All About Beans - Inexpensive, Healthy and Nutritious

January 17, 2012

Beans are a nutrient powerhouse, and great for a hearty winter meal on a budget. Find out all you need to know about beans here

Besides being delicious and versatile, virtually all types of beans are nutrient powerhouses. Darker-colored beans are richest in heart-healthy, cancer-protective antioxidants, but all beans are beneficial to those looking to improve the nutrient density of their meals; rich in protein (about 7 to 15g), folic acid, magnesium, and protective phytochemicals. Most beans are also high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, and slowly digested carbohydrates, with a gentler, even beneficial, effect on blood-sugar.

Beans are especially filling and satisfying, even though they're fairly low in calories, (100 to 125 calories per half-cup serving). Hearty and toothsome, beans closely match meat's nutrition and flavor profile, without the accompanying dose of saturated fat, and for a fraction of the price.

Cooking dried beans from scratch gives you the firmest texture and best flavor, and it's easy to do with a little advance planning. But there's no denying that canned beans are wonderfully convenient (compare soaking, cooking, and seasoning beans to buying precooked canned beans), and you're more likely to eat beans regularly if there are canned beans in your cupboard – but read those ingredient labels carefully as some of the canned varieties may add extra, unnecessary ingredients like salt, and even in some instances pork fat and always look for BPA free cans!

Kidney beans are large; almost 3/4 inch, have a definitive kidney shape and are nearly maroon in color. These are the beans to use in chili because they're hearty, and take well to spices. Cooking time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Light Red Kidney beans are similar to their darker relative and are the bean for the Southern dish, red beans and rice. Cooking time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Pinto (Pink) is the staple of Mexican cooking, and is a pinkish-mauve color that turns brownish when cooked. Some variations are mottled. Pintos look like brown medium ovals. Pintos are favored for whole or refried beans in burritos and tacos. Cooking times vary from 1 to 2 hours depending on size.

Special note on Refried Beans or frijoles refritos:
Refried beans begin with onions and garlic sautéed in lard or oil, to which spoonfuls of cooked pinto beans are added, mashed, and cooked until they are thicker than mashed potatoes. Sometimes a little broth or water is added. The intriguing thing is that they are not re-fried at all. One theory for this misnomer is that in Mexican Spanish, "re" is a way to emphasize doneness, such as these beans are well-done or cooked thoroughly. They are not, however, fried two times.

Cranberry or Roman Beans are a favorite in Italian recipes. These medium mottled tan and red beans are oval in shape, take to spices well, and are very tender with modest cooking time 45 to 60 minutes.

Garbanzo or Chickpeas, popular in Middle East cuisine, are the basis for hummus, the bean spread spiked with garlic and olive oil. They're an imperfect round beige color and give both a nut-like flavor and firm texture. Use whole in soups or salads or grind up cooked beans for hummus or for frying for falafel balls. Modest cooking time of 30 minutes to 1 hour. Skins should be discarded because they're difficult to digest.

Black-eyed Peas are the ones to bring luck into your life on New Year's Day as the Southern custom asserts. These beans are white with black dots and have a light very smooth texture. Cooking time: 30 to 60 minutes.

Black or Turtle Beans are medium sized black oval beans, that are popular in Caribbean cooking and adapt well to South and Central American dishes for which a heartier, earthier, smoother bean is desired. Cooking time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Navy beans are not navy blue as one would expect, but small white ovals that add a mild flavor to soups and salads and can be used in baked beans. They belong to the haricot bean (white bean) family, and cook in 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Great Northern beans are another relative of the haricot bean (white bean) family but larger than navy beans yet offer a similar mild white beantaste that is great in soups and stews and in the classic French dish, cassoulet. Cooking time: 45 to 60 minutes.

Limas are plump, slightly curved beans that are pale colored and come in two sizes: small baby lima and white with a creamy smooth texture or slightly larger butter beans that are pale green to white. Both are delicious alone or added to soups or casseroles. Cooking time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

How to Choose
Dried beans should look even in color, shape and size. It's important to rinse them before soaking to determine if there are any stray pebbles or dirt that escaped the package. Beans that look wrinkled or misshapen should be avoided. Soak dry beans according to directions, usually several hours to overnight, and cook completely from 1/2 to 2 hours. Salt after cooking to avoid toughening. Once cooked, they can be stored in the refrigerator for several days and added to salads, rice, pasta, or stews as desired.

Canned Beans can have a tremendous amount of sodium, from 140 to 500 mg for a half-cup serving, rinse canned beans thoroughly with cold water before using them to eliminate extra (but not all) of the sodium. In addition to high quantities of added salt, even low salt versions may contain additives or preservatives- read labels, all that is necessary to preserve cooked beans in cans are the beans, water, and salt.

Beans are good for your digestive system and cardiovascular system as well as overall health, SupermarketGuru suggests you go out and try a new type of bean!