Dried vs. Canned Beans – Is there really a difference?

Last week’s Cooking Tip was all about peas, a type of legume. Beans are another legume that most of us consume. This Cooking Tip will discuss the differences between dried and canned beans and how to cook them.

Beans can be categorized differently but one of the major categories is Dried vs Canned. Which do you use? Does it make a difference? Canned beans actually are dried beans but they have already been cooked. Therefore, you can use them without soaking or simmering them for hours. These are certainly more convenient but, as with most convenience foods, there is a downside. The canned beans sit in a brine in the can, which can draw out starches & proteins, leading to an alteration in texture and flavor.

Do you need to soak dried beans? This is usually recommended for dried beans as it softens them and decreases the cooking time. It is also thought that some of the elements that lead to gastrointestinal symptoms are leached out during the soaking. Serious Eats found that smaller beans with thin skins such as black beans actually do better without soaking. They did a testing with black beans by cooking them three ways. (Note that this test was only done with black beans and does not translate to all dried beans.)

  • Soaked in water overnight and then cooked in the soaking water.
  • Soaked, drained, rinsed and cooked in fresh water.
  • Cooked without any soaking.

Their results showed the following:

  • Time – un-soaked black beans only took an additional 20 minutes to cook.
  • Color – the darkest beans were those that were not soaked or were cooked in the soaking water.
  • Flavor – soaked and rinsed beans were the least flavorful. The other two methods yielded similar flavor. Another interesting finding is that if you add aromatics to the cooking beans, the most flavorful result was the un-soaked beans.
  • Texture – not much difference here but the beans that were un-soaked or those that were cooked in the soaking water were creamier due to the fact that you are not rinsing away the starch.

If you are cooking larger and thicker-skin dried beans, soaking is recommended. The age and quality of the bean are other factors as the lower quality they are and the older they are, the more they will need a soak. Since this is very difficult to assess when you are buying dried beans, it is probably smart to err on the side of soaking. Of course, the longer they sit in your pantry, the more they dry out and the more they will need soaking.

Should you salt the cooking water for dried beans? Serious Eats recommends salting, saying that the sodium helps to release magnesium & calcium from the beans. These elements give beans their rigidity and decreasing that leads to softer and creamier beans. They recommend that you season your soaking liquid with one tablespoon of kosher salt per quart of water. Drain and rinse the beans before cooking in lightly salted water. Cooks Illustrated agrees with this advice.

The procedure for cooking dried beans begins with sorting through the bag of beans and discarding any that are off-color or damaged as well as any stones you may find. Rinse them to remove any dust or dirt. Unless you are using black beans or you know you have very fresh beans, opt for soaking. Cover the beans with water. Since the beans will double (or more) in size, use enough water so they will stay submerged as they plump out. Add salt as discussed above. Allow to stand at room temperature for four to eight hours. If more than eight hours, refrigerate them. However, do not soak more than 24 hours. Drain and cook.

To cook, cover with fresh water and season with salt. Add flavorful aromatics such as onion, carrot, celery, garlic, leeks, fennel and herbs. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to obtain a gentle simmer. More vigorous boiling can lead to disintegration of the beans. As you are cooking, skim off any foam that develops. It is difficult to recommend a definite cooking time. It is better to just test the beans periodically until they are tender without any firmness or graininess. When done, remove from the heat and allow them to cool in the water. If they are close to being over-done, put the pot in an ice bath and allow to cool.

One caveat about cooking dried beans at altitude. Because of the lowered boiling point at altitude, cooking beans will take longer than suggested in most recipes.

Some experts recommend adding a small amount of baking soda to speed up the cooking process. Do not use more than 1/8 teaspoon per pound of beans to prevent an off-flavor from developing.

There is a quick-soak method that some recommend. It is to cover the beans with salted water, bring to a boil, remove from the heat and allow to stand one hour before draining and cooking. This does shorten the overall time but it also results in decreased nutrient levels.

There are other methods such as using a pressure cooker, a slow cooker or your oven. Those that promote the oven method claim it is second only to the pressure cooker in quickness of cooking, it cooks the most evenly and is the least likely to burst the beans. Some say that soaking is not required with oven cooking but others still recommend it with larger and older beans as they do cook faster and more evenly. After draining the beans, put them in a large oven-safe pot with enough room for the expansion of the beans. Add seasoning and aromatics and cover with water by at least an inch. Bring to boil on the stove. Bake in a pre-heated 325° F oven for 75 minutes and check for doneness. Continue cooking until done, once again realizing that it may taker longer at altitude. The Kitchn cautions that with red kidney beans or white cannellini beans you should boil on the stove for 15 minutes to ensure toxins that are present in raw/undercooked beans are eliminated. Still others advocate a cooler oven (250°) and cooking for a longer time, 6-8 hours.

With a pressure cooker (something I do not own), it is said that presoaking is not necessary but if you do not soak, you are more likely to end up with beans that have split open. Here is a great source for using your pressure cooker (or Instant Pot) with a chart for cooking times. It even includes recommendations for altitude adjustments.

For a slow cooker, the same pros/cons of presoaking your beans apply. Drain and put the beans in your slow cooker and place aromatics on top. Cover with water by two inches. Add salt and stir to dissolve. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours (remember altitude may lengthen this). Start checking after about 5 hours and then every 30 minutes until done. Some people will cook on high, which results in the beans being done in less time. Sources do not recommend using the slow cooker for kidney beans due to the toxin issue. Here is a link to a source discussing this issue of Red Kidney Bean poisoning.

Cooking canned beans takes much less time. Be sure to drain and rinse them as they are in a very starchy and salty liquid. They should be cooked for at least 30 minutes to allow them to absorb the flavors of the recipe.

What if your recipe calls for dried beans but you only have canned beans? You need to know how to covert from one to the other. Cooks Illustrated recommends using 58 ozs of canned beans for every pound of dried beans.

Serious Eats tested a number of different types of beans and created the following chart.

Type of BeanWeight DriedEquivalent Cooked
Cannellini1 pound2 lb. 8 oz. (6.5 cups)
Chickpeas1 pound3 lb. 4 oz. (7 cups)
Red Kidney1 pound2 lb. 7 oz. (6.5 cups)
Pinto1 pound2 lb. 5 oz. (6.5 cups)
Black1 pound2 lb. 5 oz. (7 cups)
Black-Eyed Peas1 pound2 lb. 13 oz. (6.5 cups)

What’s your favorite way to use beans – baked beans, hummus, soups, stews? Whichever it is, I trust this Cooking Tip will help you on the way to success!