Canned Beans: Everything You Need to Know About This Pantry Staple

Black beans, cannellini, chickpeas, and kidney beans deserve a place in every kitchen.

opened can of white beans
Photo: David Malosh

Ridiculously useful and exceedingly versatile, canned beans are practically the definition of pantry staple. They're reliable, cheap, and nonperishable, and they also play nicely with a multitude of other ingredients, including vegetables, rice, fish, and meat. What's more, they're nearly impossible to mess up—provided you follow a couple of basic rules, that is.

Stock Up on All of These Types

The most common canned beans are black beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas (otherwise known as garbanzo beans), Great Northern beans (like cannellini, but smaller), kidney beans, and pinto beans. You'll find that these varieties are sold pretty much everywhere from supermarkets to convenience stores. Canned beans are blanched, then sealed in cans with water and salt (as well as some additives that help the beans keep their color and texture) before being cooked at high heat under steam pressure. The result is ready-to-eat beans that will serve you well in practically any dish.

Why Rinsing Is Important

Although you can technically eat beans straight out of the can, even low-sodium varieties can be quite salty, so it's a good idea to drain and rinse them before eating them or cooking with them (unless a recipe specifically says otherwise). You can generally discard the bean liquid, although it may be worth saving a small amount for adding back to your dish later in the same way you'd use stock, to loosen or thin out a thick sauce. (Actually, the starchy liquid found in canned chickpeas is known as aquafaba has become a popular vegan ingredient; you can whip it to create a foam that's useful for creating a fluffy crumb and lift in baked goods.)

In addition to making sure you drain and rinse the beans, you'll also want to go easy on the salt when you season the beans. Err on the side of under-seasoning; you can always add more.

How to Use Them?

What to do with canned beans? Really the sky is the limit. Sure, dried beans that you've soaked and cooked yourself will have a richer flavor and sturdier texture, but canned beans are still great in hummus, tacos, stews, and, of course, chili. You can also roast them (pro tip: after rinsing the beans, dry them well on a tea towel so they crisp up in the oven) and use them in brownies (black beans and chocolate complement each other surprisingly well).

Can You Save Leftovers?

If you have any beans leftover, transfer them to an airtight glass or plastic storage container, and refrigerate for about a week.

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