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Cost comparison: Dry vs. canned beans

There's a definite cost savings in using dried beans, but do you have the time?

By MSN Money Partner Jul 21, 2011 10:03AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


A few weeks ago, I put out a call on Twitter and on Facebook for posts that people would like to see. On Facebook, Meena asked: "Cost comparison between canned beans and cooking from dry -- is it really worth the extra time?"

We use a lot of beans in our cooking. Generally, if we can plan ahead, we cook our own beans, not necessarily because it's a winner in terms of cost or time, but because freshly cooked beans taste a lot better (at least to me).


In order to really make this comparison, though, we need some numbers.


The raw data
This is based on prices found at local grocery stores, coupled with data from my own cooking:

  • Average cost for a can of cooked beans: $1.19.
  • Average content of a can of cooked beans: 2 cups.
  • Average cost for a pound of dried beans: $1.99.
  • A pound of dried beans produces on average 8 cups of cooked beans.

From this, a few calculations are easy:

  • Average cost of precooked beans: 60 cents per cup.
  • Average cost of dry beans: 25 cents per cup, cooked.
  • Energy and water use to cook beans: 1 cent per cup, estimated.
  • Savings per cup using dry beans: about 34 cents per cup, cooked.

For roughly every cup of cooked beans that I prepare myself (about 1/8 pound of dry beans will cook into 1 cup cooked beans), I save 34 cents, including the additional costs. Post continues after video.

Now, for the times:

  • Average labor time, precooked beans: 1 minute.
  • Average labor time, cooking dry beans: 13 minutes (measured over several cookings).

And this gives rise to some more calculations:

  • Time saved per 2 cups cooked beans: 12 minutes.
  • Time saved per cup cooked beans: 6 minutes.
  • Cost savings per hour of labor: $6.80.

There are a lot of variables here. Almost all of these measurements were done using my own local grocery stores as well as my own calculations and timing in my kitchen. The experience of others will certainly vary. What I can say for certain is that there is a cost savings in using dry beans that adds up to roughly minimum wage (after taxes).

Another factor to note is that you can easily cook up to 2 pounds of beans without significantly altering the labor time, which would mean that if you're cooking a lot of beans at once, the cost savings per hour would go up slightly.


Another important element is the wait time -- and this is usually the killer. If you're cooking your own beans, your labor is spread out over a multi-hour period as your beans cook on the stove.


For many families, this restricts their ability to use dry beans on weeknights. The solution I use is to cook the beans the night before I need them, starting them in mid-evening, then draining the water and putting them in the refrigerator just before bed.


So, although there is some notable cost savings in using dry beans -- and, in my opinion, there's a large flavor benefit -- the big restriction really is the waiting time. You have to plan a bit more to use beans you've cooked yourself.


This is why we use both. We cook our own beans when we've planned well, but we do keep some canned beans in the cupboard for a pinch.


More on The Simple Dollar and MSN Money:

Jul 21, 2011 11:47AM
Two words: pressure cooker.  Reduces the time considerably and makes dry beans a weeknight-friendlier possibility.  If I remember correctly, I can do unsoaked chickpeas within an hour (and they are the longest-cooking type I make).  It makes a lot of things weeknight-possible meals, acutally.  I think you can also do beans in the crock pot, but there is some prep time there that complicates the timeline.  I think you might have to hot soak them for a couple of hours first. 
Jul 21, 2011 10:58PM
Wow, $1.99 per pound for dried beans seems very high.  I just bought 10 lbs. of pinto beans at Sam's Club for around $.65 per pound.
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