Beans are a highly nutritious food, offering a great punch of protein and fiber all in one serving. They are a tasty addition to many meals, and can help fill the gaps when meat is not a part of your menu for the day. In the US, most folks are used to buying canned beans, but with concerns about endocrine disrupting BPA in canned goods a natural minded consumer wants to avoid exposure wherever possible. Purchasing and cooking dried beans the old school way is an alternative to canned, but is it worth the time and effort?
- Better for you – cooking your own beans helps you avoid the concerning levels of dangerous BPA that is present in most canned goods
- Better for the Earth – less canned goods purchased means less cans in the waste stream, and less industrial pollution from the commercial canning process
- Saves Money – dried beans cost $0.34 less per 1 cup serving vs canned beans (source)
- Tastes better – in my opinion the taste of fresh cooked beans is much nicer than from canned
- Flavor versatility – when cooking you can add all sorts of extra spices or flavor components to suit your tastes or final dish
- Easy – cooking up dried beans is about as easy as it gets – especially if you use the slow cooker!
- Less gas – if you take the time to soak the beans before cooking, they tend to be much easier on your system
- Takes a little bit of pre-planning. (Not a big deal at all if you prepare a big batch ahead of time and freeze in smaller portions for later use).
For the new year my husband decided that he wanted to do the 4 hour body plan. Basically, it’s a diet plan that is high protein, heavy on the veggies, low on carbs, with no processed food. Kind of like Paleo, but with beans. Lots and lots (and lots) of beans.
With my husband now wanting to add a side of beans to every meal, I pointed out that it would be cost effective, and overall healthier if he soaked and cooked his own beans. “Hmmmmm”, he said. “I’ll do it for you”, I offered. “I guess, if you want”, was his non-committal reply.
So he picked up some dried black beans, and I started looking into how to cook them. It’s pretty simple really: you put them in water, let them soak if you choose, and then simmer slowly with spices until they are as soft as you want.
Why would you soak beans before cooking? Well, it turns out there is this whole food theory that soaking beans, and grains in general, makes them way healthier for you. Short story: phytic acid in the grains is an “anti-nutrient” that prevents absorption of the good nutrients in food. It also can cause gas, heartburn, and other digestive woes. Soaking the grain releases phytase, which breaks down the phytic acid and makes your grains much more nutritious than before. (read lots more about this here).
Some folks consider it absolutely necessary to soak (or even sprout) every grain prior to preparing it. Others find this all a bit overwhelming, and just do the best they can with what they can buy at their local crunchy supermarket. (I’ll admit it – I’m in the latter group).
However, I decided to take the time to soak these beans for the following reasons:
- I was doing a big batch, and it doesn’t really take all that much effort to soak them for 24 hours
- My husband was planning on eating a TON of beans, and I really do want them to be as healthy as possible for him
- Beans are a bit notorious for causing gas issues. I figured it would be beneficial for our whole family if these beans were as gas-free as possible!
After the beans were finished, I let them cool off, and then portioned them into 1/2 and 1 cup serving sizes (the toddler insisted on helping with this part, so it took a little extra time and effort than if I was doing it myself). I placed them in plastic bags, and froze them flat. This way, a whole bag of cooked beans took up a surprisingly small amount of room in my freezer. I got about 12 cups of cooked beans out of the small bag of dried beans I started with. Although the whole process took a day and a half, the actual hands on time was probably less than 20 minutes, even with the toddler helping.
When my husband was ready to eat, he just placed a bag of beans in a container of hot water to thaw and warm them. It was really easy, and took about as much time as opening a can of beans and rinsing all the gunk off. And the little plastic baggies were pre-portioned just right, so he didn’t have to deal with a half can of leftover beans. Note that you could also freeze in glass containers, or can the beans yourself. Just do whatever works for your cooking needs.
Overall, cooking my own beans was easy and cost effective. I like that I was able to pre-portion them in just the amounts that worked for my family. I like that I didn’t have to worry about BPA or other random chemicals. I also like that I can preseason them to suit my needs, and cook them to a softer or harder consistency based on my plans for them. I highly recommend doing your own beans, and I’m not planning to go back to canned.
Have you ever tired doing your own beans?