Here at Basically, we’re big proponents of cooking beans from dry—but we’re also not above admitting that canned beans are somewhat of a miracle ingredient. When it’s a weeknight or you’re just plain tired, soaking and simmering is about as likely as organizing your closet. Enter the ultra-convenient, ultra-cheap pantry staple that is canned beans.
Now, when cooking dried beans, the liquid is pure gold: usable and totally delicious. But what about the liquid— or, even more common, the goopy glop—that comes in the canned variety? Should you add it to your dish? Should you drain and rinse?
There are two main considerations you have to make when answering those questions. First of all, what you’re cooking matters. If you’re crisping up chickpeas to add to a salad, or sprinkling white beans over toast, or stirring cannellini beans into a pasta, you don’t want extra liquid ending up in your dish.
But if you’re cooking something that requires extra liquid anyway, you can use it. In the case of Rick Martinez’s chicken tinga tostadas, two entire cans of black beans, liquid and all, are used to make refried beans with a mash-able consistency and a creamy end result. Canned bean liquid, which is often quite starchy, is also welcome in soup, to help thicken the broth, and in hummus, to help it get super smooth.
Before you go throwing canned bean liquid into every dish that can theoretically handle it, you have to actually taste what’s going on in there. That is to say, not all canned bean liquid is created equal. It varies from bean to bean and brand to brand. Is it on the thinner side, or more like the aforementioned goop? Is it smooth, or is it gritty? Does it taste like actual beans, or does it leave an unappealing tinny flavor in your mouth? You won’t know until you try.
One note: The liquid in all canned beans is a mixture of water, salt, and the starch released from the beans themselves. The salt acts as a preservative to keep the beans tasting fresh, which means the liquid is generally very, very salty. This isn’t to say you can’t use it. It’s simply important to realize that when you do, you’re adding seasoning (there’s a reason those refried beans in the tostadas don’t need any extra salt).