Preservation and Storage

When handled properly, beans have a long shelf life.  I'll venture to say they have the longest shelf life of any protein.

Fresh.  Depending upon which type of fresh beans we're talking about, they may be available in limited quantities in your area.  Fresh snow peas and green beans are available in most grocery produce departments.  Fresh garbanzos?  Not so much.

I have never had most types of beans in fresh form, so that is something you will see me blogging about in the future.  I hope you will post your adventures with fresh beans on the blog too!

Dried.  Dried beans surely must be the least expensive way to buy beans and the most eco-friendly way to store them.  Also, they have a really long shelf life.

Drying homegrown beans?  That's something I'll be experimenting with, so watch the blog.  Please share your tips and experiences on the blog page too!

In the meantime, refer to this guide about drying foods.  There isn't anything bean-specific in the guide though.

Canned.  By "canned", I mean buying beans in the store in a metal can.  I will discuss home "canning" in the "jarred" section.

I'm not totally against using canned beans.  They're really convenient, and are probably a better choice than a lot of other fast foods when you're short on time.

However, you should know canned items have some caveats.

One of my favorite advocacy groups, the Environmental Working Group, studied toxin levels in canned foods and found some really disturbing stuff.  If you're one of those "everything's ok in moderation people", let me stop you right there.  Some toxins, including the ones in some canned products, are toxic in low doses.

I know this isn't news you want to hear and may require some changes.  Change is annoying, even difficult sometimes...but there it is--truth.  The first psychological defense to news you don't want to hear is usually denial, so right about now, you're probably thinking the EWG is wrong.  You can easily blow away your denial with an Internet search, but here's another credible source to get you started.

Jarred.  Preservation of vegetables and fruits at home, using jars, is usually referred to as canning.  This irks me, since there is no can at all.  That's why I call it "jarring".

Next to drying, this is the most eco-friendly option for storage because it's not necessary to constantly use electricity to keep your beans frozen.

I find many people are really afraid of jarring.  They think they will get botulism, or it will be too much trouble.  I find most people seem to fear any food preparation that involves a thermometer.  This is a misplaced fear--it's really not difficult, and people are missing out on beautiful, delicious foods.

Jarring beans is actually not too difficult, and worth an afternoon of your time if you want to save money.  I am really surprised there hasn't been a resurgence of jarring since the economy took a nose dive, but trips to several local stores reveal no increase in their stock of jarring supplies and equipment. 

Once you have the jars, you can use them time and again; simply replace the seals after each use.  Store your jars on any cool shelf out of direct sunlight.

Different foods need to be jarred using different techniques.  It's worth reading the directions, which are really quite simple but important.  I highly recommend the book, Joy of Cooking:  All About Canning and Preserving, by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker.  You can even get a recycled (used) copy by clicking on that link--good for your pocketbook and the environment.

If you're not into buying a book, try the USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning.

Frozen.  Because this storage method takes a lot more energy than the other alternatives, I rarely freeze beans.  However, there are obviously times when this is the reasonable choice--you have half a jar of leftover cooked beans and you're heading out of town, or whatever.

Generally what I prefer to do is to pack beans and their liquid in a vacuum sealed bag, label it with the date and contents, and then pop it in the freezer.  Here are some tips.