I had my doubts about this, and so did Mr. Scrimp. Dried beans require so much time. So much extra work. They are so much less convenient. And as far as taste and health benefits... well, there isn't really a difference, is there?
Turns out, I was wrong.
I'm going to do a side-by-side comparison here based on several criteria, using black beans. Prices will vary for other varieties.
Ok, it's true. When you're in a rush, you haven't made any plans, and you don't know what to eat, it's easier to open up a can of beans than it is to make them from dried. Dried beans require hours of preparation to be edible and flavorful.
However... if you eat beans a lot, or if you plan your meals ahead, as I do, this is really easy to get past. Dried beans need to soak for a least 8-12 hours before cooking. All that means is that you dump them into a bowl of water when you're making your morning coffee, and they're ready to go into the crockpot or onto the stove when you're done with work, where they will require 1-2 hours of low-hassle cooking.
Advantage: Canned beans, but only by a hair.
Canned beans are hardly what I would call "pricey." Or are they? In my mind, $0.99 - $3.00 a can isn't half bad for a good source of both protein and fiber. But let's break that down a little more, shall we?
How much food will that $1-3 a can actually get you? Well, once it's drained, it's about 2 cups of beans.
Compare that to $0.50 - $3 for a pound of beans. Once soaked , cooked, and drained, that 1-lb bag will yield roughly 7 1/2 cups of beans. That is nearly four times more at the same price or less.
Advantage: Dried beans, absolutely
I was really not expecting to find much of a taste difference between dried beans and canned. Honestly, I feel kind of stupid about that now. Canning makes everything else taste different, so why wouldn't the same hold true for beans?
I wouldn't say there's a huge difference in taste, but it's definitely there. Not to mention the lack of extra salt in the homemade variety.
Advantage: Dried beans
So, is there any nutritional difference between canned and dried beans? My hypothesis was "not really," but a little research proved me to have been wrong again.
Nutritional information here is for navy beans because I had trouble finding a side-by-side on black beans, but the general idea is the same.
Folate: 162 mcg
Turns out, canned beans have a little more protein, but also more carbohydrates, sodium, and calories. Dried beans, on the other hand, have more folate and fiber, and fewer calories per serving. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends dried beans over canned due to the reduced sodium and exposure to preservatives (via).
Advantage: Dried beans
5. Wild Card: Environmental Questions
The last issue I'm going to look at here is the BPA question. Bisphenol A is a chemical used in plastic manufacturing. A year ago this month, it was declared a toxic substance in Canada. America hasn't made it that far yet, although the FDA have published their concerns about the safety of BPA exposure in children.
BPA is an estrogenic compound, meaning that consuming it can throw your balance of hormones off. In women, this means increased weight gain, mood swings, water retention, and possible fertility problems. In men... well, actually, it means pretty much the same thing. Studies have shown that BPA can also affect normal dopamine and thyroid production, and some (but not all) studies have found evidence of a link between BPA and cancer.
There's more, but I think that's enough to be getting on with. For complete information, with sources, check out the Wikipedia page on BPA.
BPA is, in short, nasty, nasty stuff.
And it happens to be a byproduct of the plastics used to line the cans used in industrial canning. So those black beans? Those canned tomatoes? Chef Boyardee? You guessed it, my friends: unless specifically labeled otherwise, they contain bisphenol A.
Dried beans? No BPA. That's good enough for me.
Advantage: Dried beans
And the winner is...
Is there any question here? Dried beans beat out canned in 4 out of 5 categories, and that fifth category was hardly a landslide victory for the canned variety. If you're ignoring the better price, taste, nutrition, and environmental impact of dried beans for the sake of convenience, I suggest you think again.
Winner by TKO: Dried beans
To prepare dried beans
So, want to give it a try? One of the things that kept me back for a while was that I honestly just wasn't quite sure how to cook dried beans. Other than some vague ideas about soaking, I really wasn't sure. I almost always used canned beans. Now, I have two cooking methods to share with you!
Remember to always sort and rinse dried beans. Shriveled beans, rocks, sticks, and other detritus should be thrown out, and beans should be rinsed prior to soaking to remove dust.
1 cup of dried beans should yield about 2 - 2 1/2 cups after rehydration.
For each cup of dried beans, add at least 3 cups of water to a large bowl or pot. Soak for at least 6-10 hours. Refrigerate while soaking if you want to avoid any chance of fermentation. The beans will absorb water; if you didn't add enough, you might need to top it off.
After 6-24 hours, drain all liquid from the beans, rinse them several times (until water runs clear) and cook for 1 - 2 hours, or until the beans are tender.
Bring beans and water to a boil in an uncovered pot. Boil for 2-4 minutes, remove from heat, and let soak, covered, for at least an hour. Drain and cook as above.
For the best texture and flavor, don't add salt or acidic ingredients until the beans are already soft and ready to serve.
Note: Kidney beans must be boiled for at least five minutes, either during soaking or cooking, to remove toxins.
See? Most of it is soaking anyway, and that takes almost no time. Plus, soaked beans can be frozen. That's right! Did you know that? Because I sure didn't.
Freezing Soaked Beans
Soak and drain your beans as in the steps above. Put into bags, jars, or tupperware and freeze. When you need them, pull them out of the freezer and use them the way you would use canned beans. Check for tenderness when you eat them and be sure to cook until soft.