“Beans, beans, the musical fruit!” This little ditty was a popular rhyme around the schoolyard in the mid-90’s, highlighting the so-called magical qualities of this tasty legume.
Unfortunately, the process of making this healthy and affordable food source can be quite a time-consuming task.
Thankfully, manufacturers have made it simple by preserving prepared beans in cans. If you have bean wondering if you can eat canned beans without cooking, we are here to spill the beans!
Beans are soaked and then either boiled, blanched or pressure cooked prior to being canned. This means that when preparing canned beans, cooking is not a required step. However, due to the high sodium levels in this product’s juices, consumers should always drain and rinse the canned beans before they eat them.
Moreover, proper storage is imperative for keeping the beans safe in their present condition. A small dent on the side of the can will likely not cause an issue. However, experts recommend cooking these products to kill any potential toxins.
Dried Versus Canned Beans
“Beans are excellent sources of fiber, folate, plant protein, plant iron, vitamin B1, and minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and copper, all while being naturally low in sodium.”
Moreover, they are one of the more underrated superfoods on the market, which should be a part of your daily diet.
Unfortunately, the process of making beans from scratch requires them to be soaked anywhere from 4 to 12 hours prior to cooking them.
Some culinary savants will tell you that this step can be skipped. Unfortunately, by avoiding this phase in the preparation, it can lead to some detrimental health impacts.
Prevention Of Anti-Nutrients
In case you didn’t know, there are compounds in plant-based foods termed ‘anti-nutrients’.
As the name implies, these inhibit the retention of the necessary vitamins and minerals that we intend to consume through healthy eating. Unfortunately, beans have a multitude of anti-nutrients.
These include Lectins, Oxalates, Phytates (phytic acid) and Saponins.
These substances prevent the proper absorption of zinc, iron, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium.
They can also have negative health impacts, such as digestive upset, kidney stones and even inflammation. This is especially true in kidney beans and red beans which have a higher lectin content.
Thus, thorough cooking is warranted.
Moreover, many beans also have a high amount of oligosaccharides. This is a sugar that the human body cannot fully digest. It is also one of the main reasons that beans get a bad name for flatulence!
Thankfully, when prepared properly, all of these components can be deactivated.
Proper Preparation Matters
Harvard researchers note that when beans “are soaked for several hours and then boiled for several more hours to soften the bean, [it] disables the action of lectins [and other anti-nutrients].
Canned beans are cooked and packaged in liquid, so they are also low in lectins. However, raw beans simmered at low heat such as in a slow-cooker or undercooking the beans will not remove all the lectins.”
Thus, if time is of the essence, canned beans are the ideal alternative that ensures that the negative attributes of these pulses stay at bay!
Canned Beans Are Safe To Eat Without Cooking
Food Safety Specialists at Clemson University note that “the canning process involves placing foods in jars or cans and heating them to a temperature that destroys microorganisms that could be a health hazard or cause the food to spoil.”
Moreover, beans are considered a low acidic food. This quality makes them perfect for long term preservation — anywhere from 2 to 5 years.
Additionally, unlike many other canned products on the market, canned beans are extremely high in sodium. Some brands surpass 500 mg per serving!
While this may sound like a bad thing, researchers at the National Center for Biotechnology Information conducted a study that found that “sodium still plays a role in reducing the growth of pathogens and organisms that spoil products and reduce their shelf life”.
Why is this? “Salt is effective as a preservative because it reduces the water activity of foods.
The water activity of a food is the amount of unbound water available for microbial growth and chemical reactions…
[This] can also cause microbial cells to undergo osmotic shock, resulting in the loss of water from the cell and thereby causing cell death or retarded growth.”
What does this all mean? You can safely eat canned beans without cooking them first! However, there are a few stipulations in regards to this statement.
Caveats Regarding Canned Bean Product Safety
While every professionally canned product is properly prepared to allow for immediate consumption, accidents happen.
Who hasn’t dropped a can of something at some point in their life? Unfortunately, these minor drops can lead to a big problem in terms of your canned goods.
Large dents or damage along the rim of the container can break the vacuum seal. This is what keeps the food inside fresh and bacteria-free.
One of the most dangerous microorganisms that can be lurking in cans that have seemingly superficial blemishes is Clostridium
Botulinum, otherwise known as botulism. If consumed, the result can be deadly.
According to experts at the Cleveland Clinic, “home-canned foods with low acid content such as asparagus, green beans, beets, and corn can easily become infected with botulism spores if you don’t follow proper canning methods”.
Canned beans also land on this list. Therefore, proper canning measures are imperative in preventing this from occurring.
“If you can or bottle your own foods you want to be sure to follow strict hygienic procedures.
Use a pressure canner or cooker to thoroughly cook – or pasteurize – your food.” Moreover, “to kill C botulinum spores, set your pressure cooker to 116°C.
You need to cook foods until their internal temperature is 85°C for 10 minutes.
[Also,] consider boiling homemade canned food for 10 minutes before you eat it. It’s an important extra step to ensure the food is toxin-free before it hits your digestive tract.”
Using salt in the preservation process can be another additional step to safeguard your canned beans and yourself. Most importantly, use common sense! Do not use damaged and bulging cans.
Moreover, discard foods that look or smell funny. Lastly, dispose of all products after one year’s time.
Canned Food Storage
Just like any other food type, canned products have recommended guidelines for storage. These ensure that the interior contents stay fresh.
This includes keeping them in a cool, dark and dry place. Avoid extreme temperatures — both hot and cold.
The ideal temperature range is between 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but never surpassing 85 degrees.
Preparing Canned Beans To Eat With Or Without Cooking
Rinse Your Beans
“Nutrition-wise, cooked and canned are about the same, but the sodium content of canned beans can be 100 times that of cooked.”
While this ingredient improves the shelf-life of this product, it is much less desirable for consumption.
Thus, health experts recommend thoroughly rinsing your beans in a colander prior to consumption. This can aid in removing a substantial percentage of the added salt.
In fact, a study presented in the Journal of Culinary Science & Technology notes that “both draining and draining followed by rinsing were found to be effective ways to reduce the sodium content of commercially canned beans.
For all bean varieties, the draining treatment alone reduced sodium content by 36%, [whereas] the reduction by the drained—rinsed treatment reduced sodium content for all brands and bean varieties by 41%”.
However, if you like to keep some of the juice for cooking, it is important to look for low-sodium options to help decrease your salt intake.
Whether you intend to cook red kidney beans in your famous chili recipe or eat your black beans cold on top of a taco salad, this is an essential step.
Daily Sodium Recommendations
Remember that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration states that “the Daily Value for sodium is less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day.”
This seems like a generous amount until you analyze the serving size. For example, Bush’s Black Beans have a whopping 450 mg of sodium per half-cup.
Conversely, their low sodium option only has 210 mg for the same amount.
Once rinsed this can take the salt levels down to 266 mg and 124 mg, respectively. Thus, the small step of rinsing can make a colossal difference in maintaining a healthy heart. It can also keep your blood pressure at a normal level.
There are over 400 different types of beans! Whether you are cooking baked beans, kidney beans, navy beans, or refried varieties, they are all safe to eat without cooking and even directly out of the can! Cooking the beans directly in the can is also an option, in an emergency.
However, just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should. The food-safe lining on canned products helps to prevent corrosion. At hot temperatures, the coating can leach into the food.
This is an important detail to consider since 5% of canned products still use BPA in the lining.
Therefore, it is always best to follow the manufacturer’s cooking instructions. Use a microwave-safe container or cooking pot to heat the canned beans before you eat them.
Heidi is a wife, mother, Newfie owner, writer and Meteorologist. She was born and raised in Texas and has worked in the broadcast industry for over a decade.