Thursday, September 19, 2013

Canned vs Dry

I was scooping up some dry garbanzo beans out of the bins at Sprouts to cook up for a salad when another shopper asked me if they were better for you than canned.  That made me think about the reasons I usually do go the soak-your-own route instead of opting for the convenience of a can.

There is nothing wrong with buying canned beans.  If you like a certain recipe, you probably won't be able to recreate it exactly without some of the fancy additives the processors use.  I have been trying for years to make something like the now-closed restaurant Love's baked beans.  I've gotten close a few times, but I wish they came in a can.

So, here are the pros and cons I have come up with for soaking your own beans...

  • You control the recipe.  No added salt or preservatives.  Nutritionally, the beans are identical.  It's what's done to them in the soaking and cooking processes that make the difference.
  • You can decide the cooking method.  Some beans and grains can be eaten after only soaking, no cooking required.  Then there's the boiling versus baking and for how long, which produce various textures.
  • You can make how much you need.  Recipes have not kept up with the changing sizes of canned products, and beans are no exception.  Plus, everyone's idea of a portion differs, and it rarely matches the number on the can.  A dry volume or weight measure, whichever you prefer, will differ only slightly between batches.
  • The texture is different than canned, usually more firm unless you have baked them for many hours, simply because the canning process includes a cooking treatment to destroy pathogens.  This can make a difference in many recipes.  You use soaked garbanzos for falafel, canned for hummus.
  • It's cheaper, especially out of the bins.

  • It's time consuming and you have to plan ahead.  You can't decide at the last minute to add beans to something if they require a minimum of four hours of soaking and one hour of cooking.  You can get around the long cooking time on a busy day if you have a crock pot, but you still have to plan your dinner 12 hours before suppertime.  This is a huge "con", and the reason canned beans were invented in the first place.
  • They just don't taste the same.  Americans have been trained to prefer processed food.  In the 70 years or so that this was the preferred method of preparing beans, we lost our taste for "real" food.  It took me several tries to decide that I liked the lower-salt, firm-textured, harder-to-prepare beans and grains better than their convenient counterparts at the other end of the aisle.

Most of my bean-related recipes will give the instructions for soak-and-cook, but you can almost always substitute canned and reduce the amount of salt you add to the recipe.  It's just one of those things I chose for myself as part of my diet.

1 comment:

  1. I use primarily dry. I pre-sort as I get them (bagged at store) and put them in mason jars in my pantry. For time, I either use a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. Pressure cooker takes a half hour under pressure and you can make them well in advance. Same for slow cooker. 1 c dry beans, 4 c. water, 4 hours on high. Same ratio of beans/water to any measure/servings.


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