditional Latin dishes, black beans are also a staple of many Indian recipes, including black bean curry. Though it’s more common to find canned black beans at the grocery store, some supermarkets also carry the raw variety.

Pinto Beans Introduction

Pinto Beans

Just like black beans, pinto beans also hail from the Americas. They trace their origins to the Peruvian highlands, where Native tribes often used them as currency when exchanging goods.

Norte Chico farmers domesticated pinto beans some 5,000 BC ago because the plants were easy to grow and harvest. Pinto beans grew on tall vines the farmers could conveniently plant next to rows of corn. Then, when harvest time came, they could pick both plants simultaneously.

The beans became an integral part of their diet after that, and they frequently used them as a spread for tacos and corn tortillas. Since they didn’t have any fat to fry the beans, they instead paired them up with avocado, chili peppers, and tomatoes to make a kind of proto salsa.

Pinto beans were so valuable that migrating tribes frequently took them on long trips across the continent. This led to the beans spreading all over Central and South America long before the Spanish conquest.

After the Europeans arrived, they claimed the beans for their own, resulting in their current name. Pinto comes from the Spanish word pinta which means spotted.

The beans have a dark cream color with a smattering of brownish freckles, which usually darken when cooked. Like black beans, they’re around ½ inches long and boast that distinctive boat shape.

Because they have a soft, creamy texture, chefs often use them to make traditional refried beans. However, they also work in spreads or hearty chowders.

The beans are such a staple of Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes that they have their own dedicated festival. Every year, the city of Moriarty organizes the Pinto Bean Fiesta. This annual festival includes many fun activities like a pinto bean cook-off and a 5k Running Dead event that involves participants trying to outrun a horde of zombies!

Black Beans vs. Pinto Beans: 3 Differences


Black beans and pinto beans both have a rich and complex history. However, despite hailing from the same area, these two legumes have a few key differences.

1. Color

The most obvious difference between black beans and pinto beans is their respective colors. Black beans have a strong, black hue that is uniform across the whole bean. Some varieties also have a reddish tinge to them that bleeds color when you soak and cook them.

In contrast, pinto beans are light cream with brown spots all over the bean. These spots may darken or disappear during cooking, leaving behind a uniform, pinkish color.

2. Texture

Texture may be the biggest difference between these two legume cousins. Chefs value black beans for their meatiness and ability to hold their shape even after a long cook time.

Pinto beans, on the other hand, are much mushier and fall apart more quickly. Therefore, they work better in spreads and soups when you want to add some natural creaminess to your food.

3. Calories

To be fair, both black beans and pinto beans count as relatively low-calorie food items. However, black beans contain just a tad more carbs and fat. Thus, they pack a few extra calories.

One serving of black beans amounts to 227 calories, while the same amount of pinto beans features 245 calories. Granted, this isn’t a huge difference. However, if you’re on a strict diet that involves carb counting, then black beans are a better option for you.

Black Beans vs. Pinto Beans: In Common


A lot of recipes will recommend swapping black beans with pinto beans and vice versa. This is because, for all their differences, they still share quite a few similarities.

1. Shape

Like all beans, both pinto and black beans have that iconic boat shape. Likewise, they’re around ½ inches long. Therefore, it’s easy to substitute one for the other in recipes where texture is important.

2. Protein Content

When it comes to fitness, protein is the undisputed king. The macronutrient is the building block of muscle. Plus, it takes the longest for your body to digest. Therefore, it helps you feel fuller and more satisfied after every meal, which is crucial if you’re in a calorie deficit.

While most people associate animal products with protein, beans are actually a good source, too. A serving of both pinto and black beans packs around 15 grams of protein. Thus, they are a convenient way for vegans and vegetarians to get their dose of this macronutrient.

However, you should keep in mind that neither black beans nor pinto beans count as complete protein sources. Protein must contain all 9 essential amino acids to count as complete and properly fuel your body. But, if you pair both types of beans with other complete protein sources like tofu, tempeh, or soybeans, you’ll be able to enjoy a balanced, plant-based meal that is both nutritious and satisfying.

3. Health Benefits

Not only are both beans loaded with protein, but they’re also bursting with beneficial vitamins and minerals. Black and pinto beans have similar antioxidant properties that help protect your heart and regulate blood sugar.

Though they pack quite a lot of carbs, they actually rank fairly low on the glycemic index. In fact, research suggests that patients who consumed either type of bean with high glycemic foods such as white rice actually had a much lower insulin spike than those who ate just plain white rice.

This is because both types of beans pack a hefty dose of fiber, which helps slow down digestion. As a result, they keep your blood sugar from rising and falling too quickly, which in turn means you get hungrier much later.

The high fiber content is also very beneficial for maintaining a healthy gut. Both types of beans contain soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is a kind of complex carb your body can’t break down. Instead, the fiber attaches to your stool, making it easier to pass.

Therefore, regularly consuming black beans and pinto beans is a great way to resolve any constipation. But, you should keep in mind that beans are a high FODMAP food. That means they’re loaded with fermentable carbohydrates, which aren’t suitable for people who suffer from IBS.

Which One Tastes Better?

After breaking down these delicious legumes in detail, now we get to answer the most important question — which one tastes better? And the answer is purely down to personal preference.

Both varieties have a nutty and mild flavor that blends perfectly into other dishes. Black beans, in particular, absorb salt well, so you can add them to almost any recipe to bump up your protein intake and add a hearty chew. However, they tend to hold their shape quite well even if you cook them for longer. Therefore any food you add them to will end up tasting mealy and have a more pronounced earthy flavor.

Pinto beans, on the other hand, are famous for their creaminess. Like black beans, they have a similar flavor profile, with a milder, nutty undertone. But, they tend to mash much better than black beans, so they have a smoother consistency. Consequently, they’re perfect for when you want to thicken soups, chowders, or make a spread.

Amie has a love for numbers and holds a master’s degree in finance. When she’s not playing with numbers or words or pottering in the garden, you can find her in the kitchen roasting her own coffee beans.

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