Soaking and Cooking Dried Beans Instead of Canned Review – Is it Worth it?

4 out of 5 leaves

4 out of 5 leaves

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?

The Good

  • 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
The Bad

  •  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).

My Experience

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!
I followed these instructions on preparing dried beans from one of my favorite blogs.  I placed the beans in a big bowl and covered with water and a little vinegar.  When I checked in a couple hours the water was all gone (absorbed into the beans).  I turns out you need a lot more water than just to cover the beans to get them all soaked up right. After leaving them on the counter for about a day, I rinsed them off, and put them in a pot to boil with some spices.  I let them simmer on the stove all afternoon, about 3 or 4 hours. 

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?  


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19 Responses to Soaking and Cooking Dried Beans Instead of Canned Review – Is it Worth it?

  1. Jutta says:

    Im so glad you brought up this topic. I think it’s very worthwhile, but I wonder: don’t the plastic bags also contain BPA? And aren’t they just as damaging to the environment as any other plastic?

    • DEA says:

      If you use good quality freezer bags they can be recucled to use for beans again, or purchase re-useable freezer containers. You are NOT cooking or heating in these bags, so the BPA should not be a problem.

    • Victoria says:

      Plastic bags are generally made of polyethylene, which do not contain BPA. Certainly I don’t recommend microwaving anything in plastic bags, but a gentle reheat in a bowl of hot water shouldn’t be a problem. We reuse the bags if possible, and then recycle.

      Yes there are better environmental choices, but this is what is working for our family at this time.

    • 'Becca says:

      You can reduce the environmental damage by reusing bags. Here are my instructions for washing plastic bags. I also reuse the bags from cereal boxes; they are great for freezing. Of course they don’t have a zip-top, but if you leave space at the top, you can just fold it over and put a rubber band around.

  2. Calliope says:

    In Greece, grain eating happens multiple times a week and it’s the main dish on the table!
    So, yes…trust me on this…every grain that you intend to cook needs to be soaked for at least 12 hours, except lentils and yellow split peas.
    A few tips to make them less gassy:
    – soak in a tbs of baking soda
    – toss the water of the first boil, put fresh cold water in the pot and then cook as usual (the minus in this tip is that you will also lose some nutrients.since we eat so much legumes though, i don’t mind)
    – mustard powder used in the first boil does wonders in the gas problem (and this is what I use)
    Hope I’ve helped!

  3. Meagan says:

    You can’t get around the soaking part, but we use a pressure cooker to cook all of our beans. They’re usually done in about 10 minutes and it tastes just as good. 🙂

  4. Rene S says:

    This post is so timely for me! I did my first batch of beans last week, and they turned out so-so (black beans). Did anyone have the problem of the bean skins coming off? I didn’t mind, since I intended to puree them in the end, but that wouldn’t work so well if I’d wanted to eat them whole.

    I did not add anything to the water when I soaked them, so perhaps that would make a difference? I so want to do this–the savings and health benefits are worth it.

  5. JES says:

    Thanks for the great information. We are a big bean family here 🙂 Frugal, healthy and with so many cooking options, they are a top ten favorite! I am visiting from the GROWING HOME link up 🙂

  6. I like to make beans in the crock pot. The first few times I tried it I managed to get distracted and stick the beans every time. The house smelled awful and hubby was tired of it. So I tried the crock pot which is amazingly easy!

  7. Angie says:

    I totally agree – NOT canned is so much better. I’m stopping by from Adorned from Above blog hop.

  8. I just recently started cooking my own beans and really like it. I find that it is so easy with just a little bit of pre-planning. Sometimes I still do used canned beans in a jam when I need them quick, but I try to cook most of the beans I eat.

    Visiting from Wildcrafting Wednesday 🙂

  9. AndiRae says:

    Not that I eat a lot of beans, but it’s my goal this year to use dried beans instead of canned. In addition to saving a bit of money, it’ll save me pantry space as well.

  10. My friend does her own beans, but I’ve never took the plunge. I might think about it, because I really enjoy a good side of beans.

  11. Kim O. says:

    Canned beans cause certain members of my family and myself terrible digestive upset. I prepare our beans much like the way you describe and not only do they taste better than canned, but they don’t cause the problems with digestion that canned beans do. They are much easier on the budget as well!

  12. Hannah says:

    I pinned this for future reference. My grandpa cans beans, but I have yet to do so. Thanks for sharing your post with us at Eco-Kids Tuesday. Hope to see you back today!

  13. Lisa Lynn says:

    Thanks for sharing this on Wildcrafting Wednesday! Hope to see you back on today’s hop!

  14. I actually just made a large pot of ham and beans for dinner last night. I did the dried beans soaked overnight. Added a smoked ham bone from the pig we raised last year to the crock pot, two sticks of celery, a small onion from the garden, a clove of garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Added my soaked beans, filled the pot with water and let cook on low all day while I Was at work. I love the set it and forget it cooking. My husband loves beans and rice, so when I got home from work I just cooked up a pot of beans on the stove. Totally easy.

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