I realize I may be in the minority on this issue, but I love cooking with dried beans. Yes, you have to soak the beans overnight and then cook them the next day, a process that can take up to 24 hours. Yes, it’s more labor-intensive than dumping a can of cooked beans into a pot. (Unless you use an Instant Pot, in which case it’s much quicker.) And sure, few of us have the mental clarity and ability to think that far in advance these days, but the difference in quality is worth it. And may professional cooks agree.
Sure, convenience is on the side of canned beans. But if you care about the texture and flavor of your beans, there are arguments to be made for dried. If you’re trying to save money, the data also supports dried. And if you’re wondering whether there’s a difference in nutrition between canned and dried beans, the experts have lots to say about that, too. Let’s dig into the differences.
Dried beans are slightly healthier than canned beans.
“From a nutritional standpoint, the differences between dried and canned beans are minimal — with one exception,” Ali Webster, the director of research and nutrition communications for International Food Information Council (IFIC), told HuffPost. “Canned beans often have a higher sodium content compared with dried beans, which is important to consider if you or someone in your household needs to watch their sodium intake. However, there are a few ways to decrease the sodium content of canned beans. Draining and rinsing canned beans removes a lot of the sodium, and you can also purchase low- or no-added sodium varieties of canned bean products.”
One concern you may have about canned beans is that can linings may contain the chemical BPA (bisphenol A). According to the FDA, “BPA moves from the linings into the foods during processing and storage.” The harmful chemical has been tied to everything from obesity to infertility. Thankfully, BPA-free canned beans are on the market, and BPA-laced linings are less common than they used to be.
Dried beans give you more control over their texture.
Chef and restaurateur Mike Solomonov, who co-owns Philadelphia hospitality group CookNSolo with Steve Cook, serves hummus at most of his restaurants — including Zahav, Dizengoff and Merkaz.
“While I’m not against canned beans at all, we use dried beans at all of our restaurants,” Solomonov told HuffPost. “This is mostly because of the size. To my knowledge, there aren’t any canned chickpeas that are as small as the dried chickpeas that we like to use. Another reason that we choose to use dried beans instead of canned beans is that it gives us more control of the cooking time.”
To make hummus, he soaks the chickpeas overnight in baking soda “because it lowers the boiling point and it makes the skins extra soft, which makes our hummus incredibly smooth,” he said. “The baking soda in both soaking and cooking water turns the water alkaline, which helps break down the beans.” You can’t achieve that same texture with canned beans!
Dried beans can be made infinitely more flavorful than canned beans during the cooking process.
When you simmer your soaked beans, you can add aromatics like vegetables (onions, carrots, garlic) and sprigs of herbs (rosemary, sage, bay leaf and thyme) to the pot. Those uncooked beans will slowly absorb those flavors, adding a complexity you won’t find with canned beans.
“Even if you plan to use beans in a recipe, cooking them with aromatics first means you’ll start with beans that have a rich, robust essence rather than flavor that is flat,” suggests The Bean Institute.
Dried beans are cheaper than canned beans.
According to The Bean Institute, “a one pound bag of dry pinto beans costs, on average, $1.79 and will make 12 half-cup servings of cooked beans whereas a 15-ounce can of national brand pinto beans costs $1.69. A store brand can cost $1.19, and each provides 3.5 half-cup servings. This means that a serving of pinto beans made from dry beans costs just $0.15 while a serving of store-brand canned pinto beans costs $0.34, and the national brand costs $0.48. A family of four that eats beans once a week could save nearly $80 per year by choosing dry beans versus a national brand of canned beans.” Rancho Gordo, the California-based purveyor of heirloom beans (and honestly, my favorite dried beans), charges $5.95 on their website for a pound of dried beans; however, I’ve seen bags cost as much as $6.95 in some specialty grocery stores. But if you’re going to stick with canned beans, I recommend Omena Organics, which has a BPA-free lining and costs as little as $1.99 per can.
Either way you go, dried or canned, beans are a great food to implement into a healthy diet.
All beans are good for you, whether canned or dried. Legumes contain high amounts of protein and fiber. For instance, Webster said a half-cup serving of black beans contains 8 grams of protein and 8 grams of dietary fiber, while Great Northern beans have 7 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber per serving.
“Regardless of type, beans are a nutrient-dense food,” Webster said. “They provide essential nutrients like B vitamins, iron and potassium. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating one and a half cups of beans, peas and/or lentils per week as part of a healthy eating pattern.”
But does it matter if you consume organic or conventional beans? “Organic vegetables are not healthier or safer to consume than their conventional counterparts,” Tamika D. Sims, senior director of food technology communications at IFIC, told HuffPost. “Many studies have demonstrated that organic produce does not have a nutritional advantage over conventional produce, and organic produce is not associated with better protection from chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease.”