Senate Bean Soup – Always on the Menu

Michigan Food - Senate Bean Soup

A Famous Bean Soup from the Thumb is Served Everyday in the United States Senate

The small town of Kinde, Michigan was once renowned as the “Bean Capital of the World“. Farmers in the area grew Michigan white navy beans. These beans have been a key ingredient for a soup recipe that has been a staple for over one hundred years in the U.S. Senate dining room. Senate bean soup has been on the dining menu, steadfast, since 1903, the only permanent menu entre. The simple recipe is widely known in the Great Lakes State and over the years home cooks have made all kinds of variations.

U.S. Senate Bean Soup Origins

U.S. Capital
US Capital

Senate Bean Soup is one of the Michigan Foods You Have to Try. It’s the ideal comfort food on chilly nights or a thoughtful tailgate treat. Simply made with white canned navy beans, onions,  ham hocks, stock, and a few basic spices. Yum.

What Navy Beans
Michigan White Navy Beans

While beans are still a huge agricultural focus in Michigan’s Thumb region, the mighty sugar beet has nudged the venerable white bean from the first place. However, the temperate climate of the Michigan thumb peninsula that is surrounded by Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay will mean that bean growing will remain part of the area’s agricultural economics and social culture for the foreseeable future.

History of the Famous Soup

In 2003 the 100th anniversary of Senate Bean Soup took place. The Washington Post invited Michigan Senator Carl Levin for lunch and a talk about one o Michigan’s great agricultural exports. Levin noted that it was almost a Patriotic duty to sample the soup from time to time.

In 1988 Senator and One-Time Presidential candidate Bob Dole gave a “Bicentennial Minute” oration on the Senate floor in 1988. “The Washington Times-Herald reported on Sept. 15, 1943, that on the previous day bean soup was not available: Wartime rations had left the kitchen lacking the necessary Michigan navy beans. “Somehow,” Dole said, “by the next day, more beans were found and bowls of bean soup have been ladled up without interruption ever since.”

Senate Bean Soup for over 100 Years

Senate Bean Soup’s following history was found on an old menu of the U.S. Senate dining room. The true origin as to why the soup is on the menu every day is lost to time. However, it appears that Senators from Idaho and Minnesota were the ones who wanted it on the menu. It’s unknown if any Michigan senator had a role in the ingredients. The current menu of the U.S. Senate Dining Room can be found at the link below.

U.S. Senate Bean Soup Recipe

Senate Michigan Navy Bean Soup History.

Senate Bean Soup – Always on the Menu

Recipe by US Senate Dining RoomCourse: SoupsCuisine: AmericanDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time





A simple recipe from the US Senate Dining Room


  • 1 Package Small Navy Beans (32 oz.)
    Michigan Navy Beans

  • 1-quart beef stock
    beef stock

  • 2-3 Smoked Ham Hocks
    Smoked Ham Hocks

  • 1 Large Yellow Onion
    Yellow Onion

  • 2 Tablespoons Butter

  • Salt & Pepper
    Salt and Pepper


  • Rinse and sort the Navy Beans in hot water. Remove any stones. Add beans to three quarts of water and one quart of beef stock in a large pot and turn heat up to allow a simmer.
  • Add ham hocks to beans and water, cover. Stir occasionally. If it foams up, turn back the heat and stir. Simmer for 3 hours.
  • In the last hour, remove hocks and allow them to cool enough to work with. Remove meat and discard the fat and skin. Chop meat into tiny pieces.
  • Chop a large onion and sauté in butter until soft. Add to beans and chopped hock meat for the final 30 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper for the final 30 minutes. Salt again before serving.

Recipe Video


  • If soup boils down, add more water and stock.
  • This recipe’s improved variations include adding mashed potatoes, more chopped onions, chopped celery, minced garlic, and chopped parsley.
  • If navy beans are not available, substitute canned white beans and reduce cooking time. (Or they will become mush)

Visting the Senate Dining Room

The Senate Dining Room is off-limits to the general public. If you’re visiting the Capital and call on your Senator or their staff you may get invited for a late lunch. The dress code is all business (Wear a suit), and no cameras are allowed. However, the Capital Cafe is open to the public and shares many of the same menu items.

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