Everyone knows that beans are a frugal source of protein. That is, dried beans are an inexpensive alternative to animal-based protein. Canned beans? Well, they’re often high in sodium, many cans contain BPA, and they’re really not all that frugal. Not to mention that they can contain additives (such as corn-laced salt) that can cause allergic reactions for those who are sensitive.
Here’s the analysis for those like me who have a driving need to whip out a calculator for conversations like these:
First, let’s be sure we’re comparing apples to apples. The volume doesn’t matter. If we’re trying to be frugal, we just want to know how many grams of protein we’re getting for our money. A can of beans has 1.75 cups of cooked beans, and 25-30 grams of protein (depends on the type of bean) at a cost of about $ .50 cents to $1.00. Four ounces of chicken has 28 grams of protein, and at $2.50/lb, that serving of protein costs about $ .63. Dried beans are about $1.25/lb, and that pound will yield about 6 cups of cooked beans, or 80 grams of protein.
The bottom line:
Chicken = $2.23 per 100 grams of protein
Canned Beans = $3.00 per 100 grams of protein
Dried Beans = $1.56 per 100 grams of protein
And there you have it. Canned beans are actually MORE expensive than chicken, and dried beans are half the cost of canned beans per gram of protein.
Ok, so dried beans it is. But remembering to presoak the beans for a specific meal would require more brain cells than I currently possess. I depend on a tried-and-true method that allows me to forget about the beans, and still have dinner on the table by the time hubby gets home from work.
The Crock Pot Method for Cooking Beans
First, pour a 1 pound bag of beans into a strainer and rinse thoroughly. One pound fits nicely in my crock pot, 2 pounds doesn’t fit. If you have a giant crock pot, feel free to try 2 pounds. Pick out any debris you might find such as stones, chaff, etc. Pour the beans into a pretty big bowl and add lots of water. The beans will really soak it up – make sure there’s LOTS of water in there.
Drain the water, rinse the beans if you like (this step removes the phytic acid and such like indigestible stuff), and put the beans into the crock pot. Add enough water to cover and turn on low.
Forget about the beans for a few hours or overnight. Or all day. You know, whatever.
The beans are done when they’re about ready to split their skins, but if you cook them for a few extra hours, it won’t hurt anything. Old beans take longer to cook, so if you’re cooking beans your grandmother bought during the war, it might take quite a while. Drain the water (save it for soup broth if you like), and pack the beans into 3 freezer bags, making sure each bag has about the same amount of beans. Label and date the bags and throw them in the freezer. When you have a recipe calling for a can of beans, pull out one of your bags, and thaw it. The beans thaw pretty quickly, especially when mixed into a pot of simmering soup.
So there you have it. A bag of frozen beans is almost exactly the same amount as a can of beans, and pretty much just as convenient with the added bonus of being BPA-free, low-sodium, and allergen-free. Oh, and ecologically friendly due to less packaging, and less carbon footprint and all that jazz. Yeah, this one’s a winner, all the way around!