Canned Beans vs. Dry Beans? The Debate Continues

By Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RD

When faced with the choice of cooking with dry beans or canned beans, what’s the best option for home cooks? The answer depends on many factors, including cost, convenience, and control.

Cost: If you want to save money, cook with dry beans.
Dry beans cost less per serving than canned beans. For example, a one pound bag of dry pinto beans costs, on average, $1.49 and will make 12-½ cup servings of cooked beans. A 15 oz. can of national brand pinto beans costs $1.75, while a store brand can costs 88 cents, and each provides 3.5-½ cup servings. This means that a serving of pinto beans made from dry beans costs just 12.5 cents while a serving of store brand canned pinto beans costs 25 cents and the national brand costs 50 cents. A family of four that eats beans once a week could save nearly $80 per year by choosing dry beans versus a national brand of canned beans.

Type of Bean Cost Per Serving*
Dry $0.125
Canned (store brand) $.25
Canned (national brand) $.50

*Prices based on a supermarket price review conducted on January 5, 2012.

Convenience: If you want to save time, cook with canned beans.
While many people will find the cost savings of dry beans very appealing, they won’t necessarily like the time and effort it takes to cook with them. It can take 3 to 24 hours—depending on soaking and cooking method—to sort, rinse, soak, and cook dry beans before you are ready to add them to a recipe, whereas cooking with canned beans is as easy as opening the can. If you or your patients value your time more than your money, using canned beans is the better option. With that said, you can also cook larger batches of dry beans, and then freeze for use in dishes like soups, stews, and chili thereby providing both the cost savings of dry beans and the convenience of a ready-to-use ingredient.

Control: If you want less sodium, cook with dry beans.
A third issue to consider is the control you have when you start with dry beans, specifically over the amount of sodium in the final dish. A ½ cup serving of pinto beans cooked from dry beans with no added salt is virtually sodium free while a ½ cup serving of canned pinto beans contains approximately 200 milligrams of sodium. You can drain and rinse canned beans to remove about 40 percent of the sodium. You can also buy the lower sodium version of many canned bean products. But if you want to more carefully control the sodium in the final dish, you’re better off starting with dry beans.

Finally, keep in mind that when cooking dry beans, it’s best to not add salt or other ingredients that contain sodium until the beans are soft and fully cooked. The sodium can affect the beans’ ability to fully cook and soften.

About the Author:
Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RD, is director of programs and culinary nutrition at The Culinary Institute of America. She is also a member of the Dry Bean Quarterly editorial board.