In my mind the most frugal meals use inexpensive ingredients to stretch those that cost a bit more. One of my favorite stretching ingredients is beans! They are good sources of fiber and protein, there are a great variety to choose from, and they are common in most if not all global cuisines.
For this discussion, I will refer specifically to the variety of beans sold as "small white" beans. They are a basic ingredient and should be easy to find in most parts of the U.S.
Please note: Specific nutritional content varies by brand and the costs may fluctuate by region. The foods compared here are conventional, not organic, I am only looking at the least out of pocket expense for each item.
I have been taking note of the prices for dry and canned beans in my local grocery store and here is what I have come up with:
1 pound of dry white beans cost as little as $1.09. After soaking or boiling for about an hour 1 pound (approximately 2 ½ cups) of these little beans should equal around 6 cups of cooked beans.
15 oz. cans of white beans began at $1 per can (on sale) and increased to well over $2 depending on the brand. 1 can yields approximately 3.5 servings of ½ cup each or 1 ¾ cups per can. Side note - I find that after rinsing the volume of beans generally rounds down to 1 ½ cups.
The Bottom Line: 1 pound of dry beans = 4 cans of beans. Purchasing dry beans means a potential savings of at least $2.91 for the same volume of food.
When it comes the nutrient content of dry beans versus canned my untrained eye can find very little difference. That is until we get to the sodium content. Sodium does not come up very often in my discussions. For the record, I believe it is much tastier to choose the amount of salt that is added to foods. Some salt gives food a brightness in the mouth that allows it to really shine. Too much salt muddies flavors, confuses taste buds, and can leave an unpleasant feeling in the mouth. Beyond the flavor, sodium is a big factor for many people when choosing which foods to enjoy and which to avoid.
Now for the breakdown:
¼ cup (store brand) small white beans should equal just over ½ cup after boiling in water: 150 calories, .5 g. fat, 11 g. fiber, 9 g. protein, 5 mg. sodium
½ cup of S&W Premium White Beans from a can: 110 calories, .5 g. fat, 6 g. fiber, 7 g. protein, 440 mg sodium (The low sodium variety has 220 mg. of sodium per serving.)
Does Rinsing Canned Beans Reduce the Sodium Content?
The Bottom Line: Sodium content has a big impact on taste and nutrition. For the lowest sodium option choose dry beans and add salt to suit your personal taste or health needs. If nothing else make sure to give canned beans a good rinse before using (this is also helps reduce gas!).
Whew! Are you still with me? That was a lot of numbers! I can get carried away when it comes to finding the best nutritional bang for my hard-earned buck. Now go grab a bag of dry beans and get busy cooking!