Over the past few weeks I’ve been talking a lot about how to save money on your real food bill. There can hardly be a better place to start when considering ways to fit real food nutrition into your budget than the humble bean.
Inexpensive Nourishing Food
Legumes have been a staple of the diet of many different cultures back to the beginning of agriculture. They are commonly thought of now as “peasant food”. This is largely because they are cheap! And for that reason poor folks the world over eat a lot of them. That and that they are delicious and filling. For very little money the cook can provide plenty of calories along with a heaping dose of protein, minerals and B vitamins. And that makes for satisfied eaters!
Legumes are popular in vegetarian diets as a hearty source of calories and proteins. They make a great replacement for meat dishes as a means to stretch those pennies till old Abe screams ;-). If you are eating quite a lot of legumes you will want to take special care to ensure that they are properly soaked and the pytates within them are neutralized. Even if eaten only occasionally the home cook would be well advised to handle beans properly to avoid well, hmmm, embarrassing situations ;-).
In my Pantry Principle series I talk about eating beans for a meal or two each week and saving the difference in cost between the cost of beans and the cost of whatever else you would have had. This savings can go toward purchasing a freezer that can help reduce the cost of grassfed beef and pastured poultry and pork by making bulk buys possible. Beans can play an important role in the effort to reduce your overall food bill.
Fresh, Dried or Canned Beans
Which to choose? Many home cooks go with canned beans for convenience sake and they certainly do help out in a pinch. I usually have a few on hand for emergencies myself. But there are drawbacks to eating canned beans. First, canned beans haven’t been soaked properly to ensure the reduction of phytic acid in the beans. The Weston Price Foundation had the following to say about whether canned beans can be considered soaked:
… that is the problem with canned beans, they are softened without the soaking so all the inhibitors are there.
One of inhibitors mentioned is phytic acid. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that binds with minerals in your gut making the minerals unavailable for absorption. So while beans are an excellent source of minerals those same minerals will not be available for use by your body if the beans are not properly soaked. This is true of grains as well, by the way, making legumes and grains some of the more difficult to digest foods in our diets. Proper preparation though takes care of the phytates and makes these foods very nutritious and easily digestible. Beans are famous for causing bloating and gas, side affects everyone is anxious to avoid. Proper soaking will help eliminate these digestive difficulties.
Proper Preparation of Beans
Legumes need to be soaked and/or sprouted to reduce the amount of phytic acid present in the bean. Luckily, both of these are super easy to do! They just require a little thinking ahead of time. A easy way to prep beans is to soak them directly in your slow cooker with a little acid. I prefer to use apple cider vinegar with the mother present. Any acidic liquid will work. About 1 tablespoon of acid per cup of beans. Put it all in at night when you finish the dinner dishes and then in the morning just plug-in the cooker and let it go all day. You’ll have a fresh batch of beans for dinner. If you make a large batch, just freeze the rest in portions that are about the size of cans. Then you have a lot of ready-to-cook beans whenever you need them!
Sprouting is an even more effective way to reduce inhibitors like phytate in legumes. It is a little more trouble though. To sprout beans just put the beans in a bowl or jar, add triple the amount of water and let sit overnight. Drain and rinse beans, then let sit in the colander another 12 hours. Rinse every 12 hours until you get sprouts about 1/8-1/2 inch long. Then store them in the fridge and use up within a week.
Canned Beans and BPA
Another issue with canned beans beside phytates is the likelihood that the cans have BPA. As far as I know there is only one producer of canned beans that has BPA free cans and that is Eden Foods. Last I checked Eden canned beans were about 2 bucks a can so they cost considerably more than dried beans.
Dried beans can be a wonder of convenience too although it’s convenience of a different kind. You can buy dried beans very affordably in largish quantities and keep them on hand in your pantry. For the best cooking results don’t buy more than you’re likely to make within the year. Then, whenever the unexpected strikes be it a layoff, illness, large unexpected expense or a weather emergency you will the basis for many affordable meals on hand. Sure, you can do this with cans too, though the nutrition would be less and it would cost more. So give me dried beans :-).
Then there are fresh beans. The option to buy fresh beans doesn’t come up all that often for me (except simple string beans), but when it does I often go for this. Fresh beans are easy to prepare and make for some of the most delicious bean dishes. But it is usually the most expensive option unless of course you grow them yourself!
How to Buy Your Beans
- Excellent ($$$$) – Fresh Organic Beans, soaked or sprouted..
- Excellent ($$) – Organic Beans Soaked/Sprouted and Cooked yourself. From this years crop preferably.
- Very Good ($) – Dried beans soaked/sprouted and cooked yourself. From this years crop preferably.
- Good in Moderation ($$$) – BPA free organic canned beans. These are precooked and simply need to be prepped for your recipe. As far as I know only Eden Foods makes these.
- Okay in Moderation ($$$) – Organic canned beans.
- Okay in Moderation ($$) – Canned beans with only beans, water and salt listed in the ingredients.
- Absolutely Avoid ($$) – Canned beans with a list of additives in it. This would be some of the more popular grocery store bean brands that are basically a bean recipe in a can. Usually has HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) somewhere in the ingredients along with MSG (Monosodium Glutamate).