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Are pinto beans brown?

Pinto beans are a variety of the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) that is most commonly found in a beige or light brown color with reddish-brown specks. The name “pinto” means “painted” in Spanish, referring to the mottled coloring of the bean. So in short, yes, pinto beans are brown beans.

What Color Are Pinto Beans?

While pinto beans are most well-known for their pink and brown speckled appearance, there is some natural color variation within the pinto bean variety. The base color can range from cream to light tan, with reddish-brown, pink, or burgundy mottling covering the surface of the bean. Some pinto bean varieties may also appear more grey or black in color. Regardless of the exact shades, pinto beans are considered part of the colored bean family, separate from white beans such as navy beans or cannellini beans.

The speckled pink and brown appearance is a key identifying feature of pinto beans. While the concentration and exact coloration of speckles can vary, pinto beans will always have some degree of pink or reddish-brown markings on the outer seed coat. A completely unmarked beige or white bean would not be classified as a pinto bean.

Why Are Pinto Beans Brown?

The brown speckled color of pinto beans is determined by genetics. The pigmentation comes from polyphenols, which are antioxidants produced in the seed coat. The specific polyphenols that produce the reddish-brown color are called proanthocyanidins, which are also found in foods like cinnamon and berries. The concentration and patterning of these polyphenol compounds result in the distinctive specks and mottled surface of pinto beans.

In addition to genetics, environmental factors like soil composition and temperature during the growing season can influence the exact concentration and shade of polyphenols accumulated in the seed coat. While the beans maintain the pinto bean coloring, slight variations in hue may occur between different crops.

Do All Pinto Beans Have the Same Coloring?

While pinto bean plants always produce beans with a pink and brown speckled pattern, there can be slight variations in the concentration and shade of color between different cultivars and individual plants:

  • Light brown beans with very few pink specks
  • Pale pink background with dark brown specks
  • Dark brown or pink background color
  • Very concentrated speckling or sparser speckles

However, all variations will maintain the distinctive two-tone, mottled pink and brown appearance characteristic of pinto beans. Monochromatic beige or white beans would not qualify as true pinto beans.

How Does the Color of Pinto Beans Develop?

The speckled color of pinto beans develops during the bean maturation process:

  1. Seeds initially start out green in color when first forming in the pod.
  2. As beans grow, they transition to a pale yellow/white.
  3. In the final stages of maturation, polyphenol compounds accumulate in the seed coat, resulting in reddish-brown specks.
  4. The concentration of speckles intensifies up until harvest. The longer the beans mature, the darker the speckles become.

If harvested too early before full color development, pinto bean seeds may appear mostly white/yellow. Timing of harvest is important to achieve the classic pinto bean appearance.

Do All Brown Beans Qualify as Pinto Beans?

Not all brown beans can be classified as pinto beans. To be considered a true pinto bean variety, the beans must have the characteristic pinkish-brown speckled pattern on the seed coat. Other identifying features include:

  • Medium to large size
  • Oval to kidney shaped
  • Grows in an upright bush formation

While pinto beans are brown, other bean varieties like kidney, borlotti, or black beans are also brown but do not have the speckled coloration. The unique pinkish-brown mottling is what defines a pinto bean. Solid brown beans without defined speckles do not qualify as pintos.

What Are Some Other Common Brown Beans?

While pinto beans are likely the most well-known brown bean, some other common varieties of brown beans include:

Bean Variety Description
Black beans Small, oval shaped beans with a black skin and cream interior
Kidney beans Large, kidney-shaped red or white beans
Borlotti beans Plump beans with a cream base and red-brown speckles
Cranberry beans Speckled ivory and brown beans
Brown lentils Small, round lentils that are brown-green in color

While these beans are brown, they can be differentiated from the distinctive pink and brown mottled patterning of pinto beans.

Are All Pinto Beans the Same?

While all pinto beans have a similar speckled pink and brown appearance, there are some subtle differences among pinto bean cultivars:

  • Flavor – Some varieties have a more earthy or robust flavor compared to others.
  • Cooking time – Older pinto bean cultivars generally take longer to soak and cook than newer quick-cooking varieties.
  • Size and shape – Most pinto bean plants produce medium sized beans, but some cultivars produce smaller or larger beans.
  • Growing habits – Cultivars suited to mechanical harvest may grow shorter plants compared to those grown for hand harvest.

While all classified under the “pinto bean” name, small differences like these exist between cultivars. However, the recognizable speckled seed coat remains consistent across all pinto bean varieties.


In summary, pinto beans are defined by their signature light brown color with reddish-brown speckles. This two-tone mottled appearance is what distinguishes them from other bean varieties. While exact coloring can vary slightly due to genetics and environment, pinto beans will always exhibit their characteristic pinkish-brown speckling. When answering the question “Are pinto beans brown?”, the answer is yes – brown with unique speckles is what gives pinto beans their classic appearance and name.