Why I’ve Made the Switch from Canned to Dried

{Skip the foreplay and head straight to the Spinach & White Bean Salad Recipe}

Processed foods get a bad rep, and rightly so. They can be nutritional crap nicely packaged into a bag, box, or can–but not always. Most foods are processed.  Processing isn’t black and white.  There is a processing spectrum from minimally processed to unrecognizable with a long ingredient list.  It goes from pre-washed, bagged spinach to that “strawberry” Poptart.  Today, processing is necessary for the preservation, safe storage, and transportation of food.  It is unrealistic for people to solely eat food from scratch especially given that the average American only spends 33 minutes a day doing food preparation and cleanup.

When you hear people speaking negatively about processed foods they mean the ones up there on the spectrum with the Poptarts, where any nutritional value has been completely diminished. But what about those foods in the middle of the spectrum?  When does the processing cross over from being helpful to just plain unhealthy?

Spinach & White Bean Salad
Spinach & White Bean Salad

The UN has said that this is the year of pulses.  Pulses are nutritious, inexpensive, and good for the environment.  But, these dry legumes require time-intensive cooking.  It’s easy. SO EASY to do, and is almost all inactive cooking, but forethought is required to make pulses part of your meal.  Pressure cookers cut the time down considerably, but the beans still need a least a few hours of soaking before they can be cooked.

Canned beans, on the other hand, just require a quick rinse and, unopened, they keep for an incredibly long time at that ready-to-eat stage.  TIP: Canned beans once opened can last up to 2 days in the fridge and should be kept in a non-metallic container. Dried beans also last a long time, but once they’re cooked, in that ready-to-eat form, they only last 4-5 days in the refrigerator and up to 6 months in the freezer. Still, not bad.  TIP: before you freeze cooked beans, cover them with water to prevent freezer burn.

Canned beans are more expensive than dried beans. At Walmart, a 15.5 oz can of great northern beans is $0.72 ($0.05/oz). Note: this is even kind of low, sometimes they will be closer to $1.o0.  A 2 lb bag bag of great northern beans is $2.84 ($0.09/oz).  But, here’s the kicker:  That can of beans contains 1.75 cups of cooked beans.  That bag of dried beans makes 12 cups of cooked beans.  12 CUPS! So, the canned beans cost $0.21 per 1/2 cup serving and the dried beans cost $0.12 per 1/2 cup serving. Worth pointing out that either way, beans are cheap for the nutrition they provide.

Nutritionally, canning can sometimes actually enhance various nutrients.  For example, canned tomatoes have more lycopene than fresh tomatoes. And fruits and vegetables that are frozen at peak freshness are able to keep their nutritional profile and can be eaten all year round.

Dried beans, however, are nutritionally superior to canned beans for one big reason: sodium.  You cook dried beans and therefore you have full control over how much sodium you add.  Canned Great Northern beans, for example, have 485 mg sodium in a 1/2 cup serving.  The low sodium version has 140 mg sodium…much better but still 140% times more than dried beans. You’ll see below in the comparison between dried great northern beans and (low sodium) canned great northern beans that the dried contain less carbohydrates and protein than the canned…consequently they contain a lower amount of calories.  When you look at the percentage of calories these macronutrients contribute, however, it is about the same. The take away: Canned beans are still a nutritional powerhouse.So, if the ready-to-eat convenience of canning makes you more likely to eat them, then I’m all for it.  Please do purchase the low sodium version and rinse them to get off some that starchy liquid and excess sodium.  This will also help minimize the tooting that beans are infamous for catalyzing.

So, why have I switched to dried beans?
1. Cheaper
2. Slightly more nutritious
3. Still easy to make

Beans from a can do not compare to the taste of dried beans.  Not kidding you.  I didn’t want to believe it, but it’s true.  TRY IT!

How do you cook dried beans you ask??  Here are the bean cooking basics:
  1. Sort through the dry beans for any pebbles or beans that are shriveled.
  2. Soak the beans in water for at least 8 hours or overnight.  You can speed this soaking part up by boiling the beans for 2-3 minutes.  Then remove from heat, cover and let soak for 2 hours. Either method requires about 10 cups of water per pound (~2 cups) of dried beans.
  3. Drain the soaking water and rinse the beans with fresh water.  Then cover with more fresh water and simmer for 1-2 hours until the beans are tender.  The beans should be covered by water throughout the entire cooking time. Drain and add to whatever recipe you’re making. TIP: Don’t add salt or any kind of acidic food (tomatoes, lemon juice, vinegar, wine, etc) until the end of the beans’ cooking time.  Salt toughens the skin and acids can keep the beans from ever getting tender. 

I like to soak my beans the overnight the night before I want to have them for dinner.  In the morning I rinse them and then put them into the crockpot on low or medium (sometimes I add a bay leaf or two) and let them cook while I do my day.  When I get back, they are ready for dinner.

Now, that you’ve got your beans cooked, why not put them into this quick recipe?? Bonus with this one: because the spinach is wilted it is a great way to use up a lot of spinach if it is beginning to go bad.

Spinach & White Bean Salad Recipe

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: super simple
  • Print

Salad:Spinach & White Bean Salad
-1 or 2 tablespoons vegetable or chicken broth/stock
-1 10 oz bag pre-washed spinach (or more!)
-2 cups cooked white beans
-1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
-1/4 cup (a handful) fresh basil leaves, chopped into ribbons 

-1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
-1 overflowing tablespoon lemon juice
-1/8 cup olive oil
-salt & pepper to taste

1. Whisk all of the dressing ingredients together and set aside.  You will likely have more dressing than you will use.
2. In a skillet over medium heat add enough broth to cover the bottom of the skillet. Add the spinach and allow it to wilt and the broth to reduce.
3. When there is room in the pan add in the beans and cook for just a minute more to allow more of the broth to reduce and the beans to warm.
4. Remove from the heat and add halved tomatoes, and basil.
5.  Add the dressing a little at a time, tossing the salad between additions.  The salad will already have moisture so add the dressing a little at a time, tossing the salad between additions.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!