Sunday, February 17, 2008

Debate: canned vs. dried beans

Last night the 1950's budget menu called for baked beans--and they couldn't come from a can.

My Southern family recipe doctors Van Camp's pork and beans with ketchup and brown sugar.

I dutifully pulled out Joy of Cooking and began an all-day process of boiling, soaking, and baking--with at least one hour of simmering and five hours of baking. After all that fussing, the taste was disappointing.

I decided to open a can of pork and beans to compare amounts. Both recipes made the same total amount of food, but the can contained slightly fewer beans. (In the photo, the liquid rises to the top)

For baked beans, is it truly cheapest to use dried beans? Let's debate.

Dried Navy Beans (99-cents/l lb)
  1. can control the type of sweeteners
  2. paying for more beans and less liquid

Canned Pork and Beans ($1.25/46 oz can)
  1. uses far less electricity for cooking
  2. already includes molasses, onion, bacon, and flavoring
  3. can bake to thicken texture

What do you think? Do canned beans ever compare to dried, price- or flavor-wise?

Click here to return to the complete 1950s budget cooking experiment!


Lindenhaus said...

In my small northern CA city, canned beans are pricey. When not on sale, a can of black beans can go for $1.69! I have switched completely to dried beans.(99 cents or less for one pound) I cook up a bag of them and freeze in individual ziplock bags. I always have a variety in the freezer for my cooking.

Meredith said...

I agree-dried black beans are much cheaper and just as tasty.

It was the baked beans which made me think twice. I never knew just how long you have to bake them!

After I opened the pork and beans, I mixed them with the made-from-dried beans and put them in quart bags for the freezer.

I'm glad to know that works!

Anonymous said...

Dried beans!I soak mine overnight OR cook in the crock-pot all day. Then I add my seasonings. I Feel better about this because I can control all the "stuff" that goes into them. Enjoying the posts.
God Bless!

nancyr said...

I've noticed that the price of dried beans has increased, significantly, in the past year. If canned beans are on sale, the price difference is negligible.

Laural Out Loud said...

For me, knowing that what I cook by hand has quite a bit less of all that "other stuff", like preservatives, still wins out.

There's also all that info coming out about what is leaching out of those cans into the food.

I've never made baked beans, though! It sounds a lot harder than I think I'd be up for!

Tammy and Parker said...

I know in my neck of the woods that pork and beans go on sale 5/1.00 each and every summer. I know a lot of people use these for their baked beans.

If in a hurry I grab a can of beans from my food storage. If not, then I like to make up a batch of my own, with maybe a ham bone for seasoning.

I never buy the already mixed soup beans though. It is much cheaper to mix up your own variety.

Plus, those pricey little boxes always seem to be a hugely popular gift for my neighbors to give out each season!

Tammy and Parker

Beck said...

Learning to use dried beans is a skill - but in the long run, a worthwhile one. My dad's homemade baked beans are LEAGUES better than any doctored canned beans I've ever had.

rural momma said...

Though I do eat canned BB, I like homemade ones better. They are easy to cook, inexpensive to make, and they taste great!! :0)

Anonymous said...

For those of you who do home canning, buying dried beans and canning them yourselves makes canned beans healthier, cheaper, and ready-when-you-need-them. I home can four or five varieties of beans once or twice as year as needed. I use these as sides and in my chili. Gen

Maggie said...

I use both. I try to get the best price for each because there are times when I want to just grab a can and make dinner in 5 minutes and other times with I have the time and find it more frugal to use dried. Freezer experimentation with beans had been on my to do list for a long time.

Someone Beautiful said...

Hi Meredith, so the dried beans weren't as tasty after all that? Thanks for sharing! I've been wanting to start using dried beans. I might make bean bags instead. Ha ha! ;) I've heard of people soaking them all night so it doesn't feel like you're waiting all day, but I didn't realize they'd still need hours more of boiling and baking after the long soak!

Anonymous said...

This is where a pressure cooker is worth its weight in gold. It makes beans fast and tasty. It's also great for fast steel cut oatmeal and tenderizes cheap cuts of meat.

Anonymous said...

I made a life changing discovery last year can soak and cook beans all at once overnight in your crockpot. Its amazing! Especially since we have beans about twice a week. For brown beans, I put 2 c. dry small white or navy beans in the crock, rinse, and fill to the top with water. Cook on low over night. Then in the a.m, drain, and add: 1 med. onion diced, 1 1/2 t. salt, 2 t. cider vinegar, 1 t. mustard, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1/4 c. molasses, 1/2 c. ketchup, 1/4 t. pepper, 1 small can diced tomatoes. If there's not enough liquid to just cover the beans, add a bit of water. Cook all day on low, or 4 hours on high. They are DELISH! I always quadruple the recipe but then again, there are 10 in our family;-)) Susan in Manitoba

becka said...

Like many of the others, I use both dried and canned beans. I actually think that when you cook the dried beans yourself with several changes of water they cause less flatulence, which is a good thing! The canned beans are very convenient for salads and such.
I wanted to comment about the meal management text you have been studying--I actually used a later edition of that text when I was in college and referred to it often when I was a young homemaker. It contains a lot of good advice and tips.
I appreciate your blog so much, Meredith. You are a blessing to me!

Anonymous said...

I decided last year to conquer my fear of dried beans. The overnight soak really makes it seem like less work. Black beans really are tasty and easy, and if made at home, are much less salty. However, I have a tried-and-true chili recipe for which I MUST use pre-seasoned canned chili beans, though the other beans I include can the dried variety. Despite my experiments to replicate the taste with all dried beans, the DH's tastebuds disapprove; the exact seasoning combination eludes me. Thankfully, these cans are super-cheap at Aldi!

Grace in Nashville

Anonymous said...

Our military commissary has canned black beans for 33 cents per can and other beans for 50 cents per can so they are a staple in our household (my 14 month old *loves* beans). I usually don't bother with dried - especially chickpea/garbanzo which take *forever* to soak and cook - because the canned are just too cheap for us.

Lentils are the one exception since they cook fast and I imagine a canned version would be mushy. I know you said your family wasn't fond of lentils but there are some great Indian recipes with lentils that really turned us into lentil lovers - the spices make all the difference.

As He Leads is Joy said...

I made homemade baked beans yesterday. I love using dried beans. I found a recipe online and loved it. It was easy and I control the ingredients. I did soak my beans overnight and then cooked them in the crockpot all day. They were yummy.

For me being able to control what goes into things is important.

Anonymous said...

If my memory serves me correctly, the Better Homes and Garden Red & White cookbook has an excellent recipe for turning Navy beans into baked beans. my mom was a Home Ec. major in the 50"s. That menu looks very familiar!

Martha A. said...

Our family does not eat baked beans, so I would not know about them, but I have so many dried beans as a little goes a long way and when you are poor and people like to give you the extra food they have you get alot of beans! I have enough to last me through a famine, I think and I got rid of one 4 gallon bucket of white beans. Anyhow, if you want to use more dry beans, try looking into buying them in bulk, it is cheaper usually.

Anonymous said...

Ohhhhhh, I am so eager to try some of these crockpot bean recipes! I find the canned beans to contain too much syrup. Anyway, with prices continuing to rise, it would be wise for us to learn how to make such an economical and healthy recipe. And the crockpot doesn't use much electricity nor require lots of attention. Thanks for a great topic regarding recipes from the retro book.

Meredith said...

Next time I will try the crockpot!

I should have Googled crockpot baked beans first, but when I realized I would have to cook them myself, I grabbed Joy of Cooking out of habit.

Incidentally--and embarassingly--I did not know that baked beans were WHITE until you add the molasses!!!

Elise @A Path Made Straight said...

I've never tried to make baked beans from dried- but I do love to cook pinto beans in my crockpot- perhaps that is the way to go!

I soak a couple of pounds of dried pintos in a tablespoon of baking soda (covered in water) all night, then rinse and pour into my crockpot on low first thing- by dinner time, they're ready to pour into the vita-mix with a touch of salt and we have creamy (or lumpy- depends on our mood!) *refried* beans for tacos!

I just might try some baked beans with that recipe- tweak it to cook over night, then simmer with spices and sauces the next day... hmmmm.

Kate said...

I can get a decent sized can of Bush's Best Baked Beans for $1.00 on sale. I've tried many many baked beans, both canned and home-made and I find this to be the tastiest.

My frugality can stop at the door of what I find to be best and what tastes best for my money. For example, I'm not going to use an off-brand cleanser that makes me itch or has a smell that doesn't agree with my body chemistry just because it's cheap. I'm sure you'll agree. I also refuse to use shortening because of the trans fats and general "badness" of it. I use butter or lard (see Nourishing Traditions or

Frugality has it's twists, turns and rule-bending now and again. There are a few name-brand items I stick to because we like the results: Irish Spring soap for hubby, Method cleaners for me and ONLY Bush's Best Baked Beans. :)

Kim said...

I make "baked beans" in the crock pot with dried navy beans, they are a little mushier but not any mushier than pork and beans. They are pretty tasty :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing this up - I can't wait to see all the responses! I've been debating this very question inside my own head for the last month. I guess that means I'm talking to myself. :)
I love the idea of the crock pot since my biggest failure is not leaving enough time to cook the beans from scratch. Sometimes it's easier to plan 24 hours ahead than is to plan 6 hours, you know?
I also have very hard water, and I'm afraid I would have to factor the cost (and inconvenience) of bottled water into the price of dried beans.
But even if I could break even, I do think it would be worthwhile to have healthier food, and it could even be more convenient when it comes to shopping and storage. After all, it takes a lot of space to stored canned goods for 10 people!

Anonymous said...

We bought beans at the farmer's market this past fall and froze them. They are about half-way between canned and dried as far as texture goes. When I want to cook them, I put them in the crockpot on low for a few hours. I think you could use a crockpot to cook dried beans.

The beans were more expensive ($2.50/pound or $2.00/pound if I bought 4 pounds - I think) but these purchases support local agriculture and I can buy different varieties.

Anonymous said...

I cook up a large batch of dried beans each weekend (usually pinto or great northern) when I bake bread. Since the oven is usually on much of the day anyway. I soak them overnight and just leave them in the oven with onions and garlic. Then we leave them in the fridge for chili, bean quesadillas for kids snacks, baked beans, soups or burritos (among many other recipes) the rest of the week. We just add the appropriate seasoning. We obviously eat a lot of beans. We happen to be vegetarians so they are a staple in our budget conscious house. I find canned beans too sweet for my taste, I love the richness of using a good grainy mustard and a bit of white wine in our baked bean recipe.

Anonymous said...

freeze dried beans might be a good option if you dislike the long cooking time of plain dried beans.

Linda said...

I think that canned are actually cheaper, if you count the amount of gas used to cook dried ones..


they are disgusting! :P They're always cooked WAYYYYY too long and are soggy and just yucky..

Give me my dried beans! ;)

Jenn @ Frugal Upstate said...

I've made crock pot baked beans-to be honest to me they tasted about the same as premade/canned baked beans-but it was nice to know exactly what was in them! I've never done a local cost comparison to tell if they were actually cheaper.

I use the baked bean recipe from Hillbilly housewife-but I made a mistake the very first time I made them and soaked them and then cooked them completely before looking at the recipe-and realizing that although I was supposed to soak them in plain water, I was supposed to boil them in plain water for only 30 min before doing the rest of the cooking portion with all the sugar, spices etc in the crockpot. . .

Sarah said...

I use dry beans because they are cheaper. However, I alway use the quick cook method. In that you put the beans on to boil for 2 minutes, let sit for at least 1 hour, I usually do more because I forget, rinse new water and then cook. I put 1/2 teaspoon on baking soda to help them soften more and to take away some of the gassiness. The baking soda does make if foamier when boiling so watch that. And rinse well when you change the water. I think the bean come out better this way and cook faster too. I usually cook up a whole bag and freeze the leftovers. Then when I need them fast I can put them in a pan with a little water and thaw them. That said I do use canned beans when they are on sale of I can't get them dried.

Anne Marie@Married to the Empire said...

I use canned or dried based on the recipe and/or time. It's more economical to use dried beans, but sometimes I don't want to wait. My favorite baked bean recipe uses 4 different types of beans, and there is just no way I'm going to go to the trouble of cooking all those different beans first. But if I'm making just one type of bean, I'll usually go with dried.

I'm definitely becoming more schooled in bean recipes since I'm trying to cut down on our meat consumption for the health of my husband's kidneys.

Anonymous said...

I know I am late on this but I just ran a little dried bean vs canned experiment. Canned Pintos were on sale for .50 a can. I cooked up a bag in my crockpot that came out to .16 per can equivalent. Add a few cents for cooking time and seasonings and I come out way ahead. We don't like baked beans, because we don't like any sweet foods except fruit and dessert. Joy

Carrien Blue said...

Dried beans, always. You just need a better recipe. And I use the crock pot all day or two after an over night soak, low energy and fool proof. I put the seasonings in at the beginning of the baking so the flavor is more intense. And I buy huge bags of dried beans when ever they fall below 50 cents a pound, which is fairly often at my local bulk foods store.

Here's a little family secret. If you add a little dried seaweed to the pot when you make beans it cuts down on flatulence. You can remove it later.

~katie~ said...

I recently started buying 5 pound bags of dry beans at our local Sam's Club ~ super cheap, can't beat the price, and I think I like the taste better! I love black beans though and haven't found a place to buy those in bulk, unless I missed them at Sam's??

Anonymous said...

Just a comment for Ewokgirl about cooking 4 types of beans...if your recipe calls for 4 types, you can cook them all together in the crockpot. I make a 4 or 5 bean chili and do them all over night (as per my instructions in the baked bean recipe...a few cups of beans in the crockpot and fill up the crock to the top with least 3" of water over the TOP of the beans should do it). The chili I make uses kidney, pinto, navy, black and chick peas. YUM! I do all the beans overnight, then the next morning, drain and rinse, and add your canned diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and spices. My family loves this chili. I top it with sour cream and a little grated cheddar when serving. Susan in Manitoba

Anonymous said...

I try to use dried beans but my main problem comes in being organized enough to get them from dry to wet form. No matter how I plan, between home schooling and daily other life stuff... it is rare that I get those beans prepared! Crockpot or no crockpot!

[besides, I hate the taste of beans reconstituted in the crock. My best method is to bring them to a hard boil for 1 minute, leave to sit for at least 8 hours, then rinse and cook]

Julie said...

I skip most of the bean prep. I wash and pick through y dried beans then I just throw them in the crockpot on low for about 8 hours. Checking often to make sure they are covered with water. I usually have to pour more water in 2-3 times.
They always come out great and I can make big batches with no problems.
My friend has a great baked bean recipe that I think I can use dried beans for. Once I get the recipe and try it I will let you know.

Teri said...

Man, you do not know how to do them! (My husband is the cook at our house, so I'm sort of reporting what he does.) First of all, he uses a bean pot. I got it second hand. It's crockery with a lid. He bakes them in the oven, and FYI that it normally a wood cookstove although he also does them in our propane stove. They really are simple. You just bake the things. The recipe he uses is probably out of the Searchlight cookbook, a mid 40s version that is his favorite. I might be able to post a recipe for you, if I can get the details from him.

Unknown said...

Canned Pork and Beans ($1.25/46 oz can)

1. uses far less electricity for cooking
2. already includes molasses, onion, bacon, and flavoring
3. can bake to thicken texture

electricity?? electrical stove?? ouch...Making something instead of pulling it from a can almost always costs less and is of higher quality. soak your beans overnight in water salted to resemble light seawater, rinse, simmer, and bake...invest in some mollasses, salt pork, and lard.