Are these beans suitable for canning?
January 8, 2013 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I have a recipe for cold beans soaked in oil and vinegar that I make all the time. Could I can these beans, so that I don't have to prepare them every day?

I make a lot of salads, and I like them to be protein-rich. To that end, I mix my dressing -- lemon olive oil, regular olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, fresh garlic, italian herbs, salt, and pepper - along with a can of rinsed giant butter beans. While I assemble the salad, I let the beans soak, and then I pour the beans and the dressing they're soaking in on the top of the salad.

Could I can these beans? Would this make the beans too soppy and gross? It's high-acid, so I assume it would can well. I've never canned before -- would the process mess up my beans somehow?

I've thought about making a big batch of dressing ahead of time, and then just soaking the beans on the go, but something about pulling out a can of beans that is already dressed is really appealing to me.

posted by k8lin to Food & Drink (10 answers total)
Not sure where you are located, but the USDA and UCDavis have comprehensive PDF guides for the home canner.

I have never canned beans, but I would presume you'd need a pressure canner in order to even think about doing it, despite the fact that your dressing has acid in it. From what I can gather, the overall pH of the food also needs to be taken into consideration, not just the 'dressing'. So, if you have a pressure canner, the answer is probably yes. If all you have is a water bath, then probably not. Because botulism is no joke, check with reputable sources!
posted by absquatulate at 11:10 AM on January 8, 2013

The issue here is acidity. Safe canning requires a pH of 4 or lower, or else you're risking botulism. The "oil" part of your description scares me, because it might prevent the vinegar from reaching all of the beans, thus permitting an island of unacceptably high pH to exist, where botulism could form.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:10 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The best way to gauge whether it's safe to can your beans would involve a lot of PH-testing, which would mean either you bring it somewhere to have that done or your purchasing those funky strips that you used in 7th grade science class and a guidebook and trying to do it yourself. Or getting a pressure canner and doing it yourself.

Which I think is sufficient hassle to negate the hassle you'd save doing what you've already been doing.

Instead, for a labor-saving tip, I'd make a big container of just the dressing and keep that in your fridge - then it'd just be a matter of 1. opening the can of beans and 2. drizzling the dressing into the beans and mixing. It is one more step than you were going for, but less steps than it's taking you to mix the dressing from scratch each time.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:15 AM on January 8, 2013

Oh, also, if you went the "make a big jug of the dressing for the fridge" route, you would have it on hand for something to dress just lettuce alone, or use it as a marinade for meat, or...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:16 AM on January 8, 2013

Best answer: Have you tried making a bunch of the dressed beans using dry beans (not canned), and then freezing them in small batches you could thaw one at a time in the fridge? Freezing and thawing can make things a little soft, so this might not work well with canned beans which are already soft. But I bet it would with dry, or you could slightly undercook them to compensate.
posted by homelystar at 11:17 AM on January 8, 2013

Could you cook dry, not canned, beans with the oil and vinegar ahead of time (a pressure cooker makes this quick, but is not essential)? Leave them slightly undercooked and then freeze them (freezing softens beans a little). Bonus: the beans will be more flavourful, having been cooked directly in the vinegar and you'll save a bit of cash.
posted by ssg at 11:46 AM on January 8, 2013

Canning beans seems iffy, but you might gain some benefit from making up a couple of days' worth of beans at a time; cold bean salads with vinaigrette will easily keep for a few days in the refrigerator, and the flavor will only get more intense as they sit.
posted by dizziest at 12:05 PM on January 8, 2013

This is more than just a question of acidity, though that plays into it, too - oil based things like your vinaigrette/dressing are difficult to can safely. Additionally, most beans cannot be canned safely in a water bath canner, you would definitely need a pressure canner (different from a pressure cooker) - the density of beans prevents them from reaching a safe temperature in boiling water, which inhibits the formation of the vacuum seal you get with home-canned pickles and jams, etc.

Like previous posters I'd encourage you to try making larger batches of your beans - maybe try cooking from dry instead of using store-bought canned and storing a large amount of cooked beans in the fridge, dressed or not. You could also freeze dressed or undressed (hee hee) beans, but they will get a tiny bit softer upon thawing.
posted by hungrybruno at 12:07 PM on January 8, 2013

I'm not sure about the safety of boiling water canning this recipe, but it would be fine in a pressure canner. The biggest downside would be that if you started with canned beans (already arguably opver-cooked) and pressure canned them, you would end up with extremely mushy beans. If you started with dried beans and soaked them without cooking, using the canning process to do your cooking, I suspect they'd turn out quite nicely. I can big batches of black beans in this way with my preferred seasonings and they turn out excellent.

I also suspect that the amounts of vinegar you are using would render the ph acceptable for water-bath canning, but I'd be reluctant to try it myself without a proper ph test kit.
posted by Lame_username at 12:26 PM on January 8, 2013

Best answer: Beans and meat need a pressure canner. Low acid foods are not nearly as safe for water-bath canning as more acidic food. You can preserve peaches more or less by the seat of your pants, but canning beans is an exact science.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:30 PM on January 8, 2013

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