Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: Dried Beans vs. Canned Beans

Q&A Wednesday: Dried Beans vs. Canned Beans

by Erika Nicole Kendall

From Rancho Gordo’s blog, a bowl of baked beans from L.C.’s in San Francisco

Q: Beans! I want to get more in my diet, but soaking dried beans seems time consuming to me (and irritating to my roommates – we have a tiny little kitchen). Is this another case where I just have to suck it up? I did see a can of black beans at a health store whose only ingredients were “beans, water, and sea weed” which seemed promising. But of course, health food store = moneyzzz. 🙁 I think it might be worth it for me at the moment to go the more expensive route, and in the future switching to dried, but if there are really no benefits to the organic cans (or if the canned stuff in the grocery store is okay *crosses fingers*) then it’s not worth it!

Aside from the excessive preservatives that can be found in canned versions of beans, there’s also the added trouble of extra salt sprinkled across the top… salt that you might not have wanted to accommodate in your diet for the day. You can find preservative-free beans, but you’ll just have to turn over the back of that can in order to be sure.

Luckily, Livestrong covers this pretty well. On the subject of nutritional quality:

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 cup of canned navy beans has 296 calories, 20 g of protein, 1 g of fat, 54 g of carbohydrates, 13 g of fiber and 1174 mg of sodium. Significant micronutrients in this serving include 162 mcg of folate, 5 mg of iron, 123 mg of magnesium and 755 mg of potassium.

By comparison, the same 1-cup serving of boiled dried navy beans without added salt has 255 calories, 1 g of fat, 15 g of protein, 47 g of carbohydrates, 19 grams of fiber and 0 mg of sodium. Micronutrients include 255 mcg of folate, 4 mg of iron, 96 mg of magnesium and 708 mg of potassium.

The water content in the beans — 185 g in canned beans versus 116 g in dried beans — and the cooking time may contribute to some of these nutritional variations.

On the subject of salt:

The most significant nutritional difference between canned and dried beans may be their sodium content. According to the Institute of Medicine, people between the ages of 9 and 50 should limit their sodium intake to the adequate intake of 1500 mg per day. Over 50, the adequate intake decreases to 1.3 mg per day. The most sodium you should have per day to avoid adverse effects on your health is 2300 mg — about 1 tsp. — for everyone over 14.

To me, beyond these two issues, there are two more left: price and cook-ability. With canned beans, you can pour the can out into a colander and rinse off most of the salt that you encounter. With dried beans, you can skip the salt altogether and use either a bit of vinegar on them once cooked, or just use bitter spices like paprika or cumin as you cook them.

But wait – how do you cook dried beans?

Reeeeeeeally easily. Michael Ruhlman has, like, the world’s most thorough bean-cooking post ever. Ev. Er. Read on:

Dried beans and salt. Dried beans and soaking.  Ask some chefs and they’ll tell you add salt in the beginning and the beans will never get soft.  Some chefs have suggested that salt slows the rehydration of beans.  Others say, the slower the rehydration, the better the finished bean (fewer broken ones), so it’s important to soak them overnight.  Others say it doesn’t really matter, or it depends.  One thing that is demonstrably true is that you don’t have to soak your beans overnight; if you want beans for dinner, put them in water and cook them till they’re tender or at least edible, no soaking, no blanching, just put them in a pot and cook them.

Wanting to get to the bottom of this, though, and having little scientific knowledge of bean cookery myself, I wrote to my friend Russ Parsons about this.  Russ is a long time food journalist, editor of the Los Angeles Times food section and author of excellent books, How To Pick a Peachand How To Read a French Fry, the latter devoted to exploring food science questions. He wrote back:

“I don’t think there’s a definitive word on anything about dried beans.  Seriously. It’s all pluses and minuses. You don’t need to soak them, but soaking them will cut cooking time, and some argue that it helps the beans hold their shapes. Not soaking them, on the other hand, really improves the flavor I’ve found.  After doing my experiments, I started salting at the beginning rather than at the end and I think that makes a big difference in flavor as well (seasoned beans rather than salty broth). But Steve Sando”—Steve is the country’s bean guru, owner of Rancho Gordo, purveyor of awesome heirloom beans (those are his Christmas Limas, above), author of Heirloom Beans as well as an excellent bean blog at ranchogordo.com— “who originally did the same, now says that he salts roughly halfway through cooking.  He says this gives him the same flavor result but fewer broken beans.  I’ve tried that and it certainly doesn’t seem to hurt. Besides, Steve cooks beans every day, I just cook them a dozen times a year. [source]

Following the link to Steve Sando’s blog actually shows you this “jolly” little bit of footage, a nice 3-minute vid on cooking beans:

This is how I do it – minus that beautiful pot and, instead of salt in the end I add cumin – and it’s pretty much a win all-around.

As for whether to soak or not to soak? All I can say is, I soak. I suggest the same of others.

I say, buy a giant bag of dried beans, cook ’em up, get a jar where you can store them and pop that jar in the fridge. Now, you’ve got beans for whenever you want ’em, and your jar will probably keep for a few weeks, depending upon how it’s sealed. Hope that helps!

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Serenity July 20, 2011 - 8:37 AM

As a vegetarian with control issues, I eat a lot of my own beans. It’s all in the timing. Soak the beans before you go to sleep and put them in a crockpot while you’re gone all day. When you come home dinner is ready!

Ricki July 20, 2011 - 9:20 AM

I’ve been cooking dry beans for years now. I do use canned, but that’s usually when I’m all out of cooked beans. I cook them a pound at a time and freeze them in one cup servings. This usually gets me through a couple of months since I only eat them about once a week. I like the taste better and since I’m salt sensitive, I can control how much is used. It does seem like a chore, but like Erika and Serenity just pointed out, they don’t require you to be too involved and they pretty much cook themselves.

I noticed the question mentioned something about health food stores and cost. I buy my canned beans at Trader Joe’s because they’re about $1.29, sometimes less, they’re organic and low sodium. These cans will sit in my cabinet for most of the year since I much prefer the cost benefit of $1/lb or so for dried beans out of the bulk bins.

Rosie July 20, 2011 - 9:37 AM

as I was opening a can of kidney beans last night I was wondering what you would have to say about this! I’m sure making dry beans isn’t that hard but everything I cook takes less than an hour to make and that includes prep time.

NaturalBlackOne July 20, 2011 - 1:10 PM

I use both canned and dry. Canned when I am in a rush or for salads and the quick pot of rice and beans, but when I am really cooking a meal like “good” rice and beans or bean stews, I use dried beans. I simply boil them for 10 minutes, turn the heat off and cover them up for an hour. Then I cook as normal. It is like “speed soaking”. I learned that trick and it works like a charm when I am forgetful about soaking them from the night before.

jas July 20, 2011 - 1:26 PM

Whole foods brand of canned beans are usually 89 cents and most don’t have additional sodium. I pretty much just open the can, rinse the beans a few times, and toss them in salads or wraps.

Johnnie July 20, 2011 - 1:50 PM

I always soak my beans overnight…less cook time and for me it cuts down on the side effects. 😉

milaxx July 20, 2011 - 4:23 PM

where do you get those cool bean jars?

milaxx July 20, 2011 - 4:27 PM


Amazon has them. Should have checked there first.

Bannef July 24, 2011 - 10:42 PM

I was the person who asked the question – thank you so much! All this advice is really helpful, particularly your last paragraph. Another problem is since I typically only cook for myself preparing one serving of dried beans seems a little silly, and I rarely need a full can. Your solution sounds perfect!

Danielle August 3, 2011 - 12:05 PM

You do not need to let beans sit in cold water overnight! Simply place them in a pot and bring them to a good boil. Boil for a minute or two. Take the beans off the hot burner. Let the beans sit in the boiling water for 1 hour & then cook the beans as you normally would. This is an alternative, “quick method” to letting the beans soak all night. Works well for black eye peas & black beans. OR cook lentils, which require no soaking at all because they are soft beans. Absolutely try a tasty low fat, low sodium recipe. I don’t think canned beans TASTE as good as cooking your own beans & dried beans are one of cheapest, healthiest foods out there. You can eat a portion every day, or just freeze them or try eating them with brown rice or cous cous. I can eat a pot of beans for 1 solid week! Enjoy!

Brenda55 November 7, 2011 - 6:28 PM

I use dried beans only. Why? Cost. One bag of dried yields the equivalent of three cans. Do the math. If you have a pressure cooker you can have them done very quickly. Otherwise just take a day that you are stuck in the house and cook up a batch and then freeze for later. What I do is soak and then cook the beans then separate into thirds, place in sandwich sized baggies and freeze. When you are ready to cook grab a bag and then your are good to go. Less cost, less trash and you know what is in them.

Frozen bean preform beautifully and depending on what you are making you don’t even need to thaw them.

Shevy November 6, 2012 - 4:27 PM

I buy dried beans and canned beans. The whole foods 365 brand is usually about a $1/can.. Also, if you have a Trader Joe’s in your area, they carry organic canned black beans and pinto beans, also about $1/can. When I cook dried beans (usually pinto, red beans or black beans), I cook them in a pressure cooker with onions, garlic, olive oil, and sometimes tomatoes. In a pressure cooker, the beans are usually ready in 30-40 minutes!

ytm24 December 5, 2012 - 9:27 PM

I made the spanish rice recipe in one of the meal plans with soaked black beans. I didn’t add any seasoning to the beans. It was delish. I like black beans, period. If I’m in a pinch and I buy canned beans (which I did in the past) they are gonna be the 52 cent store generic brand. So I guess I’m better off soaking my own because I am too cheap to buy an expensive can! I can cook a pound and use in two or three recipes. I am cooking just for me.

Kasey December 5, 2012 - 9:29 PM

Just to add some bean knowledge 🙂

One thing my mom taught me was to cook beans with a pressure cooker. I picked up at cheap 2 quart size pressure cooker at Shop Rite. If I want lentils I just saute some onions, green pepper, and garlic with some olive oil. When they are tender, I toss in dried lentils and 6 cups of water. Cover with the lid. After cooking 20 minutes, its ready. For a student who doesn’t want to cook, this is my to go meal. It makes enough for a week.

This method removes the need for soaking (though you should always check for stones) and gives a quick cook time.

TTFK August 25, 2013 - 10:32 PM

For a readily available, economical, low-sodium canned bean, check the Goya Premium line. One cup of their canned black beans has only 250mg of sodium, and much of that can be removed by rinsing them off well first. Also, only 100 calories and 18g of carbs per cup.

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