Canned beans or dry beans? Which are best?

A reader asks some very good questions about one of my daily staples.

These rice and beans look a lot like the mixture that I consume almost every day—and I buy both of them dry.

Comparing canned beans to dry beans in a bag:

  1. Which are healthier?
  2. Which taste the best?
  3. What about sodium?
  4. What about cost?
  5. Which are most convenient?
  6. What about the environment?

As a man who consumes some kind of beans almost every day, I was delighted to receive this message from Kris last week.

Dear Mr. Hicks, I have been following your blog daily since the fall, and I’ve read your book, which brings together many good sources.

I’ve been meaning to write to suggest that you encourage people to buy dried beans (cheap) and soak and cook instead of relying on canned in all the recipes that you post. There is a big difference in flavor and texture between canned beans and dried ones cooked at home, even when pureed as in the recent recipe for the black bean soup.

Would you consider an entry devoted to cooking beans at home? When you get down to it, there is really no good reason, other than convenience to buy canned beans. Dried are cheaper and taste better and the need to search out low sodium vanishes.

Once cooked, they can be frozen. Kombu can be added to the pot for flavor and sea vegetable nutrition and tenderizing of the beans. I could go on, because I do cook my own beans and I want people to know that it is more frugal, tastier and in my opinion, better for the planet. Thanks for what you are doing, Mr. Hicks. It is much needed and I appreciate you. Best regards, Kris

Dear Kris,

Thank you very much for your note. Beans are a very key ingredient of my Sailors Super Lunch and I use a combination of red beans and black beans along with a combination of wild rice and brown rice. And, like you, I have been buying the dry beans myself for quite a few years—for all the reasons that you suggest. But for some people, the low sodium canned beans are more convenient. Maybe after some of them see my analysis, they may change their minds.

My analysis of beans included two products from the good people at Goya.

Now for the analysis. Over the weekend, I went online and analyzed two kinds of black beans:

  • Goya brand low sodium canned black beans
  • Goya brand dry black beans in a bag

For my analysis, I decided to follow the list of six questions above and make my comparison. I went to and quickly found the products that I was seeking. Not only did Peapod have price comparison, but also the complete nutrition information with calories, sodium, etc.

  1. Which are healthier? This one is hard to prove, but, given the choice, I always go with the one that is less-processed–and the one that has the least sodium per serving. The Hummus Blog says dried beans are superior (See link below). Advantage dry beans.
  2. Which taste the best? I will defer to Kris on this issue since I didn’t actually sample the canned beans pictured above. All I know is that my dry beans have a great taste and texture—with simple seasoning like Mrs. Dash and some basil flakes. Advantage dry beans. 
  3. What about sodium? The canned beans had 125 mg. of sodium per 100 calories compared to only 30 mg. per 100 calories for the dry beans. So the canned beans have four times as much sodium—and I was comparing low sodium beans. The regular black beans have 16 times as much sodium. Advantage dry beans. 
  4. What about cost? I can handle this one. The canned beans cost $.35 per 100 calories; the dry beans cost 45% less—only $.19 per 100 calories. If I eat 100 calories of beans every day, each year I save $58.40 by using dry beans. Advantage dry beans.
  5. Which are most convenient? Depends on who you ask. For my dry beans, I don’t have to use a can opener and I don’t have an empty can that I must wash and dispose. I put my beans in a pan with water before going to Starbucks at 6 a.m. and they’re ready to simmer for 75 minutes beginning anytime after about four hours. Advantage dry beans.
  6. What about the environment? Had to do a little research on this one, and the numbers are staggering. In the USA alone, we consume almost 37 billion tin/steel cans per year (112 cans for every person). The good news is that we recycle 63% of them. And, by so doing, we save enough energy to power 18 million homes. If we didn’t use cans at all, we could save enough energy to power another 18 million homes. We’d also save a lot of water and manufacturing costs. The only problem is that there are 35,000 American jobs depending on the can industry. Maybe those people could become organic farmers someday. Advantage dry beans.

    By using less steel, energy and water, we move a step closer to living in harmony with our planet.

Final Score (the dry beans win by a couple of field goals) 

  • Dry beans–6
  • Canned beans–0

Thanks again for your message Kris. This was a fun project and it may very well help many people save money, be healthier and be kinder to our environment. Best to you and your family, Jim Hicks.


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About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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19 Responses to Canned beans or dry beans? Which are best?

  1. Pingback: Spicy Black Bean and Roasted Corn Soup - Whole Food Republic

  2. Thank you for your comparison of dry vs. canned beans. If you invest in a pressure cooker, you can reduce the cooking time of your soaked beans to less than 10 minutes, saving electricity or gas, whichever powers your stove. I invested in a Stainless, 6-Qt Pressure Cooker on Amazon for around $40. It can be used for entire meals, similar to a crock pot, but with a fraction of the cooking time.
    Another superior food to make at home is your own sodium-free vegetable broth. Joanne Irwin might have shared this tip in her Cancer Project class:
    1) Keep a 1 gallon freezer bag on your counter as you prep any meal containing fresh vegetables, and drop the “veggie scraps” into the bag. Carrot ends, onion tops, tomato cores, ends of beets, celery, kale stems, etc.
    2) Store this veggie scrap bag in your freezer, and pull it out each time you prep a meal.
    3) When the bag is full, empty the contents into a stockpot, cover with water, and allow to cook over medium to medium-low heat anywhere from 30- 50 minutes. The longer you cook the veggies, the darker and heartier your broth will be.
    4) Strain the veggies out using a colander, reserving your sodium-free broth in a large bowl. You can then portion out your broth into smaller freezer or refrigerator container as needed. Optionally, make yourself a second, lighter batch of broth, by covering the same veggies again with water, and repeating the process.
    Never buy vegetable broth again, and never have to worry about the sodium content!

  3. Denise Welsh says:

    Save even more energy by cooking the dry/soaked beans in a stainless steel pressure cooker, They cook with steam and pressure therefore the cooking process is a lot less time saving electricity or gas.

  4. Kris says:

    Thanks so much, Jim, for the comparison and the post. A more provocative topic than I’d imagined, based on the amount of responses and outpouring of support for dried beans. I’d like to mention the mung bean, which needs no pre-soaking and cooks up quickly, in about 45 minutes, and is extremely easily digested and tasty with brown rice or as a soup with other vegetables. I made a batch yesterday, simple and earthy and delicious. Thanks again for all you do to promote healthy eating and a healthy planet. Best regards to you and your family, too. Kris

  5. Jean Myers says:

    Thanks, Jim, for the in-depth analysis of beans – very helpful!

  6. Joe B. says:

    Dried Beans are certainly by far the better choice, but your cost comparison argument (#4) is way off, as you have not factored in the energy (electric/gas), water, and (your personal) time costs involved in the preparation and cooking of the beans. Dried Beans vs. Canned lose here when you factor these costs into your calculation.

    Pressure cooking the beans, though, does help toward leveling out the cost difference.

    Still, 6 to 1 (adding in the BPA issue) is a tremendous score!

    • jmorrishicks says:

      Thanks for your input here; but, as you say, this comparison isn’t even close. It would be like the Boston Celtics playing a third grade team—a SLAM DUNK for dried beans.

  7. Eden Foods is a better product than Goya. The sodium content is 30mg per 1/2 cup and the cans are BPA free.

    Sal Liggieri

  8. Robert says:

    I will give the dry guys a try. Seem simple enough. I was wondering about storage in the fridge for a day or two, or do you have to freeze and then defrost? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Keep up the good work!

    • jmorrishicks says:

      Robert, after making my weekly batch of beans and rice, I package them in seven one-serving plastic containers (old hummus cartons) with my beans on top of the rice. I put six in the freezer and one in the fridge. When I use the one in the fridge, I take one of the other six out of the freezer—so it’s ready to micro-wave for my next meal.

    • Jean Myers says:

      I often store cooked beans in the fridge for up to a week with no problems.

  9. Sibyl says:

    Make a large batch, freeze them on a cookie sheet, bag them up freeze them and they are far more convenient than the canned. Just take out the quantity that you need and you are good to go. I tend to eat more beans this way as they are so convenient. I usually have a cooking day ever 3 months or so and soak and cook up 4 different kinds. Hummus anyone.

    • Jean Myers says:

      Thanks for sharing this method! I always hesitated to freeze beans, thinking they needed to be frozen in the cooking liquid and then might become mushy when thawed. This is how I freeze ripe bananas so now i’ll try it for the beans.

  10. Lester Sukenik says:

    Jim, thanks for another informative article. I also use beans almost every day and have used low sodium canned. I will try to see if soaking and simmering works for me and if there is a difference in taste. Keep up your wonderful work! I look forward every morning to reading your thoughts on a plant based lifestyle!

  11. Laura Ely says:

    Not to open a can of worms but did you mention BPA: The chemical Bisphenol A, which has been used for years in clear plastic bottles and food-can liners, has been restricted in Canada and some U.S. states and municipalities because of potential health effects.

  12. Leo S. says:

    Another informative article. One thing people don’t usually think about is the coating on the inside of the can which can leach out into the food and may cause other problems for the consumer.

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