Cooking dried beans vs. Buying canned beans

by Emily from Frugal Living NW on January 13, 2011

How to soak & cook dried beans -- never buy a can again!

This week I have been reading and thinking about beans more than is probably healthy for the average adult. I even checked out The Bean Bible from the library. Who even knew such a book existed?! I happily added it to my stack. I’m just doing my small part to keep Portland weird.

And for good reason. Beans are incredibly versatile and economical. My pantry is stocked with cans of beans I bought, and my freezer is stocked with bags of beans I cooked. If I can find quality canned beans on a good deal, I stock up. If I have the time but not the money, I cook my own.

Once you see how easy it is to cook beans from scratch, it will give you one more way to stretch your grocery bucks as far as they can go. After all, thawing a bag of beans is every bit as easy as cranking open a can. Like I read on one online forum, “Beans in the freezer are like money in the bank.” Now that’s my kind of math. And the added bonus? Not only do you spend less money, but you also control the ingredient list.

How to soak & cook driend beans

Health Benefits:
Beans are high in protein and low in fat. They are a great source of soluble fiber which helps remove harmful cholesterol from your body before it’s absorbed. Incorporating beans into your diet can help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease, heart attacks, and breast & prostate cancer. In fact, studies have found Hispanic women have half the risk of breast cancer as white women. Researchers attribute this, in part, to the high quantity of legumes in their diet. Cool beans.

Ingredients:
The ingredient list in most commercially canned beans is actually pretty basic: water, beans, and salt. Most brands also contain calcium chloride which is a firming agent, and many brands include sugar which is just wrong. With the exception of Eden Organics, all companies use BPA in the lining of their cans. I’m not interested in debating this topic, but if you’re looking to cut down on BPA consumption in canned products, cooking dried beans is a great place to start.

Price & Quality:
There is a reason Dave Ramsey advocates a “beans and rice” diet when counseling people out of debt. It’s cheap. You can find canned black beans at Winco for as low as .60/can. Dried black beans are even cheaper than this. Winco sells their generic bags for .90/lb. One pound of dried beans = about six cups of cooked beans. Six cups for around a buck!

The bulk section is often an even better deal. Fred Meyer, Winco, or Bob’s Red Mill are all good options, depending on your budget and your taste. If you order through Azure Standard, their selection is very similar to Bob’s, but their prices are cheaper. Look for a store with a high turnover rate to ensure the freshest products and the best results.

Of course, if we’re debating quality, canned beans can’t even begin to compare with the flavor and texture you get from cooking them from scratch. So let’s get started… Today we’ll cover cooking dried black beans. This soaking & cooking method will work for any bean that requires a long cooking time such as black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, cannellini beans, pinto beans, etc. Pretty much anything but lentils.

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How to Soak and Cook Dried Beans

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Pour the dried beans onto a rimmed baking sheet. Pick out any cracked or wrinkled beans, as well as any small stones or dirt.

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Dump the beans into a colander and rinse with cold water.

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Put the rinsed beans in a large bowl and cover with several inches of cold water. Soak overnight, around 6-8 hours.

There are a couple different reasons for soaking beans before cooking them: 1) It helps them cook faster. The larger the bean, the longer the soak. The longer they soak, the faster they cook. and 2) It leaches out carbohydrates that our bodies cannot digest. When beans move through our lower intestine, bacteria breaks down what our digestive enzymes can’t, resulting in gas. One author called it “digestive difficulties.” My 2-year old calls it something else, but we won’t get into that. Ok, that might fall into the too-much-information category, but I think it’s fascinating. Remember, I’m the one who reads The Bean Bible, after all.

Soaking isn’t absolutely necessary and some people avoid it, saying it also removes vitamins and minerals. Personally, I’m all about cutting down on cooking time and “digestive difficulties.” I’ll get those vitamins and minerals from other sources, thank you very much.

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In the morning, pour out the water and rinse the beans. Black beans will be pleasantly plump and purple.

Pour the beans into a wide, heavy pot and cover with about two inches of water. Place over medium-high heat.

If you want to add any herbs, vegetables, or spices to kick up the flavor, this is a good time. Don’t add any salt yet because it will prevent them from absorbing water, slowing down the cooking process. Wait until the end when the beans are tender.

The water will quickly turn black and foam will come to the surface. Scoop off the foam and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer on low. If you prefer using the oven, you could also bake the beans at 300 degrees. Check them as they cook, adding more water, if needed.

Cook until tender, anywhere from 40 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending on the variety. Black beans usually take around 50 minutes. Although they cook pretty quickly, you are not going for speed here. Your goal is a nice, easy simmer. Sample a few beans before removing them from the heat. You want them to be tender but not mushy.

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Remove from the heat and sprinkle with salt, if desired. Let the beans cool in the cooking water, absorbing the salt as they cool. This will give them better texture and flavor. If you want to keep the cooking water, it can be used like a bean broth and added to vegetable soups to boost the flavor.

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Cool the beans completely, split into small containers or bags, and freeze. Store the cooked beans, covered, in the refrigerator for up to four days or in the freezer for up to six months. If I am using the beans on a salad or in a wrap, I just thaw them under warm water or in the microwave. If I am making chili or soup, I just toss the frozen beans directly in the pot.

So there you have it : sort, soak, rinse, cook, salt, cool, freeze. See? Those bags of dried beans really aren’t as intimidating as they may seem. You can do this! Your wallet and your taste buds will thank you.

Want to read more? Amazon has Bean by Bean: A Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon (no joke) in stock and ready to ship!

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{ 107 comments… read them below or add one }

Carissa January 11, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Hi! I tried cooking beans in my crock pot (vita clay cooker) without soaking, and maybe it was because I burned them or maybe I didn’t get all of the toxins out, but they didn’t taste very good. Canned beans taste much better to me so far.

I am trying again and I will soak the beans tonight. So is the consensus that you must soak the beans overnight even if you are going to use a slow cooker?

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Kate from Frugal Living NW January 11, 2014 at 10:28 pm

Soaking is an essential part of the process. You absolutely must do it even if you’re using a slow cooker. Once you do that it will be amazing. Remember though, canned beans have TONS of salt so you may need to add more salt than you think to the beans at the end. Just keep adding a bit at a time until it tastes the way you want. They are really good.

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Briteleaf December 11, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Love the website and lots of good information about our family staple. Thank you so much.

However, don’t love the ad about political contributions. It is a come on for the great sounding Oregon Family Council that is a hate group fighting equality of marriage for gay Americans and legislating for businesses to legally be able to refuse providing products and services to gays. Hope you get rid of it.

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Kate from Frugal Living NW December 11, 2013 at 10:00 pm

We don’t control the ads that pop on the side bar. They are generated by Google based upon the recent searches or viewings by those using the computer you’re writing from.

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doug September 18, 2013 at 6:46 am

Beans,beans..the magical fruit,the more you eat,the more you toot

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HEATHER January 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm

I was singing that as I read the article!

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emmer September 12, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I have found two things which seem to reduce the “digestive difficulties”. first, when put to soak, add a small spoon of baking soda. it helps to neutralize an enzyme on the bean surface that prevents it from sprouting too soon and which makes the bean less digestible. second, after soaking and changing the water, add 1/4 tsp or so of ground ginger. it cooks with the beans and won’t be tasted. supposed to do the same thing and is good for bloated tummies as well.
I have found that older beans take longer to cook. so, if you found a bag in the back of the pantry, you can use it, but you might plan on all day cooking. just check on it periodically. or if it cooks to mush, use it as a filling in something. if you use dried beans when pre-cooking a pie crust to keep the crust from puffing up, that will lengthen the cooking time as well.

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Barb August 27, 2013 at 9:10 am

I would never cook beans from scratch without my beloved pressure cooker! Soak overnight and cook for 10 minutes! And that’s it! :) Just the thought of waiting almost an hour to get it done makes me cringe and I am not even adding the extra cost of gas or electricity.

For a tastier batch, I sautée onion, garlic and small piece of sausage or meat for stew (whatever I have at the time) before adding the soaked beans to the pressure cooker. Big time difference!! Season with salt and other dry spices to taste.

Also, do you get rid of the broth? It’s rich in protein, very little in carbs and a perfect pair to pour over the rice. Your pictures don’t really show any at all hence my question.

And I agree, beans in the freezer are like money in the bank. I always have many batches stocked up!! :)

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Emily from Frugal Living NW August 27, 2013 at 6:58 pm

I used to rinse the beans, but then I started to keep the beans in the broth. My family’s tastes adjusted and now we prefer it that way. For a simple dinner, I serve the beans over brown rice with fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro. It is so flavorful and delicious!

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Margaret June 12, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Your black bean recipe worked great!!!!! Thanks!

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Em June 10, 2013 at 8:53 am

I think the beans were boiled too long prior to soaking. I would recommend soaking first in cool water overnight, then boiling only after the beans are fully hydrated.

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L. Howard Kyle June 8, 2013 at 12:30 am

I washed and cleaned dried black beans and brought to a boil for several minutes, let soak overnight, still hard as rocks and slightly bitter. Put fresh water on and brought to boil again. Soaked several more hours, now slightly softened, but still too hard to do anything with. Could they be just to hard to reconstitute? We live in the desert area with low humidity. I just hate to through out all my beans if there is any way to get them soft and use them.

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Emily from Frugal Living NW June 9, 2013 at 9:18 pm

I can’t tell for sure, but it doesn’t sound like you’ve actually cooked the beans yet? They will still be hard after soaking. You have to simmer them to get the soft, cooked consistency you want. Don’t toss them! Read the full set of directions for more detail. Hope that helps.

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C Barton May 13, 2013 at 9:54 am

I love cooking with beans and there are so many varieties, too.
I recently tried cooking dried small red beans and am curious why it took more than 2 hours to get them al dente. I got them at a local supermarket (Shop-Rite) and assume that age is not an issue. The beans, I mean, not mine.
I like your ideas about freezing them. That would make it more efficient to cook a lot at one time.

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Em May 6, 2013 at 9:55 am

Mom was a home ed teacher in the ’30s, she knew how frugal and healthy dried beans are. As to the smell of cooking beans, why not just put the crockpot outside? Also reduces heat in the summer.
Mom also was an advocate of solar cookers, had one made of cardboard and plexiglass, and used it successfully for years. She also donated them to be used in Africa, to preserve sparse vegetation being used for fires.

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Dave May 5, 2013 at 5:43 pm

beans u can cook ahead-then freeze in a plastic bag—defrost in 1 minit, use rite away ! make chili in 10 –left over hotdogs hams left over carrots tomatoes onions from yesterdays picnic even wash off the mac mayo salad and add that last to the chili —-who said you dont have anything for dinner for the kids the thing is wast not want not wen u dice it all up brown the meat add the tomatoes– its from yesterday , fresh, & from mom Its gotta b good ! Moms no how to save the day

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Dave May 5, 2013 at 5:26 pm

please, one thing to remember! dry beans are really cheap,u get alot. the taste wen cooked is lots better then canned,no comparisen.!
make the kids a great quick snack,even with the canned beans let them dip vegies carrots stringbeans celery cukes—vegies are cheap
Its not a meal,its to teach them to b friends ,eat togeather ,like coloring with crayons so to speak [no sugar] never tried it with penutbutter ,,its a thought ?

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Dave May 5, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Home Made hummus
If u have food processer – please u will need 3 tab lemon juice –1/4 c
olive oil – 1lb bag cooked white beans –or garbanzo beans –pinto beans — even black beans- 1/2 tees salt perhaps a [1/2 tees pizza dried peppers–for zing ! then push da button puree the whole thing , u have now made a great & very popular dip ,for raw vegies
for chips ,pretzels, remember you can add ,blu cheese,pepper sauce
mayo , mustard, even orange food coloring,or sherry,or white wine

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Dave May 5, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Dear ladies,Gents — please soak ANY beans overnite hide in cold oven covered with 3 in water in plastic container — drain & wash in morn– Plug in crock pot with cup of water in [so it wont crack liner wen u fill it-u want it hot !] your beans should b covered with 3 in of water in sauce pan,bring to boil ! ahh, its boiling , please pour into
hot Crock pot, cover –the beans will b done in approx 1 1/2 hrs –taste for tenderness after first hour–absolutly perfect ! scoop out & add to what ever your making– store the rest in fridg. ! Dave

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Chelsea March 28, 2013 at 10:45 am

So I opened my first bag of dried beans (ever) today and they’ve been soaking for about 2 hours now. And much to my surprise, I just checked on them and the majority of them have already split open and basically all of them are now wrinkled and/or peeling their skin. Any idea why this is happening?

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Catherine March 6, 2013 at 10:23 am

Any tips on cooking them in the crockpot after they soak?

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Tam February 16, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Hi, I’ve tried a few times to do the dried beans thing and I can’t stand the smell of the beans cooking .No matter how I try to vent the smell out if the house it still lingers. I’ve gone back to using the canned beans but I would much rather use the dried bulk beans if I could conquer the smelly problem.

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Emily February 18, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Hi, Tam – I agree. I’m not a big fan of the smell either. I just try to pick one morning during the week when I plan to be home and do a couple varieties at once. I guess you could do a bunch to freeze in the spring/summer with open windows. The smell doesn’t linger too long, thankfully, but here are 2 suggestions from about.com:

Remove Smells from Cooking: Place a small bowl of vinegar in the kitchen. It does a great job removing smells from frying, cooking strong-smelling foods, and even burned foods. I use strong red wine vinegar.

Add a Great Smell: This bonus tip comes from my best friend who is a Greek real estate agent. Put a few whole coffee beans in a baking dish. Put in the oven and turn on low heat. Even those who don’t drink coffee will be enchanted by the aroma!

Here are more great ideas: http://www.thekitchn.com/how-do-i-get-rid-of-cooking-smells-in-my-small-kitchen-good-questions-182122

Definitely worth a shot!

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Beth February 5, 2013 at 3:03 pm

When you soak the beans does it need to be in the refridgeator? or is on the counter ok?

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Emily February 5, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Hi, Beth – Your counter is fine!

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Beth February 5, 2013 at 3:02 pm

When you soak over night do hey need to be in the refridgerator? or just on the counter ok?

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Elisa January 6, 2013 at 10:19 am

I’m not sure my first comment went through- if this is a duplicate I apologize. What price would you consider to be a good stock-up price for canned? Fred Meyer often does $.50 per can sales on garbanzo, black, red, kidney, etc. Is this a good stock up price? Thanks!

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Kate January 6, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Yes, that is a good price. WinCo’s lowest generic price is around $.60 a can so when you find the for $.50 buy a few. Fred Meyer does that sale every 2 months or so.

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Elisa January 6, 2013 at 10:18 am

Just curious what you consider a good price for canned beans? Fred Meyer often has a coupon deal making cans $0.50 each for any type: black, kidney, red, garbanzo, etc. I that a good stock up price or do I wait for a cheaper price?

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James Lyman December 29, 2012 at 5:45 pm

If you are looking for a GREAT place to buy beans in bulk in the Portland, Tacoma, Salem, and Eugene areas, look no further than Cash and Carry. In Portland they are behind the 7-11 on 82nd at the Estacada exit off of I-205. In Salem they are on Salem Industrial off of Cherry. For other locations check their website. Right now they have 50 pound bags of Pinto beans for only 32 dollars. We also purchase ALL of our baking supplies there as well. And if you want to save money on meat, you can purchase primals there at a fraction of the cost of the retail stores, cut it up yourself and save TONS of money :)

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Cathy Facer December 18, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Did you know that you can cook dry beans in a small pressure cooker without soaking or venting? I went to a demonstration and we were all saying aren’t you going to vent the steam? The reply was no need to for dried beans.

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RICK September 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm

My mom has canned green beans that are ten years old. They are in quart jars and taste and look as good as the day the beans were picked. Are the beans healthy to eat? If canned goods look and taste good, when do they need to be thrown out?

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Jammie Eastham September 8, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Rick, I would check the ball blue book for recommended shelf life of beans. Old beans if not canned properly can cause botulism and especially if the lid is not sealed perfectly after the many years. Canned goods are good for a long time, but I would check anyway. When cleaning out my grandmothers canning stock, I found things that were 20 years plus old. Needless to say they all went to the compost pile.

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Jammie Eastham September 8, 2012 at 8:36 pm

I just looked at a couple of sites where people were eating stuff canned 30-50 years old and were fine. I am a little skeptical, but check the lids to see if they are sealed and cook for 20 minutes to kill botulism spores.

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