Dried beans and grains

Inexpensive, simply stored and packed with protein, fiber and essential vitamins, beans really are the magical fruit — or legume, rather.

Though beans are purchasable pre-cooked and ready-to-eat from a can, dried beans are cheaper, healthier and more sustainable than their canned counterparts. According to the Bean Institute, a serving of dried pinto beans costs half as much as canned ones. Plus, half a cup of canned beans can use up a third of the daily recommended sodium intake. Buying dried beans in bulk using reusable containers can not only save money on groceries, but also reduce waste in the kitchen. Plus, dried beans provide more fun and tasty heirloom varieties than canned offerings.

Once you have your hands on bulks of beans, though, then comes the question of how to best store dried beans to ensure their longevity.

According to Kathy Savoie, educator at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, dried beans should be stored in food-safe storage containers with a tight-fitting lid. Dried beans left in their original grocery store packaging — generally, a thin plastic or paper bag — will dry out faster.

She added the dried beans should be stored in out of direct sunlight in a dry spot kept at a cool temperature between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Large quantities of dried beans can be stored in food-grade plastic buckets with airtight lids and rubber gaskets. The containers should be kept on a pallet (six inches off the floor is ideal to prevent cross contamination, physical hazards and rodents). Oxygen absorber packets, which are available at many health food stores, can be added to remove oxygen and ensure long-term quality. One packet should suffice for every 5-gallon container.

In general, dried beans are best used within a year of purchase. Past that, they are still safe to use, but require more time cooking to soften.

“Dried beans have a long storage life,” Savoie said. “If you store beans properly, they should be good for several years in your pantry.”

Dried beans can be stored for up to 30 years, though, by at least one blogger’s account, beans of such age can take up to 15 hours to cook through. Savoie has a trick for speeding along the cooking process for old beans.

“If beans have been sitting on the shelf for more than a year, adding a quarter teaspoon of baking soda to each pound of beans while you’re cooking them can help make them softer,” she said.