Dried beans are a delicious and cheap option to add nutrition to your meals!
Beans have been part of the human diet since at least 10,000 years ago. Different species of beans have been domesticated over time.
The common bean is native to the Americas, and it has many varieties, like kidney and black beans. Other beans, such as lentils, favas and chickpeas, are from the Middle East.
Though beans need a lot of prep time when dried, they are easy to cook and work well in many dishes. Dried beans are cheap, nutritious, and are a great addition to your diet (and budget!).
Advantages of Beans
Beans are very versatile. You can grow common beans and enjoy them as green beans. You can buy dried beans and have them last forever in your pantry.
Dried beans are cheaper than canned, but neither will break your budget. Dried beans can be half to a third less in price over canned.
Beans are nutritious! They are full of fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates. They are good sources of folate, potassium, iron, and zinc as well.
Beans can help lower blood sugar both while eating and continue to do so in the next meal. They help cholesterol, weight loss, and blood pressure.
Your dried beans last a long time without refrigeration or a root cellar. They will degrade in quality over time, so if you don’t eat them in a few months you might want to look into packaging them so they last longer.
This experiment took 18 year old beans, stored tightly in a can, and tested them. They show that proper packaging can keep your beans good practically indefinitely.
To store fresh dried beans, place them in a food safe container with a tight fitting lid, like a mason jar. Storing them out of light in a cool place helps too.
As beans age, they may take longer to cook. You can add baking soda as they cook to soften them.
There are a LOT of types of beans out there! You can find one to suit any cuisine or taste. Beans have been grown around the world for millennia.
From the Americas, we have Phaseolus vulgaris, the common bean. This includes varieties of black, kidney, pinto, as well as the immature green bean.
The adzuki, mung and cowpea beans are in the Vigna genus. The lentil, chickpea, and soybean are all in their own genuses, but all of the beans are from the Fabaceae family.
Different beans were domesticated in different parts of the world, but they all have fairly similar nutritional profiles and health benefits.
The Fabaceae family is also known as the legume family. Most legumes (and all beans), can fix nitrogen in the soil, making the soil better for plants that need nitrogen.
The “Three Sisters” are a combination of corn, beans and squash favored by some Native American tribes. Growing the three together meant extra nitrogen for the corn.
Disadvantages of Beans
Beans are cheap, nutritious, and store a long time…. but they aren’t perfect. There are some disadvantages that can be overcome with the right cooking techniques.
First off, you have the gas problem. Beans are rich in a fiber compound called raffinose.
Raffinose is also found in brassicas like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Humans don’t digest this well, causing fermentation in the large intestine, which causes a lot of gas.
You can mitigate the fiber issue by adding more fiber rich foods slowly, giving your system time to adjust. You can lower the raffinose fiber by properly soaking and cooking your beans.
If you are having problems with gas, and are new to beans, start slow. Try eating lentils or smaller beans first as your body adjusts.
There are other “disadvantages” to beans that can also be mitigated by soaking and cooking beans correctly. Lectins and phytates are some buzz words out there in some diet communities that say beans are bad for you.
Lectins are considered anti-nutrients. They are found in grains, beans, and nightshades. They can cause inflammation. Lectins are plant defense systems.
Lectins have been blamed for obesity, chronic inflammation, and autoimmune diseases. Foods containing lectin are worst in raw form. Fortunately, most of the high lectin foods aren’t eaten raw, and cooking will remove most lectins.
Undercooked beans or those cooked in a slow cooker will not remove all the lectins. If you are concerned, cook them the old school way, by soaking, discarding the soaking water, and then cooking in fresh water. Or buy canned beans.
You can also try sprouting grains or beans before cooking them to reduce lectins.
Lectins aren’t all bad. Some can be antioxidants, protecting cells from damage. They also slow down your digestion and absorption of carbs, meaning lower rises in blood sugar and insulin levels.
Phytates are blamed for decreasing mineral absorption in humans. Iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium are affected. Some say eating a balanced diet will negate these effects.
As with lectins, phytates can also be lowered by soaking and cooking beans properly. Phytates have some health benefits as well, so avoiding them isn’t recommended.
There are a few reasons NOT to eat beans. Some may have more headaches because of tyramine in the beans, and gout sufferers may have problems with high purine content. For most, beans are a healthy addition to your diet.
Beyond bean health controversies, another “disadvantage” might be not finding dried beans locally. Likely you won’t run into many Maryland sources for dried beans. The few grain farms in Maryland don’t offer beans.
Fortunately, dried beans are one of the easiest foods to ship and store. Beans don’t need refrigeration, they don’t weigh much or take up much space, and won’t degrade in flavor if not shipped promptly.
In addition, since beans help add nitrogen to the soil, their growth means better soil quality. They are sustainable by being grown, by storing easily, and even by transporting. Plus you save money while eating a nutritious sustainable food.
Buy dried beans over canned, as canned beans are much heavier. Cooking your own means controlling the seasonings and salt. Plus, dried beans are cheaper than canned.
Cooking dried beans might be considered a disadvantage, but is easily taken care of with some planning. You can cook a pound of beans at a time.
Soak them, cook them, then ladle them into pint jars. I get three or four pint jars from one pound of beans, equivalent more or less to three or four cans of beans.
Freeze your cooked beans in your pint jars. Now you have your own canned beans ready to go! When you run out, repeat the process.
Finally, dried beans are a natural product. Natural products sometimes come with insects. Consider freezing your beans for a few days when you bring them home just in case something else came with them!
The best way to find locally grown dried beans is to grow them yourself! You’ll get to enjoy green beans as well, plus add nitrogen to your soil for other nitrogen-hungry plants.
Whether you want green beans or dried beans, planting them is the same. They need a longer season to allow them to dry fully. Plant in spring after frost is gone, and stop watering when the beans are drying in the pods.
Beans don’t need fertilizer, and they will grow to shade their soil to keep out weeds and keep in moisture. Harvest the whole plant when beans are dry and rattling in their pods.
Thresh your dry beans by holding the plant and banging it against something. Doing this inside a barrel will contain the beans.
If beans are still a bit soft, let them dry longer before storing them.
You may want to try growing beans in a “Three Sisters” type of polyculture. Different Native American tribes grew corn, beans and squash together. Depending on the climate or culture, they might have added amaranth or sunflowers as well.
Beans offered nitrogen to the corn, the corn could grow as a stake for the vining beans, and the squash helped shade the area, keeping it cool, moist, and weed free.
If you are interested in trying your own version, make sure you plant enough corn so that it can be pollinated properly. Different research shows different configurations, try your own and see what happens!
Cooking with Beans
Beans are cheap and nutritious and store forever, but take some preparation time. There are bean recipes for all kinds of cuisine types out there.
Beans are great mixed with a grain, providing all the nutrition you need between the two. Mixing beans with rice, corn, or wheat will make a delicious and budget friendly meal.
You can find desserts, dips and spreads, ferments, tacos, soups, and plenty of beans and rice options out there. If you like meat, you can stretch that meat flavor a long way when cooking with the beans.
To mix it up with a grain, you can dip bread into beans, make delicious dishes with corn tortillas or polenta, or choose from a bean and rice recipe.
Refried Beans can be made with lard or without, and used as a dip or spread.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste, used in many Asian dishes. Chinese black bean sauce is also used to flavor delicious stir fry recipes. Tofu can be fermented as well, and is made of curdled soybeans. You might not want to make them yourself, but they are made of beans.
My favorite beans and rice starts with Spicy Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup, but I add smoked sausage. And then lots of veggies – corn, peppers, carrots, tomatoes, whatever I have on hand. I serve it over rice.
Lentils are a great bean to work with because they need no soaking time. Mujaddara is a delicious lentil and rice recipe with caramelized onions. This Lentil Soup is my favorite, and is easy to substitute whatever veggies you have on hand.
Beans can be added to lots of soups and stews. They can be made into bowl meals, used as sandwich spreads, and cold bean salads. You can freeze most bean dishes for later, so make a lot and then have quick meals ready!
If you are eating local foods because of sustainability, you can’t beat buying dried beans even if they aren’t local. They are truly sustainable protein sources.
Especially with rising food prices lately, taking a look at eating beans is a good idea. There is bound to be a recipe to suit your taste!