How to Cook Old-Fashioned Dry Lima Beans

Also referred to as butter beans, wax beans and Madagascar beans, lima beans have a delicate buttery flavor and soft texture. Available in small and large sizes, lima beans are an excellent addition to soups, stews, meat dishes or served on their own as a delectable side dish. Since raw lima beans contain cyanide compounds that can be fatal when consumed, you should never eat lima beans raw. Although the process requires a bit of time, cooking old fashioned dry lima beans is actually quite simple.

A close-up of dry lima beans in a burlap sack with a scoop. Credit: PicturePartners/iStock/Getty Images

Step 1

Scatter a handful of dry lima beans on a white plate. Examine the beans carefully, tossing any dirty, wrinkled or broken beans. You might also find a few small stones or clumps of dirt, which you should also remove.

Step 2

Pour the beans into a large bowl. Repeat steps one and two until all beans have been inspected, sorted and poured into the large bowl.

Step 3

Fill the bowl with cold water until the beans are completely covered. Ideally, use at least three times the amount of beans. So, if 4 cups of beans are in the bowl, use at least 12 cups of water. If any beans float to the top, remove and discard them.

Step 4

Soak the beans overnight. By the next day, you should find that the beans have doubled in size. In fact, most of the water should have been absorbed.

Step 5

Rinse and drain the beans at least three times. When you are finished, the water should run clear.

Step 6

Pour the beans into a heavy pot or saucepan. Add fresh water to the pot until the beans are covered. Ideally, there will be at least 1 inch of water above the beans.

Step 7

Bring the beans to a boil over medium-high heat. The amount of time it takes to produce a boil depends on the size of the pot you use, the amount of beans you are cooking and the temperature you use to cook them. Watch the pot carefully for a boil.

Step 8

Reduce the heat to low once the beans have boiled. Allow the lima beans to simmer for 40 to 60 minutes or until tender. During the simmering process, stir the beans regularly to avoid sticking.

Step 9

Remove from heat once the beans are cooked completely. The beans are completely cooked once they can be mashed easily with a fork or your fingers. Strain the water before serving.

Things You'll Need

  • White plate

  • Large bowls

  • Colander

  • Saucepan or heavy pot

  • Water

  • Spoon


Avoid adding salt or acidic ingredients, such as vinegar or tomato juice, to the lima beans while they are cooking. The addition of salt or acid prevents the beans from absorbing water, which could impact their ability to cook properly. If you wish to add these flavorings, do so once the beans have completely cooked.

Soaking the beans before cooking them eliminates their gas-producing side effects. During the soaking process, the water begins to dissolve the starch inside the beans. Since this starch is responsible for producing gas and indigestion, this simple step can help you feel quite a bit better after enjoying your beans.

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