Wednesday, 12 August 2009 | Tags: ,

Packed with nutrients and the centre of many hearty recipes, beans are available fresh, dried or canned. We find out more about buying beans, and test whether canned beans can stand up to their dried-off-the-vine counterparts.

The Basics

Unless you’re buying fresh from a farmer’s market, you typically have two choices when it comes to beans:

  • Dried:

    • Almost always cheaper than canned beans, premium organic dried varieties often work out to be less expensive than generic canned beans.

    • They also don’t contain any added salt, sugar, or preservatives.

    • However, dried beans are labour-intensive. They need to be soaked for about 8 hours before cooking for 1 to 3 hours.

    • Alternatively, dried beans can be prepared according to the quick-soak method, in which they are combined with lots of water, brought to a boil, then allowed to sit for an hour or two, after which they are drained and cooked for 1 to 3 hours. This method still requires much more cooking time than canned beans.

    • If you’re shopping for dried beans, check that nearly all of the beans are whole and that there are not many broken beans. The beans should be smooth-textured.

    • Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. Dried beans can be stored indefinitely, but are best used within one year. Dried lentils are best used within six months.

    • Once opened, store any unused beans in a non-reactive, tightly covered container for up to 5 days. Beans can also be frozen for up to 6 months in a freezer-proof container.

  • Canned:

    • Canned beans are more expensive than dried, but they are convenient, ready-to-use and contain just as many nutrients.

    • However, most manufacturers add salt, sugar, and preservatives to beans during the canning process. Since the beans are cooked in their cans, they absorb these additives. As a result, their sodium and sugar content will always be higher, even after draining and rinsing.

    • Some organic brands of beans do not include added salt or sugar.

    • If you’re shopping for canned beans, look for varieties that contain no added salt or sugar.

    • Check expiry dates on can labels. Most canned beans can be stored in the cupboard for several years.


We recruited a group of financial “bean counters” to offer us opinions on five different types of organic beans, each presented in a home-cooked and a canned format:

  • Cannellini: Tasters thought that the home-cooked variety of these beans tasted better, but also found the canned variety to be more moist.

  • Garbanzo: The home-cooked variety of these were preferred all around, thanks to their superior flavour.

  • Black Beans: Tasters commented that the canned variety of these beans tasted weird. Their water content must have been high, because they burst open in the mouth in a way that most tasters didn’t enjoy. One person commented, however, that they tasted pleasantly of olives. The home-cooked beans were mostly preferred.

  • Red Kidney: In this case, most tasters preferred the canned variety, as they thought that the home-cooked beans were too dry.

  • Butter (also called Baby Lima): We agreed unanimously that the home-cooked beans had a better flavour.


Although the home-cooked beans were usually preferred to the canned varieties and were our official winner, we had to admit that canned beans are very convenient and often relatively tasty.


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