Beans and other legumes are awesome. There are so many different types and so many different ways to incorporate them in meals that it’s almost impossible to get sick of them. Lentil soup, bean salad, and don’t even get me started on hummus. I always used to graze over the dry beans section of the food store and go straight for the canned. I had no idea how to cook dry beans — and canned just seemed like an easier option – but it turns out that it’s actually really simple to cook your own beans, and there are benefits to doing this, too.
First, let’s just talk legumes in general. Here are a few common types that you may find yourself eating regularly, and some benefits!
Beans, lentils, and other legumes are an excellent source of lean vegetarian protein. They’re packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They’re particularly high in soluble fiber, which helps to keep you fuller longer, as well as folate, which may just do wonders for your memory and mood. They’re excellent for the health of your heart, and may reduce your risk of heart disease. They are also a great natural source of antioxidants, resistant starch, and other health-promoting substances that protect against cancer.
So, why is it better to cook your own beans rather than buying pre-cooked ones? Here are five reasons.
Lower sodium. Many pre-cooked beans come loaded with added sodium. When you cook your own, you can decide how much or how little salt you want to include, if any!
No preservatives. Since dry beans have not yet been cooked, there’s no need to add preservatives into the packaging. Oftentimes pre-cooked beans contain preservatives to keep them fresher longer.
Less packaging. Pre-cooked beans usually come in tin cans – although recently I’ve also seen some brands use cardboard packaging – with about 3-5 servings inside. Dry beans are normally packaged in thin plastic with about 10-15 servings per package. Less packaging means less waste. This means better things for our environment. :)
Keep time. Canned beans have a shelf life of about 1 year, while dry beans can last for 10 years or longer!
Cooking control. If you’re cooking your own beans, you get to control how soft or firm they are, as well as the addition of any other spices or herbs while cooking.
Now for the part that once worried me (yet worries me no longer): how it’s done.
1. First, rinse your beans. Give them a quick look-over for any possible dirt or pebbles that may have made their way into the batch and remove them.
2. Next, soak them. This is really the only downside of cooking your own beans, as it takes a bit of planning ahead. Place your beans in a bowl or jar, cover with water, and let sit for at least 12 hours. I like to do this overnight. Just get them soaking before you go to bed, and they’ll be ready to be cooked by the time you wake up.
There’s also a quick-soak method: Cover your beans with water and boil for two minutes. Let them soak in a covered pot for 1-4 hours. Discard this water before cooking.
3. Now you’re ready to cook. Place your beans in a pot and cover with about an inch of water. Bring to a boil, and then simmer until your beans are to the firmness of your liking. This could be anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. The smaller and fresher the beans, the faster they will cook. Drain your beans and keep the liquid that’s left over in the pot – it makes for a delicious soup base!
The next time you find yourself exploring the canned beans at the food store, pause for a moment and think of the benefits. You may just find yourself gravitating toward the dry beans instead.
*Please note: While beans and other legumes offer many health benefits, they are not for everyone. If you find yourself experiencing discomfort after eating them, it may be best to limit them from your diet.
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