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The economics of beans or "Why the heck would you bother?"

I’m trying to get more legumes into my diet and am an inveterate cheapskate.

Assuming that quality is equivalent, has anyone “done the math”: Is making beans from dried a significantly better bargain than buying canned?

For example, assuming my labor is free, is it cheaper to cook a pound or two of black beans, freezing the extras, than it is to buy an equivalent number of cans?

The next level would, of course, be a discussion of quality. Home cooking would allow me to be certain of what’s going into, or not going into, the pot.

Any experiences, thoughts, or snorts of derision over my issue will be appreciated.

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  1. Haven't compared the cost. Homemade from dried taste much better.

      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        Saw this after I posted... looks like the 50% number is a good guess!

      2. It is definitely cheaper--here is one cost breakdown:

        I like to have dried beans on hand at all times, but leave myself the freedom to pick up a can (or my favorite, frozen bags of chickpeas) when I don't have the time of inclination to plan ahead.

        I do not see any appreciable difference in taste, only texture. For example for hummus I preferred canned.

        1. I think it depends. I live in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood, so canned beans are plentiful on the grocery store shelves and are often on sale. Regular price on dry beans is around $1.59 for a one-pound bag, and the dry ones don't go on sale as frequently - if they do, they might be marked down to $1 per pound. A pound of dry beans yields maybe 6 cups of cooked beans (which is the equivalent of 4 cans).

          Canned beans are about $.99 a can regular price, but they are ALWAYS on sale somewhere - 3 for $2 is a typical sale price, but often my stores will have them as a loss leader so you can get 3-4 cans for $1. Anyway, if I get them 3 for $2, dry is a better deal, obviously - 4 cans would cost me $2.66 as compared to the $1.59 for a pound of dry. However, for the dollar in savings, I never bother, especially since I can usually find cans even cheaper than 3 for $2. We don't eat too many beans, though, and for me it is far more convenient to have cans in the pantry than to have home-cooked beans crowding my freezer.

          As for quality, I buy Goya canned beans and I find them perfectly good. Home cooked are good too, but not better than Goya, IMO.

          1. Working from a thought experiment since I haven't measured the exact yield from 1 lb of beans, but I see 1 lb of cooked black beans is about 6 cups while a can of black beans is about 1 1/2 cups (drained).

            Basically, 3 to 4 cans is equivalent to 1 lb of dried black beans.

            Intangibles... you can control ingredients when you start from scratch.

            1 Reply
            1. re: dave_c

              especially salt and other additives.

            2. The big drawback to using dry beans is that you have to plan in advance. Other than that, there's not a whole lot of extra labor involved: I put the beans out to soak the day before I plan to cook them (a whole minute of my time), then about 24 hours later simmer then for an hour or so - again, very little of my time required but I have to be around to make sure they don't boil dry and burn. Some people swear by slow cookers for cooking their beans, which is even less bother. The beans and broth freeze well, if there are any leftovers.

              I think the quality is better (no added sodium, for example), and the variety of dry beans available is much greater than canned. I've been growing and drying my own borlotto beans for a few seasons - they're practically a foolproof crop.

              Prices vary, but the cheaper, commodity beans like kidneys, pintos, black, navy, garbanzos are usually cheaper on a per pound basis than the canned - and you're not paying bean prices for the water and salt in the cans. If you come to really like beans you can pay $$ for rare and specialty beans like the ones Rancho Gordo sells, but I've found them good quality for the price - and I never like lima beans before making theirs.

              1 Reply
              1. re: tardigrade

                Goya produces some canned beans with no salt added. How widely they are distributed may be another issue. They still usually cost more than dry beans even after allowing for the energy used in cooking dry beans.

              2. Per this thread, there are 4-5 cans of beans to a lb of dry beans http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/504359. Depending on what kind of beans, whether on sale or organic, the cost is ~ $0.75 to $2.00 per can. For dry, it ranges from $1.50 to $4 per lb (not counting super specialty beans that you can't get canned). So with the free labor assumption, dry beans are about 1/2 the cost of canned.

                1. Dried beans are significantly cheaper.

                  Worries about BPA in cans.

                  No heater in my house, but putting a pot of beans on very low heat for 8 hrs helps.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jaykayen

                    I've had some dried bean disasters, like beans that never got soft or burned in the crock. This is why I went back to canned beans and now buy only Eden Foods ones - their cans liners do not have BPA. I know the cost savings is there but busy working parents have to balance cost and convenience all the time and this is one place where "convenience" wins for me. I do not have the freezer space for 10 different kinds of beans but 1 can is perfect for my family size on many occasions, and I don't have to thaw them first.

                  2. I like to make a huge pot of beans, then freeze them in small quantities so they are always available. Usually pinto and black.

                    1. Canned beans and dried beans cooked are a whole different thing. Canned pork and beans, very hot, poured over hot buttered whole wheat toast, with a pickle on the side and a mug of hot tea, is a greasy spoon delicacy in England ("Beans on Toast") and a darned good lunch. But a big pot of dried navy or Great Northern or lima beans cooked with a ham bone and a few boiled potatoes, served with chopped raw onion, is a US Depression delicacy. Both wonderful. Different.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Querencia

                        My mother's family loved (and loves) ham and beans. But I have NEVER heard of it prepared or served with potatoes? And although they did enjoy raw onion frequently, it was never chopped and served with ham and beans. The usual accompanyment was cornbread, no wheat flour and no sugar. Do you have a region on this? Very interesting!

                        1. re: sandylc

                          Sandy, I hadn't looked at the username when I saw this, and thought "that's a Hoosier writing that description of ham and beans"

                          Then I looked at the name and knew it had to be you! LOL -- and yes, that's how my family made it, too.

                          I'm another one who has no problem with canned, and keeps them on hand for quick meals, but I"'ll make them from dried any time I can.

                          (13-bean soup with a ham bone and some kale -- wintry perfection)

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            Ha!! True! But these ham and beans hark from my mom's side of the family in deep southern Illinois - probably kind of the same thing as in Indiana, in many ways. Great comfort food, which by the way, I wouldn't touch until I was an adult (formerly a picky eater, me).

                      2. I stock both. I like Goya canned black beans for an easy meal of black beans & rice, and canned red kidney beans as well for quick, easy, light (meatless) meals. Both are cheaply available here, especially if one watches for sales. But, some soups and dishes are nicer with dried beans, for those I exert more control over the dish prep and invest more time. I only use dried lentils and peas for cooking, as well, because they keep well in the cupboard and don't take up much space, and it's just a personal preference. I haven't noticed any particular cost effectiveness of one over the other, but I'm fortunate to not have to get by on a shoestring budget at this point in my life. Buying in bulk can be cost effective but it's always good to do some comparisons ahead of making expenditures if one's finances are tight, and to not assume one way is cheaper, stores can vary in what they put on sale, what they charge for their goods, regardless of whether they specialize in bulk purchases, or what is a sale price for them.

                        SO on the other hand would be most put out if there weren't Campbell's pork-n-beans on hand to accompany his semi-annual hotdog craving. Bargain or luxury item, it has to be in the kitchen. :)

                        1. For me, a can of chickpeas costs about $2-3. The equivalent amount of chickpeas, made from dried, costs maybe 25-50 cents.

                          The other factor is that beans cooked from dried taste way better than those from a can. Plus, you have the cooking liquid, which makes a great base/addition for stew or curry or soup (I've also had vegetarians swear by it to add depth to vegetarian versions of dishes like spaghetti sauce or chili).

                          Dried beans do take advance notice - you generally need to know the night before that you want them. But they freeze beautifully, so if you make a big batch periodically - put them to soak in the morning, cook after dinner, cool, and package in the morning - you can have them ready whenever you want.

                          1. I buy canned beans for the convenience. The brands I usually purchase are: Goya, Vitarroz, Iberia, Progresso, and Strianese. ALL good. I bought two one-pound bags of Lentils at Walmart for $1.08 each. I couldn't pass them up because it seemed like a really good price to me.

                            1. Nah, I'll save the snorts (done at home privately, and not vented here, naturally) and just answer the question, Monch.
                              Dried beans are definitely cheaper, especially if you buy them in bulk. (make sure they're fresh.) They also taste much, much better than the can, where you'll find them packed in a thick, viscous liquid which is salt and preservative loaded. That's not to say I don't use them, because I do - but given the choice of fresh over tinned, fresh wins ever' last time.
                              I know dried beans seem like a hassle because of the time involved, but there actually is almost NO hands-on time. I mean, you don't have to be home to watch the beans soak, nor do you have to be there to watch them cook, unless you have fears about leaving something on the stove...in which case, you can be doing laundry or watching something crappy on T.V. :) You might also consider buying a flame tamer, which distributes a low flame equally and safely. What sorts of things are you considering making?
                              I love beans of most any kind, not only for budget concerns and health reasons, but because they're just so damn delicious and versatile. And now that I've read this thread, I have plans to make Cuban black beans, picadillo, yellow rice and fried bananas with lemon. Yum. (I'll be using fresh - but as I said, I don't object to canned at atll - they're one of the canned products I use most frequently.

                              1. While my labor may be free, the pre-planning involved and the quantity that I cook in (I live alone) detract from the usefulness to me of cooking with dried beans. I see beans as one of those great items to make a quick meal with whatever's left in the fridge.

                                Also, I enjoy cooking with a range of beans - and so even if I were to commit to preparing the bulk dried variety to have frozen and ready to use (something i rarely do anyways given my limited freezer space) it has the greater likelihood of making me grow weary of one kind of bean (or dish) and not using the whole batch (and thus wasting whatever previous economic value there was to begin with).

                                It's far more practical for me to have a few cans around of the beans I like (and will most likely consume the entire batch I make with that can over a few meals). Where it becomes more economical for me is that on a night I'm tired (or lazy), and make a quick dish with canned beans - I'm not getting a take away.

                                1. While it may be less expensive to do your beans from the dried state, and it sounds like a lot when you are told it is double or triple the price for canned beans, we are really only talking about maybe $.30 difference per serving. Both dried and canned are great and I use both.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Terrie H.

                                    I got through my master's degree on a 130 lbs. of dried pinto beans and 4 bushels of fresh NM chiles, 2 red and 2 green, fresh from the farm. Thirty five years latter, I continue to the same w/ 2 sacks of dried red, & 90 lbs.of fresh green and 2 50 lb. bags of pintos from the farm .
                                    The secret to using dried beans is to let them soak overnight, where the begin relaease protien and use a pressure cooke where they can be cooked in 1/2 hr. I also make Boston baked beans, garbanzos for hummus and black beans this.is cheap, easy and nutricious method. I hate stuff in cans!

                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                      That's a whole lot of beans! Did you actually weigh your master's degree worth of beans?

                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                            Not a big surprise, but I love your story.

                                    2. I prefer to use dried beans when I am making a soup or stew because I find canned beans are too soft to hold up to being cooked for an extended length of time - they just tend to get mushy and fall apart. So when I prepare beans for that purpose, I "slightly" undercook them; they finish cooking after I add them to the soup or stew, which allows them also to take on the flavors of whatever I am cooking.

                                      However, if I am making, say, a bean salad or something which is cooked quickly, then it doesn't matter. Canned beans are perfect in this application - no preplanning required, no worries about mushy beans.

                                      1. I think it is cheaper. I am also lazy. I dump a bag of dried beans in my 6 qt crock pot. I fill it with water and cook chick peas 9 hours. Black beans take 8 hours to cook. No soak needed. Crock pot automatically turns off so I do it while I sleep .

                                        1. Well the $ question has been answered for you. No snorting here but my fat cat is snoring nearby.

                                          Quality is the next step: I choose the beans that I cook from dry, and I choose what goes in the pot with them. Sometimes I want plain beans to dress for various dishes, and sometimes I want to load them with garlic and spices from the get-go. I don't want salt level pre-determined and I don't want unnecessary preseravtives.

                                          Plus beans such as the Rancho Gordo beans are really terrific beans, more flavorful, fresher and more predictable cookers than your average supermarket bag. Aaaannd once you get into spendy beans, you lose the "bargain" angle of bean cookery; you trade it for flavor/variety/control.

                                          All that said, I keep a few cans of black beans, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, and Bush's Grillin Beans stashed for "must cook this tonight" recipes. Rarely used but give peace of mind.

                                          1. Another positive about scratch-cooking beans is the cooking liquid or pot liquor -- a wonderful thing and full of nutrients. You have to rinse off and discard the liquid in canned beans. And you don't need to presoak dried beans if you have pressure cooker. I just cooked unsoaked dried black beans day before yesterday -- 22 minutes at full pressure, 15 minutes cool down time. Came out perfect. Freezing leftovers when you cook a large pot is a good plan and a huge time saver. If you slightly undercook the portion you will freeze, you don't even really have to thaw them before adding them to soups or stews.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: ninrn

                                              >> 'You have to rinse off and discard the liquid in canned beans.' <<

                                              It all depends on what you're preparing. If I'm making greens, or say,
                                              pasta and beans, that "liquid" is liquid gold. It's staying.

                                              1. re: Cheese Boy

                                                I think many people rinse canned beans (and most cookbooks and even the directions on some cans of beans tell you to) because the canning liquid often has a metallic taste and can be very starchy and salty. I've just plopped it in, too, when I need extra starch and liquid anyway, but it's nowhere as good as the liquid from scratch-cooked beans.

                                                1. re: ninrn

                                                  Agree. Cooked from scratch tastes best.