Everything you ever wanted to know about beans but were afraid to ask

I’m often asked about why it’s good to cook your own dried beans, rather than using canned beans for your favorite recipes. While it’s fine to have a few cans of beans in the cupboard for when you’re in a pinch, dried beans are so much better to have on hand, and don’t take that much work to prepare.

Dried beans are far less expensive than canned beans (about ¼ the cost of canned), and they’re fresher tasting. They don’t require packaging and as such are more environmentally friendly than their canned counterparts. They haven’t been processed, or had sodium and chemicals added, so they truly are a whole food, perfect for your body. Beans are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, protein, and fiber, they’re naturally low in fat and sodium, and there’s a much wider variety of beans – which offer varied taste and texture – than many people realize. Some of my favorites include cannellini, kidney, adzuki, chick peas (garbanzo beans), and black beans. Lentils, which are considered beans, are (of course) a staple of my Indian-influenced diet, but they cook differently than other beans, and many of them don’t need to be soaked prior to cooking.

Indeed, I’ve discovered that you can avoid soaking your beans altogether if you prepare them in a pressure cooker. Many of us remember the pressure cookers of old, which were hissing, spitting monstrosities that could actually explode, but modern pressure cookers
are entirely different and completely safe to use. I cook all sorts of dishes in my pressure cooker, but beans are amongst my favorites because they’re so easy and fast to prepare. Your pressure cooker will come with an instruction manual and usage guide that will tell you how long to cook various beans, though you can always find this information online if you don’t have the manual (such as here: http://www.fatfreevegan.com/pressure/pcbeans.shtml ).

Food companies that process canned foods are pretty adept at figuring out how to fool our taste buds. While a person following a whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet generally has discerning taste buds, and can taste subtle rancidity in food, it’s harder to do with food that’s been processed. Canned and jarred beans may have been processed months, or even years, before they’re eaten. The high sodium levels in most canned foods do an excellent job of covering up the taste of food that’s started to turn, or that has merely gotten too old to be good.

Those of us concerned with the health and beauty of our skin, have another reason to avoid canned and jarred food. Although we don’t entirely know why, canned and jarred food does not help to get rid of age spots, and can even cause age spots to worsen for some people. That’s reason enough for me to avoid canned beans, even if cooking my own dried beans didn’t taste so much better (but of course it does!).

If you don’t have a pressure cooker and need to soak your beans (best found in bulk at most grocery stores, and certainly at any health food store), cover them in a couple of inches of room temperature water (hot water can cause the beans to sour, and cold water takes longer to hydrate the beans) and soak overnight for 8 – 10 hours. Alternately, you can use the quick soak method: Cover your beans with two inches of water, and bring to a boil. Boil for two minutes, then remove from heat and cover. Let the beans and water stand for one hour, then discard the beans and cook according to the recipe you’re using. We’ll be including more cooked beans recipes in the next few months. Some beans take longer to cook than others, and the methods of preparation are limitless. There are lots of books and websites that have wonderful bean recipes, and many of them include tips on how to cook all of the different edible beans.

A website with good info on how to cook beans is:

The Central Bean Company has a website with lots of information on cooking beans, and includes tips on storing, freezing, and reheating beans. They also have a list that they call Bean Arithmetic:

  • A pound of beans measures about 2 cups.
  • Beans triple in volume when soaked and cooked.
  • A cup of dry beans yields 3 cups cooked.
  • A pound of dry beans yields 6 cups cooked.
  • Use 3 cups of water per cup of dry beans for soaking.
  • Simmer each pound of beans 2 hours after soaking.
  • A pound of dry beans makes about 9 servings of baked beans.
  • A pound of dry beans makes about 12 servings of bean soup.
  • A one-pound can of cooked beans measures about 2 cups.