Butter beans, also known as lima beans, are a delicious and nutritious legume that can be a great addition to many dishes. Their creamy texture and mild flavor make them a versatile ingredient.
While fresh lima beans are ideal, sometimes it’s not possible to use them before they start going bad. So can you freeze butter beans to extend their shelf life?
The short answer is yes; you can safely freeze both raw and cooked butter beans. Properly frozen, they can last for up to a year in the freezer.
Freezing is an excellent way to preserve the nutrients and flavor of lima beans when you buy or grow more than you need right away. Read on to learn the best practices for freezing butter beans to maintain quality and prevent freezer burn.
How to Choose Butter Beans for Freezing
When selecting fresh lima beans to freeze, look for pods that are firm and bright green. The beans inside should be plump and green, without blemishes.
Avoid beans that appear dried out or have spots. Smaller baby butter beans freeze a bit better than larger ones. But all sizes can be frozen successfully.
Beans that are past their prime or overripe will become mushy when thawed. For the best results, use fresh, young lima beans. Check that the beans are not too mature by sampling one before freezing a batch.
It should be tender with a creamy, starchy interior. If the inside is doughy, the beans are overripe.
No matter what size you choose, the beans should be thoroughly cleaned before freezing. Rinse them under cold, running water to remove any dirt or debris. Remove any strings or stems, and discard any discolored or damaged beans.
Freezing Raw Butter Beans
Butter beans can be frozen raw, straight from the pod. Here are some tips for freezing raw lima beans:
- Leave the beans in the pod, or remove them and rinse. Both ways work well.
- Blanch beans briefly for 1-2 minutes to help maintain color and texture.
- Drain the beans and pat them dry if blanched.
- Spread beans in a single layer on a tray or cookie sheet and place in the freezer for 1-2 hours. This flash freezing prevents clumping.
- Transfer the frozen beans to labeled freezer bags or airtight containers, removing as much air as possible.
- Raw beans will keep for 8–10 months in the freezer.
Blanching raw beans before freezing is optional, but it helps them retain more flavor and nutrients. It halts the enzyme process that causes loss of color and texture.
Freezing Cooked Butter Beans
Butter beans that are cooked before freezing have a softer texture when thawed. Follow these recommendations:
- Cook the beans until just tender but not mushy. Do not overcook.
- Drain beans and mix in any seasonings, salt, or sauce.
- Spread cooked beans in a single layer to flash freeze, then package.
- You can also spoon bean mixtures into meal-sized portions in freezer containers. Leave 1 inch of headspace.
- Cool cooked beans completely before freezing for safety.
- Freeze for up to 10–12 months.
If beans are frozen in sauce or liquid, leave plenty of headspace in containers, as liquids expand when frozen. Avoid freezing blocks of cooked beans, as they will turn into a solid lump.
Tips for Freezing Butter Beans
Follow these tips for the best-quality frozen butter beans:
- Use fresh, high-quality beans at optimal ripeness. Discard any beans that are damaged or appear old.
- Freeze beans as soon as possible after purchasing or harvesting them.
- Sort beans by size when freezing to avoid having to thaw more than needed if using different sizes for recipes.
- Blanching raw beans before freezing helps protect nutrients and color.
- Do not rinse blanched beans if freezing raw, as that will rinse away nutrients.
- Cool beans quickly before freezing by placing the tray or pan in the freezer for 1-2 hours.
- Use freezer bags, airtight containers, or vacuum-sealed bags to prevent freezer burn.
- Exclude as much air as possible and press the bags to flatten before sealing.
- Label packages with the contents and date frozen.
- Check containers periodically for signs of freezer burn.
Following these freezing guidelines will allow you to enjoy delicious lima beans throughout the year!
Thawing Frozen Butter Beans
Thawing is an important step to maintain the best taste and texture. Here are safe ways to thaw butter beans:
- Thaw overnight in the refrigerator. This is the safest method and prevents any bacterial growth.
- Place the bag or container in a bowl of cool water. Change the water every 30 minutes to thaw gently.
- Microwave on the defrost setting if beans are in a microwave-safe container. This works well for small portions.
- Cook frozen beans straight from the freezer. Add a bit more liquid and adjust the cooking time.
Once thawed, use butter beans promptly. Do not refreeze beans after they have been thawed. Refreezing can damage the cell structure and cause the beans to become mushy.
How to Use Thawed Butter Beans
Previously frozen lima beans can be used in any recipe calling for fresh, cooked, or raw beans. They will have a slightly softer texture than unfrozen beans. Some ideas include:
- Soups, stews, and chilis: add thawed frozen butter beans.
- Succotash: combine with corn and zucchini.
- Salad: mix with greens, tomatoes, corn, etc.
- Sides: serve with rice, potatoes, or other vegetables.
- Baked beans: use thawed frozen limas instead of dry beans.
- Dips and spreads: puree beans with garlic and herbs.
- Butter bean hummus
- Bean burgers, fritters, and falafel
Thawed frozen butter beans can be cooked, canned, or eaten straight from the freezer if blanched first. Avoid using previously frozen raw beans in slow cooker recipes, as they may not soften fully after thawing.
How Long Do Frozen Butter Beans Last?
When stored at a consistent 0°F, frozen butter beans can last 8 to 12 months before their quality starts to decline. The timeframe depends on whether the beans went into the freezer raw or cooked.
Raw, frozen beans last 8–10 months. Their cell walls remain intact when quickly blanched and then frozen, keeping texture intact.
Pre-cooked beans last 10–12 months when properly frozen. The cooked cell walls are more susceptible to degradation over time.
Monitor your frozen beans over the months and discard any that show signs of freezer damage. Use older beans first, and freeze beans from each harvest in batches with prep dates.
With proper freezing and storage methods, enjoying creamy butter beans year-round is easy and delicious!
Frequently Asked Questions About Freezing Butter Beans
Can you freeze butter beans without blanching them?
Yes, you can freeze raw butter beans without blanching them first. The texture may be slightly softer when thawed, but it will still taste good. Blanching is recommended but not required.
Do you remove butter beans from the pod before freezing?
You can freeze the whole pod, but it is usually recommended to shell fresh lima beans first. Removing the pods makes it easier to sort damaged beans and use only the perfect ones for long-term storage.
Is it okay to freeze the liquid from cooked beans?
Freezing cooking liquid is not recommended, as water expands when frozen and can crack containers. Cool beans completely before freezing in a single layer without liquid or sauce.
How do you maintain freezer bean quality?
Check for ice crystals and freezer burn every 2–3 months. Defrost and use older beans first. Store beans in airtight packaging at a consistent temperature of 0°F or below. Avoid temperature fluctuations, which degrade texture faster.
Can you refreeze thawed, frozen beans?
No, avoid refreezing lima beans after they have been thawed. The cell walls have already been damaged and will turn to mush if frozen again after thawing. Refreezing also increases the risk of bacterial contamination.
Do frozen beans need to be soaked before cooking?
No, beans that have been previously frozen do not need soaking before cooking or using in recipes. Soaking is only recommended for dried beans to rehydrate them. Simply thaw and use frozen beans as you would fresh, cooked beans.
How can you tell if frozen beans are still good?
Check for ice crystals, freezer burn, or odd textures and colors. Frozen beans that have been properly stored and undamaged will look and taste fresh when prepared. Discard any beans over a year old.
Can you substitute frozen beans for canned beans in recipes?
Absolutely! Thawed frozen butter beans can be used in place of canned beans in most recipes. Adjust any seasonings as needed and add extra cooking liquid since frozen beans will not have canning liquid.
Hi, I’m Julie, the passionate foodie and founder of Juliesfamilykitchen.com. I created this blog out of a drive to prove someone wrong, and then I realized how much I truly enjoy cooking and trying new recipes. In my free time, when I’m not running around after my kids or spending quality time with my partner, you can usually find me in the kitchen experimenting with new dishes.