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!