Canned vs. Dried Beans: Which Are Cheaper?

By G.E. Miller on 5 November 2010 (Updated 28 October 2011) 19 comments
Photo: krossbow

When it comes to cutting your grocery bill, switching from prepared foods to their dried counterparts can often save you a good chunk of change. Looking for a good place to start? It's all about the beans!

Which is Cheaper: Dried or Canned Beans?

Dried beans average at least half to two-thirds of the price of reconstituted (canned) beans. If you're able to purchase in bulk, you're often able to save much more. A recent search at a local grocer yielded a 16 oz. bag of dried black beans for $1.47, while a 15.5 oz. can of black beans cost $0.74.

You're probably thinking, "Wait a minute, the canned beans sound like a better deal!" Not so fast! One 16 oz. bag of beans tends to yield the same amount of beans as three cans. So in this example, you're saving approximately 50% on your beans.

If you purchased three cans of beans per week and made the switch to dried beans, you'd save approximately $25 per year. It may not sound like much, but when you consider that it is only one item out of possibly hundreds that you purchase over the course of a year, it all adds up. (See also: Organic Groceries on a Budget)

Other Benefits to Dried Beans

  • Dried beans often store better than canned, and if kept in a cool, dark place, keep good for up to a year or more. If you open a package or buy in bulk, make sure to place them in an airtight container.
     
  • They take up less space. Dried beans fill one-third of the space and don't come in a rigid can form.
     
  • You're helping to reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding the purchase of aluminum cans and the extra storage weight and volume that come from canned beans.

How to Cook Dried Beans

Recipes vary by bean variety, but here are some general rules. Keep in mind that one cup of dried beans will yield two cups of cooked beans.

Step 1: Soaking

There are two ways that you can soak dried beans:

  1. Overnight: Rinse your beans, place in a container with double the water, and let soak for eight hours or more.
     
  2. Quick Soak: Rinse the beans, place in a pot with double the water, and cook on medium for five minutes. Then cover the pot, turn off the heat, and let the beans soak for an hour.

Step 2: Cooking the Beans

  1. Drain the beans from the water they were soaked in and put into a pot.
     
  2. Cover with fresh water (about two inches above the beans).
     
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover with lid partially and cook until tender (usually takes at least an hour).

Time Saving Bean-Cooking Tip

If you want to avoid the time involved in cooking, simply cook up large batches and then freeze the beans. When you want to use them later, all you need to do is defrost, and you're ready to go.

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Guest's picture
Beth

Good post, but you forget a few benefits:

- dried beans are less "gassy" because the cooking process breaks down more of the complex sugars that cause the wind.

- canned beans often have sodium added. And who needs more salt?

- you're avoiding BPA in the can liner.

Mind you, canned beans are much better to have on hand as part of your emergency food stash because you won't need water and energy to cook them.

Guest's picture
Guest

Very good points Beth! 1 can of beans has almost your total sodium rda! And I am surprised the BPA lining of can was not mentioned in this article :(
I have nothing in my pantry that is in a metal can.
Canned food from a factory has a bunch of unknown CRAP in it-roddent & insect contaminants etc.
I will take a bit of time to cook beans myself :)

Guest's picture
Nathan

This, most definately, does not count all of the costs. Canned beans require little to prepare - only a few seconds or so on the stove. However, to prepare dried beans one will need to 1. Boil water 2. Simmer beans. How long does the butane, or whichever stove is used, remains turned on? How much does that cost in energy?

I suspect it is still cheaper than canend beans, but then that is not counting the convenience and time associated with canned beans.

Guest's picture
Guest

What about soaking? Put them in over night and just boil them for a little the next day. It doesn't take long at all.

Guest's picture
MJ

I've got to say canned beans are cheaper for me because they don't languish in the pantry, to ultimately have your husband attempt to add dried peas to the hamburger helper because he doesn't know how to cook them. And then throwing the rest of them away in an attempt for THAT particular catastrophe to happen again.

Guest's picture
Eric

I wrote about this a few months ago: http://wp.me/pXSBU-1z

It really can make a difference in your cooking and your grocery bill.

Guest's picture
Guest

i agree on the dubious carbon footprint savings (since aluminum is eminently recyclable, and dried beans generally come in plastic bags) and the unmentioned energy costs of using a stove (electric, gas, or otherwise) for an hour of cooking time. then you also need to store the cooked beans in a refrigerator or freezer (which, admittedly, may make a freezer more efficient by helping to keep it full).

additionally, i'd argue that canned beans may be more nutritious for one odd reason: i use them. dried beans have literally been hanging out in my pantry for ages. but last night, as i made up a light vegetarian gravy, i tossed in a can of navy beans for extra protein. when i'm making a quick veggie pasta, again, i'll think, why not some black beans or kidney beans? and in they go. the convenience factor makes me eat more of them and aids in my nutrition. the sodium question is a real one, but given how i normally salt my food, canned beans are, essentially, the least of my worries ;)

Guest's picture
Guest-Phaedra

I would have to agree. I get ambitious sometimes and make a pot of beans and ham....I enjoy one bowl and then I want nothing to do with the beans because I'm not a huge fan of beans, but I know beans are healthy and if I have a variety of canned beans I'll use them in many dishes.

Guest's picture

I usually just assume that I'll eat about 1 to 1.5 cups of dried beans every day so every morning I just throw that amount into the slow cooker with some water and maybe some potatoes, onions, and carrots for a stew. By the time supper rolls around everything is cooked.

Guest's picture

This fails to the consider the cost of my time in cooking the beans myself, the water and energy used in the cooking process, and the value found through the consistency in canned beans. I cannot comment on the recycling process for alumninum cans vs. plastic bags that held beans. For me, I use fewer than 3 cans/wk and can assure you that the value of my time alone is more than enough to offset paying more for the canned beans.

Guest's picture
Guest

Canned beans also have a high (unhealthy/hidden) sodium content. Most get enough sodium in their diets already.

Avoid canned vegetables. Go frozen/dried if you can't get fresh.

Guest's picture
Christine

A couple of years ago I purchased a really good pressure cooker. I cook dried beans frequently. First I soak the beans overnight, or at least for a few hours, to soften them. The soaking liquid is drained and the beans poured into the pressure cooker. I add either water or homemade stock and cook according the type of bean. The shortest cooking time is for limas--about five minutes--and the longest is for garbanzo beans--about 20 minutes. I love beans and put them in salads, make my hummus, and, of course, make a myriad of soups and stews with them. I like to take out little containers to freeze for later use of small amounts. These only need a little defrosting before they can be used. Beans made with homemade stock are very delicious and I cook with very little salt, using mostly herbs and spices to liven up the flavor. I still keep a couple of cans of beans on hand for convenience, but most of the time, they have more sodium than I care to ingest. The beauty of a pressure cooker is that once the correct pressure is reached, the heat is turned down enough just to maintain the pressure. Crock pots are also very nice to use, but, of course, these take much longer.

Guest's picture
gieserla

This is the way I use/prepare beans. I always have a variety of them in the freezer, packaged in 2-cup bags.

Guest's picture
Kay Lynn

I agree that dried beans are cheaper, but if I had to cook them to use beans, we'd very rarely have beans.

I buy a variety of organic canned beans on sale. They have much less sodium than the other canned beans.

Guest's picture
Aunt Jenny

If you want to save lots of time, buy an electric pressure cooker to cook your beans. My friends from India and Mexico use them a lot for cooking beans and lentils. No soaking of beans required. Just put in the DRIED beans with some water and cook for about 30 minutes and they are done! You'll save on water, time, energy, and you don't get all the sodium that is in the canned. If you put some spices into the water, they will infuse into the beans as they are cooking. Yum!

Guest's picture

Great post! I use canned beans all the time because I'm too lazy to cook dried beans. The funny thing is that I constantly use them in dishes that I then freeze, and it never occurred to me to make a big batch of dried beans and freeze those. One of those palm-to-the-forehead moments. I'll definitely try the dried beans next time!

Guest's picture
KimC

Don't forget: you can cook many dried beans in a pressure cooker in just a few minutes. I've taken to canning my own beans in the pressure cooker. They're incredibly simple and they cook while they process, in just 75-90 minutes, then they're ready and waiting when I want them.

Guest's picture
Guest

This week I'm looking at 10 cans of beans for $6.00 with a $3.00 off coupon. So $0.30 cans of beans (and same deal with diced/stewed tomatoes). They are a regular staple in our home so I will probably be looking to get 20 cans or more per day for the next 5 or 6 days. I know its not much in the grand scheme of things (almost pathetic really), but we try to squeeze every penny and we will feel more secure here knowing we have all that great healthy protein, carbs, and fibre in our cupboard.

Guest's picture
Guest

The key to using dry beans is to make them ahead of time. The cooking part is easy- I add 1 pound of dried beans to 6 cups of water and bring it to a simmer in a dutch oven on the stove. I cover the dutch oven and stick it in the oven at 350 for 1 hour. After an hour, I add some bouillon and then pop them back in the oven for another 1/2-1 hour, depending on what kind of beans they are. At this point, they are done! No pre-soaking is necessary. Very minimal work on my part and I get to make some tasty varieties that you would never find canned. I usually freeze 2/3 of the batch and put the rest of them in the fridge. When I use up the beans in the fridge, I move a container from the freezer into the fridge. This cooking method is one that I got from the Rancho Gordo heirloom bean cookbook. I highly recommend it!