I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of adzuki bean substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Black beans are a great substitute for adzuki beans in both savory and sweet dishes. Another option is navy beans, which are already used in Asian cuisine to make white bean paste, a milder version of red bean paste.
You can also replace red bean paste with something like sweet potato paste or black sesame paste.
I made small batches of this bean curry and red bean paste to test several different adzuki substitutes.
Adzuki beans are also known as Chinese red beans. These beans have a nutty flavor with a slight sweetness, which is why they’re the traditional ingredient for red bean paste, a sweet filling used for desserts.
But they’re also a fabulous addition to soups, stews, and curries. I was looking for substitutes that were just as versatile as these red beans. Here’s what I tested and my verdicts:
|Black beans||More earthy than adzuki beans||9/10|
|Navy beans||Mild and creamy||9/10|
|Kidney beans||Only suitable for savory dishes||7/10|
|Cranberry beans||Mildly nutty||7/10|
|Mung beans||Can use green or yellow mung beans||7/10|
|Sweet potato puree||You can also use pumpkin puree||9/10|
|Black sesame paste||Deeply nutty||8/10|
|Chestnut paste||Buttery, rich texture||7/10|
If you have a can of black beans sitting in the back of your cupboard, you’re in luck – you can use them as a substitute for adzuki beans. Black bean paste is already a thing in Asian desserts, but the flavor is earthier than the red bean paste made from adzuki beans.
The extra earthiness was great in my curry, and the beans were perfectly tender and creamy once cooked.
But if you want to sweeten your recipe, simply add a little extra sugar. You can also add some ground cashews or peanuts to mimic the nuttiness of adzuki beans. It won’t be exactly the same, but it will be good enough.
How to substitute: Replace adzuki beans in a 1:1 ratio with black beans.
Navy beans (or other white beans)
Navy beans are super versatile and make a great substitute for adzuki beans. They have a relatively neutral flavor compared to other bean types, which means they’ll take on the flavors of the ingredients they’re cooked with, and you can use them in sweet or savory recipes.
They’re actually already used in Asian cuisine to make white bean paste, also known as shiroan, which is a milder version of red bean paste.
The texture is creamy and buttery, which was perfect in my curry. Although the flavor was slightly too mild, so I added a tiny spoonful of natural peanut butter to make up for the missing nuttiness from adzuki beans.
Pro tip: You can also use other white beans like lima beans. These beans are interchangeable in most recipes because they have very similar textures and flavors.
How to substitute: Replace adzuki beans in a 1:1 ratio with any kind of white beans.
Kidney beans look similar to adzuki beans because they have the same red color, but they’re around double the size. They also have a more robust beany flavor, which makes them better suited to replacing adzuki beans in savory recipes where they can hold their own against rich sauces.
Plus, their thick skins mean they can retain their shape even with extended cooking times, making them perfect for hearty stews and curries.
I wouldn’t recommend using kidney beans to make a red bean paste, the deep flavor just doesn’t work with desserts.
How to substitute: Replace adzuki beans in a 1:1 ratio with kidney beans.
Cranberry beans (haricot beans)
Cranberry beans, also known as haricot beans or borlotti beans have a slightly nutty taste with a mild sweetness, making them a decent adzuki bean alternative in any recipe. Their texture is creamy, much like other beans mentioned here, which means it’s easy to blend them into a paste.
In a red bean paste scenario, you’ll need to adjust the sugar levels slightly, depending on your personal taste. In my curry, the cranberry beans didn’t lend as much depth as adzuki beans. However, this didn’t make a significant difference to the overall flavor.
How to substitute: Replace adzuki beans in a 1:1 ratio with cranberry beans.
Next up on our list of adzuki substitutes are mung beans. Mung beans are already popularly used in Asian desserts because their naturally mild and slightly nutty flavor is neutral enough to soak up other flavors, but they were delicious in my curry too.
There are two kinds of mung beans, green and yellow. The yellow variety is green mung beans that have been hulled and split. Getting rid of the green outer layer makes the flavor even milder, so I’d recommend yellow mung beans for sweet recipes and green mung beans for savory recipes.
Pro tip: Mung beans are very small so don’t take long to cook and they can get mushy if you overcook them.
How to substitute: Replace adzuki beans in a 1:1 ratio with mung beans.
Sweet potato or pumpkin
Moving away from beans, sweet potato or pumpkins are both great alternatives to adzuki beans for making a sweet-but-savory paste.
If you can get it, purple sweet potato is best because it’s naturally sweeter than regular orange sweet potatoes and has a denser texture that’s more similar to mashed beans. But if you can’t, don’t worry, roasting your sweet potatoes before pureeing them will bring out their sweetness. And if you think the paste is too thin, you can heat it in a pan over low heat to thicken it.
If you want to use pumpkin, kabocha pumpkin is a great option because it has similar nutty notes to adzuki beans. But standard pumpkin puree is fine too.
Psst… a pinch of cinnamon goes great with both sweet potatoes and pumpkin.
How to substitute: Replace red bean paste in a 1:1 ratio with sweet potato paste.
Black sesame paste
Another non-bean alternative is black sesame paste. This obviously won’t work in curries, but you can use it to replace adzuki beans in any recipe where you were turning them into a paste.
Black sesame seeds are deeply nutty with earthy undertones. Some people also describe them as bitter, but the added honey balances this out. The color is charcoal black, which looks great against the background of a white mochi case (for example).
You can also use white sesame seeds to make a paste, but the flavor will be slightly less strong. And you lose the visual appeal of the black-and-white contrast.
How to substitute: Replace red bean paste in a 1:1 ratio with black sesame paste.
This is an unconventional option, but chestnut paste can be a tasty alternative to red bean paste. While it may not have the same earthy taste as adzuki beans, its mild nuttiness is still delicious! And the paste has a buttery, rich texture that’s perfect for desserts.
The preparation of chestnut paste involves boiling or roasting the chestnuts to soften them before mashing them into a smooth paste. Depending on the desired sweetness, you can add sugar, honey, or even maple syrup to the mixture. A sprinkle of nutmeg is also a common ingredient.
How to substitute: Replace red bean paste in a 1:1 ratio with chestnut paste.
BEST Adzuki Bean And Red Bean Paste Substitutes
- 200 grams black beans
- 200 grams navy beans
- 200 grams kidney beans
- 200 grams cranberry beans
- 200 grams mung beans
- 200 grams sweet potato paste to replace red bean paste
- 200 grams black sesame paste to replace red bean paste
- 200 grams chesnut paste to replace red bean paste
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen adzuki bean substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.