What are Calico Beans?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

Many different types of beans are available for culinary use. Christmas pole lima beans, once known as calico beans, are a very old type of climbing bean. They are known for their light color and buttery flavor.

Adding calico beans to one's diet may help alleviate irritable bowel syndrome.
Adding calico beans to one's diet may help alleviate irritable bowel syndrome.

The calico bean, though quite popular, is considered difficult to find. Also known as the speckled butter bean, its color ranges from light cream to deep maroon with mottled markings. When cooked, the beans turn pink-brown. Introduced to the United States from Peru in 1840, the Christmas pole lima bean is largely sought after for its coloration.

A vegetarian meal of calico beans and brown rice provides complete protein.
A vegetarian meal of calico beans and brown rice provides complete protein.

This type of heirloom bean may be used dry or shelled. Its flavor is considered a milder version of other types of lima beans, though still very rich and buttery. Because of this flavor, it is popular to serve ham within any calico bean crock pot dish. Calico bean soup is another common use of the beans, which is traditionally served with cornbread.

Casserole dishes can be made with calico beans, as can most other dishes that call for beans. Vegan and vegetarian meals are often cooked with the beans. Coupled with corn on the cob and veggie burgers, calico beans can provide a complete meal during camping trips and backyard barbecues.

An excellent source of protein, calico beans are considered a healthful food. They are high in fiber, folic acid, and manganese. Lima beans also contain antioxidants. If eaten with whole wheat pasta or brown rice, these beans can provide a source of complete protein for those who do not wish to consume meat.

As with any other type of lima bean, calico beans should be cooked prior to consumption. Eating raw beans can cause severe illness. Consuming properly cooked lima beans can help lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, prevent heart disease and stroke, and relieve constipation. Digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome may also be alleviated by adding calico beans to the diet. People suffering from insulin resistance due to diabetes may find the legume helpful as well.

People wishing to increase their energy opt to do so with lima beans. They provide long-lasting energy that burns slowly. Its magnesium content also helps to improve blood, oxygen, and nutritional circulation.

Calico beans can grow over ten feet (three and one-half yards) in height. Growers must use supports to guide the evasive plants. The beans themselves may grow from four to six inches (10 to 15 centimeters) in length. Each bean pod can contain up to five flat lima beans.

Symptoms of IBS, which may be alleviated with calico beans, may include abdominal cramping.
Symptoms of IBS, which may be alleviated with calico beans, may include abdominal cramping.
Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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Discussion Comments


I got mine from the local Amish.


@MsClean - Most of the recipes I've seen for calico beans don't even call for speckled beans. Usually they combine lima or butter beans, kidney beans and pinto or pork'n'beans which gives the dish a calico look. Sometimes they add corn and/or black beans for even more color combinations.

There's such a variety of dried, frozen and canned beans today that I think if you just use a little imagination, you'll create a fantastic pot of beans that may very well be even better than your grandmothers calico beans.


@MsClean - I feel like I could have written your post. I grew up in the south too and can remember a lot of times when my grandmother would bring over a big pot of calico beans.

I didn't move as far west as you did but I did eventually moved away from the southern states. I live in the mid-west now, and around here they sell speckled butter beans in the frozen vegetables section at a couple of the large supermarket chains.

You might try the frozen sections of your local grocers. Another option is to purchase the seeds from an online merchant and grow your own. Of course you might have to build a greenhouse, and remember, they grow fairly tall.


I grew up in southeast Georgia and can remember my grandmother cooking up a pot of calico beans all the time. I live about as far away from Georgia as you can get now but I really do miss the smell and comfort of Grandma's beans.

I found one of her recipes the other day plus a couple of new ones that I'd like to try but my problem is that I haven't been able to find the actual beans anywhere.

I live on the northwest coast of the United States now and folks around here have never heard of them let alone would know where to get them.

Does anyone know where I can find some speckled limas? I've already tried our farmer's market and they didn't even sell the seeds.

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