Using canned beans is not only quick and easy, it is pretty much commonplace in American households. I always see dried beans in the supermarket and at specialty food stores and I, probably like many of you, passed them up for a quicker, more convenient option…canned beans. So I decided to find out for myself which of these two alternatives was: 1. better tasting, 2. better for you and 3. the most economical. I love beans, they make whatever you are eating a lot heartier and healthier, they are after all packed with fiber and iron. But let’s face it, no one is going to take the time to cook beans from scratch unless they taste better and are better for you. So lets find out…
First things first: I had to go out and get dried beans. (OK, actually my assistant picked them up for me from Eataly – thanks Beth!)
Next I picked out all of the split and broken beans, stones and anything else that looked strange, then I weighed out a ½ pound of beans.
After rinsing the beans thoroughly with water, I placed them in a covered pot to soak overnight.
In the morning, I rinsed the beans in a strainer again and as you can see below they practically tripled in size.
Then I gathered all of the ingredients to cook them… ½ of a yellow onion quartered, two bay leaves and some extra virgin olive oil. Helpful hint: Do not cook them with salt. Salt keeps the beans from cooking properly, they will wind up tough and the beans will split, so only season after cooking.
The beans then went into the pot and were covered with water. Then I added in the onion, bay leaf and a healthy glug of oil. Brought everything to a boil for about 5 minutes, then reduced the heat and simmered them covered for about 40 minutes. I tested them for texture and firmness every five minutes after 25 minutes passed. I wanted them to be fully cooked of course, but somewhere in between too firm and mushy.
When the cooking was complete, I drained the beans in a mesh strainer and gave them a good rinse. This is what I wound up with…
At first I was a little upset; all this work and a lot of the beans were broken, I wanted perfect, whole, smooth beans like you see in all of the pictures all over the internet. Sooo… I cooked another batch, same results, eerrr…. But then I opened the can of beans I had and you know what, they were even more broken than mine were. I could have picked out only the whole beans and photographed them as a “pretty” pic, but I wanted to show what you really wind up with…not so bad after all.
Now to comparing the beans for texture and flavor. For starters, and the thing I noticed right away: the color. The beans I cooked had a much nicer color and looked fresher and more natural than the canned beans which have an unappealing brownish color. The fresh cooked beans also smelled a LOT better as well. Now on to texture, flavor and nutrition:
Texture: The canned beans were definitely softer, almost leaning towards mushy while the cooked beans had a much firmer, denser texture and feel.
Flavor: Hands down the cooked beans tasted the best. They didn’t taste salty like the canned beans and the flavor imparted by the bay leaf, onion and olive oil, while mild, gave a very nice background flavor.
Nutrition: I like the fact that the cooked beans were not packed with salt, I like to control what goes into my food. And also – there are no preservatives in fresh cooked beans, another great bonus.
I am going to declare dried cooked beans the clear winner here. They taste so much better and have a meatier texture than their canned counterparts and I like having control over and knowing exactly what goes into what I am eating. Obviously, you can be your own judge on the taste and texture, but I definitely recommend preparing the beans at home at least once so you can see for yourself.
Now does this mean I won’t use canned beans anymore? Absolutely not. If I just need a few to toss in a salad, I may very well grab for a small can of cannellini beans, but if I am adding them to a big soup, need them for a side dish or anything else substantial, I will definitely take the little bit of time needed to make these from scratch. In my opinion they are definitely worth the little bit of extra time to make them at home.
So there you have it… a bit of helpful information to help you eat better and healthier. Drop me a line and let me know what you think.
Now what are you going to do with all of the beans?!? Don’t worry, I’ll be posting some great bean recipes in the upcoming weeks so stay-tuned!
- ½ lb dried cannellini beans
- ½ medium yellow onion, quartered
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
- Sort through the beans, removing any split beans, stones, etc
- Rinse beans thoroughly in cold water
- Place in a bowl with enough water to cover all of the beans plus an extra 3-4 inches. Cover bowl or pot for 8 hours or overnight.
- Empty beans from bowl or pot into a strainer and rinse again. If you soaked the beans in the pot you are going to use, give it a quick wash.
- Place all the beans in the pot and cover with water plus 2 inches
- Add in the onion, bay leaves and a healthy pour extra virgin olive oil
- Bring to a boil for 5-7 minutes (skim any foam off the top)
- Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 35-40 minutes, testing for texture every 5 minutes after 35 minutes of cooking
- Drain and lightly rinse beans
- Store in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to five days.