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Beans are one of the most affordable protein sources available. High in fiber as well as many essential nutrients, beans are a great staple to include in your meal plan each week. My family loves Mexican food, so I try to keep cooked beans on hand in my freezer at all times. Canned beans are certainly convenient, but I use dried beans instead for several reasons.
Why Bother Cooking Beans from Scratch?
It saves money. At my local Stop and Shop, a 15.5 ounce can of beans costs $.79. This is approximately 2 cups of beans. A package of dried beans at Stop and Shop costs $1.50, and this yields about 8 cups of cooked beans. In this example, a cup of canned beans costs $.40 and a cup of homemade beans costs $.19. The canned beans cost more than twice as much as the homemade beans. If you buy dried beans in bulk, you can get an even better price and this will make the savings more dramatic.
It eliminates unnecessary additives. Before I started reading ingredient labels, I assumed that the only ingredient in a can of beans was beans. Not true. The ingredient list on a can of Goya pinto beans includes salt, calcium chloride “added as a firming agent” and calcium disodium EDTA “added to promote color retention.” This is a typical example of how packaged foods contain extra ingredients in order to manipulate the appearance and texture of the final product. If you cook your own beans, you won’t need any calcium disodium EDTA to keep them looking pretty.
It eliminates gassy side effects. If I haven’t convinced you with the first two reasons to cook beans from scratch, perhaps this one will do the trick. There’s a wonderful sea plant called kombu that you can find in the Asian food aisle at Whole Foods. I’m not a big edible sea vegetables customer, but this is one item that I make sure to keep on hand in my pantry. By placing a small piece of kombu in the water while you soak and cook your beans, you can virtually eliminate the gassy side effects of the beans. As an added benefit, kombu infuses minerals from this sea plant into the beans. Given the amount of beans we include in our meal plans, kombu is worth its weight in gold at my house. If you don’t have a Whole Foods nearby, you can find kombu in an Asian market or buy it online. It costs less than $6 a package, and it lasts a long time because you only use a little piece each time you cook beans.
How to Cook Beans
Beans are so easy to cook. They take very little hands-on time, and there are just a few simple steps to remember. Most beans take between one and two hours to cook, although some may take longer. Be sure to check the package for the correct cooking time. Beans can also be cooked in a slow cooker if it’s easier for your schedule. If you’re cooking red kidney beans, though, you’ll need to boil them for at least 10 minutes to kill a toxin that exists in those beans if they aren’t cooked with high enough heat.
It’s a good idea to keep several kinds of beans on hand in your freezer. I like to freeze plain, unseasoned beans so I can adapt them to different types of recipes. You can use beans for an easy dinner of tacos or chili, or make them into a simple bean salad. Once you learn how to cook beans yourself, you won’t want to go back to the cans and their calcium disodium EDTA.
How to Cook Beans
- 1 lb dried beans
- 1 piece of kombu (1 inch by 2 inches)
- Rinse the beans and pick out any debris. You'll occasionally come across a pebble or chunk of dirt.
- Soak the beans overnight in water with a piece of kombu. If you don't have enough time, there's an alternate method. Boil a big pot of water on the stove and place the beans in the boiling water for two minutes. Remove the pot from the stove and leave it covered for an hour.
- Remove the kombu and rinse the beans.
- Return the beans and kombu to the pot. Fill the pot with fresh water at least an inch above the top of the beans.
- Bring to a boil and simmer the beans (covered) for 1 to 2 hours. Check the package directions for cooking times.
- When beans are tender, discard the kombu. Drain and rinse the beans.
- Store the beans in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for several months.