Dried beans can take a long time to soak and cook (sometimes, you have to plan a day or two ahead). Unsurprisingly, many end up taking the familiar and low-cost shortcut of using canned beans instead.
What if you want to take it even further? Can you skip the cooking altogether and eat your beans straight out of the can?
As Lynn Andriani writes for Martha Stewart, canned beans are blanched and sealed with water, salt, and occasionally additives to preserve their color and texture. They’re cooked at high heat under steam pressure, which makes them ready for you to eat as soon as you open the can.
However, the fact that you can do it doesn’t make it a great idea. Unless rinsed, canned beans can contain an unreasonably high amount of salt.
A 1/2-cup serving of canned beans contains on average 400 milligrams of salt, reports Cook’s Illustrated. That’s a whole 17.4% of the recommended daily sodium intake for adults (2,300 mg/day) in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The chances are that your daily sodium intake is already past that limit, no matter if you withhold from eating beans directly from the can.
The average American aged 1 year and above (yes, that’s the official USDA figure, not a typo) consumes 3,393 milligrams of sodium per day—and only a tiny portion of it probably comes from the food you make and eat at home.
So, where does it come from?
It’s in the crispy bacon and processed cheese you ate for breakfast. And the pasta you had at the Sodexo cafeteria in the office building for lunch. As well as in those roasted nuts you snacked on when you suddenly had the munchies in the afternoon.
“Most sodium consumed in the United States comes from salt added during commercial food processing and preparation, including foods prepared at restaurants,” the most recent edition (2020-2025) of the USDA’s dietary guidelines explains.
If canned beans only add to the problem, then how can you keep your sodium intake when eating them to a minimum?
The first—and probably most effective—thing that you can do is buy low-sodium canned beans. They typically contain 25% to 50% less salt than their regular and less-healthy counterparts.
Yes, low-sodium canned beans will set you back more than the value beans in the store. But think about it this way: any savings you make will come at the expense of your well-being in the long term. Seen from this lens, it seems like much less of a bargain.
Before you cook canned beans or eat them directly from the can, it is a good idea to drain and rinse them. This will wash away a quarter to a third of the excess sodium.
The best way to do this is by transferring the beans to a sieve—and rinsing them thoroughly for 15-20 seconds under running water.
This won’t take you that much extra time or effort, yet it will help you get rid of most of the excess sodium that you want to avoid consuming.
How to Make Canned Beans Taste Good
I don’t know about you (let me know in the comments below), but the problem I have with eating beans straight from the can is that they don’t really taste all that good.
Can you do anything to change that? Happily for lazier (or more practical?) home cooks like you and me, you can.
Making canned beans taste better can take us as little as 10 minutes. Here’s a quick and easy way to achieve that with only a few ingredients and a frying pan:
- Drain the beans in a sieve and set them aside in a bowl;
- Preheat your frying pan on medium-high heat for about 2-3 minutes and, in the meantime, mince 2-3 garlic cloves;
- Saute the garlic for 30 seconds, then add the beans;
- Season with chili flakes, freshly cracked black pepper, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, and stir;
- Cook, occasionally stirring, for 3-4 minutes. Plate and serve.
The kick from the chili, tang from the vinegar, and fragrance from the garlic will elevate your beans to the next level. This trick works exceptionally well on navy, white kidney, and lima beans.
In the photo above, you’ll see how mine came out. They even look appetizing!
What About Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce?
Oven-baked or pan-fried beans with tomato sauce are probably among the healthiest meals you can make at home. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for canned beans with tomato sauce that you’ve bought from the store.
Apart from salt, canned beans with tomato sauce contain sugar, artificial flavorings, additives, and preservatives. Whenever you’re craving beans with tomato sauce, it’s much better to cook them yourself—even if you use canned beans and canned tomatoes for the purpose.
Yes, you can eat beans straight from the can. But it is advisable to drain and rinse them first. Canned beans, especially the cheaper ones, contain too much salt (in many cases, up to 17.4% of the recommended daily intake).
If you’ve the time and inclination, you can fry a few cloves of garlic and sauté the beans in a pan with balsamic vinegar and chili flakes. They’ll taste much better, and the whole thing will take no more than 10 minutes.