Kidney and pinto beans have distinct tastes and textures and are each featured in different classic recipes. Despite their differences, however, the beans are interchangeable in recipes if you need to substitute one for another.
Kidney beans are classified as medium to large in size, and come in both dark red and light red colors; the two kinds have virtually the same flavor profile. Pinto beans come in just one variety, are smaller but more plump-looking than kidney beans, and come in a lighter shade of pink than light red kidney beans. Pinto is the Spanish word for "painted," and you will sometimes see pinto beans with reddish-brown spots or streaks.
Both kidney and pinto beans are flavorful, unlike more mild-flavored navy beans. Kidney beans have a slight sweetness and a meaty, or dense texture, while pinto beans have a more earthy flavor and a creamy texture.
Kidney beans' larger size and firm texture mean that they require more cooking than smaller, less dense pinto beans. Cook kidney beans for 90 to 120 minutes and pinto beans for around 60 minutes. Canned beans of either variety are already cooked, so you can use them in recipes without additional cooking.
All beans produce a certain amount of gastric disturbance for most people, but kidney beans have a reputation for producing more flatulence than pinto beans. With 8 grams of fiber in a 1/2-cup serving, kidney beans are harder to digest than pinto beans, which have 7 grams of fiber in the same serving size. Soaking dry beans before cooking and changing the cooking water several times while you cook dry beans helps to reduce gassiness, as does eating cultured foods, such as sour cream or yogurt, along with the beans.
Both kidney and pinto beans appear in traditional recipes, including chili. Kidney beans appear more often than pintos in chili recipes, including one said to be one of President Lyndon Johnson's favorite recipes published in A Treasury of White House Cooking by Francois Rysavy in 1972.
With their firmer texture, kidney beans hold their shape better than pinto beans during long cooking, such as in chili or stews, or in salads where they won't fall apart. Pinto beans, with their softer texture, work well when you want to mash the beans, such as in hummus. Other typical bean dishes include:
- Red beans and rice, a Louisiana specialty made with kidney beans
- Three-bean salad dressed with a vinaigrette, made with white and green string beans and kidney beans, which bring a touch of sweetness to the salad.
- Tuscan kidney bean soup called Pasta e Fagioli
- Mexican refried beans, made with pinto beans
- Caribbean pink beans, made with pinto beans and served over rice or as a soup.