Kidney Beans 101 – The Basics
About Kidney Beans
Kidney beans are a common legume native to Central America and Mexico. They are part of a group called “common beans” that were cultivated as early as 8,000 years ago. Common beans were carried by migrating tribes, as they served as important foods for the Indians of the Americas. Kidney beans (and other common beans) slowly made their way around the world since they were important foods for migrating people, and were easy to transport and grow in new locations. Today, kidney beans are among the most commonly eaten foods around the world, and they are used in a variety of both savory dishes and sweet desserts.
Kidney beans were named for their shape and color, which resembles a human kidney. They come in a variety of colors and patterns, including white, cream, black, red, purple, spotted, striped, and mottled.
It is important to note that kidney beans (especially the red variety) must be fully cooked before they are eaten. They contain a toxic compound (phytohemagglutinin) that can be dangerous to eat when the beans are consumed raw or improperly cooked. Cooking destroys this compound, making the beans safe and healthy to consume. Red kidney beans have higher levels of this compound than other varieties of kidney beans.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Kidney beans are rich in a variety of nutrients. They are high in so many nutrients, providing good percentages of their recommended daily values that I have included the DV’s in the following list:
One cup of cooked kidney beans provides folate (58% DV), copper (48% DV), fiber (47% DV), manganese (37% DV), protein (31% DV), iron (29% DV), thiamin (24% DV), phosphorus (20% DV), magnesium (19% DV), omega 3’s (19% AI…adequate intake), zinc (17% DV), potassium (15% DV), Vitamin B6 (12% DV), Vitamin K (12% DV), choline (10% DV), riboflavin (8% DV), pantothenic acid (8% DV), niacin (6% DV), calcium (4% DV), selenium (4% DV), and very little total fat (1% DV). One cup of cooked kidney beans provides 225 calories.
They are also high in isoflavones and anthocyanins, both important antioxidants. Some people may be concerned because kidney beans also contain phytic acid and lectins, which can inhibit the absorption of key nutrients. But when the beans are properly soaked, sprouted, fermented and/or cooked, these compounds are eliminated or inactivated. So, as long as they are prepared correctly, kidney beans should be considered to be health-promoting legumes to include in your diet.
Fiber. As mentioned earlier, kidney beans are especially high in fiber, with 1 cup of cooked beans providing almost half the daily recommended amount of fiber intake. This includes a substantial amount of resistant starch. This type of carbohydrate resists digestion in our gastrointestinal tract, then feeds our gut microbiome along the way, acting as a prebiotic in the colon. Resistant starch has also been found to improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, and reduce appetite.
Blood Sugar Control. With their being high in protein, fiber, and slow-release carbohydrates, kidney beans are effective at maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. They have a low glycemic index, indicating that blood sugar does not have a large spike after the bean-containing meal. This can help to reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, and may also help to improve blood sugar control in those who already have type 2 diabetes. Even if you are not a diabetic, including kidney beans in meals may improve your blood sugar balance, protect your overall health, and reduce your risk for many chronic diseases.
Reduced Risk for Cancer. Observational studies have linked legume intake, including beans, with a reduced risk of colon cancer, the most common type of cancer worldwide. This has been supported by test tube and animal studies. Beans contain a variety of nutrients and fiber that have anticancer effects. When their resistant starch is eaten by intestinal bacteria, they release short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which may improve colon health and lower the risk of colon cancer.
Research also indicates that kidney beans help to reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. This fact alone, makes pancreatic cancer one to ward off any way we can, if at all possible. In a study published in the November 2017 issue of Nutrition Reviews, researchers found there was a positive relationship between the standard Western diet that is rich in animal products and processed foods, and low in fruits and vegetables. They also found an inverse relationship between diets that were high in fruits, vegetables, vitamins and fiber. This means the less animal products and processed foods you consume, and the more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and unprocessed whole grains you eat, the less likely will be your chances of developing pancreatic cancer. They concluded that the better-quality diet consisting mostly of whole plant foods resulted in a far lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
Furthermore, research suggests that compounds in kidney beans are able to induce apoptosis (the normal death of a cell) in cancerous cells, increasing the death rate of those cells.
Boosts Heart Health. Kidney beans are a healthy food to consume for the sake of your heart and cardiovascular system. First, kidney beans have the ability to lower LDL (low-density-lipoprotein) cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of coronary heart diseases. By helping to balance cholesterol levels, kidney beans can help to lower your chances of developing atherosclerosis, which could lead to a heart attack.
Kidney beans can also help to lower your blood pressure, which would, in turn, help to reduce your risk of heart disease. One cup of kidney beans provides a substantial amount of health-promoting potassium, a critical vasodilator that can boost heart health. Dilating blood vessels reduces the strain on the cardiovascular system by relaxing blood vessels and arteries. This reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, and coronary heart disease, in general.
The high level of iron in kidney beans aids in the production of red blood cells. This helps to boost circulation and increase energy levels while delivering oxygen to all areas of the body. This, in turn, helps to boost the health of the cardiovascular system, thereby reducing your risk for heart disease.
Bone Mineral Density. The long list of minerals provided by kidney beans plays a role in bone mineral density. Increasing the minerals in our diet helps to lower the risk of developing osteoporosis, keeping our bones strong as we age.
Helps Protect Cognitive Abilities. There are many forms of neurodegenerative diseases. Thiamin (Vitamin B1) has been well-studied for its ability to help prevent memory loss, which is associated with cognitive decline. A one cup serving of cooked kidney beans provides 24% of our recommended daily intake of this important vitamin. This makes kidney beans a true ally for those wanting to protect and conserve their cognitive ability as they age.
Helps Prevent Birth Defects. A one cup serving of kidney beans provides over half the recommended daily intake of folate. This B-vitamin is critical in helping to prevent birth defects, most notably neural tube defects. It is critical for mothers-to-be to be certain they are eating enough folate-rich foods before they become pregnant because neural tube defects often occur before a woman knows she is pregnant. So, if you are planning on having children in the near future, including kidney beans in your diet on a regular basis can help to prevent these devastating birth defects.
Anti-Oxidative Properties. One cup of cooked kidney beans provides over one-third of the recommended daily intake of manganese. This important mineral helps in the body’s antioxidant defense mechanism, fighting harmful free radical molecules. Manganese is a part of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), which is one of the most important antioxidants in the body. SOD converts the superoxide molecule (one of the most harmful free radicals in the body) into smaller molecules that won’t damage human cells.
This makes kidney beans an important food in helping to protect us from numerous conditions such as cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and vision loss due to macular degeneration.
How to Select Kidney Beans
Dried. Most grocery stores carry dried light red or dark red kidney beans. White kidney beans (also known as cannellini beans) are carried by many stores, but will usually be labeled as cannellini beans rather than white kidney beans. When choosing dried kidney beans, opt for bags with few broken or chipped beans, beans that look off-colored, or debris in the bag (such as stones). Be sure to look at the “Best By” date and get a bag with the farthest out date you can find if you plan to store them for a while. If you intend to use them right away, an extended “Best By” date won’t be an important issue. However, the further out the date, the fresher will be the beans.
Canned. Canned beans of any type are an important pantry staple to always have on-hand. They can help when you need to make a meal in a hurry and can’t take the time to soak beans in advance. Also, in case of a serious emergency like a power outage, canned beans can simply be opened and eaten as they are. They may not be the most appetizing food straight out of a can, but they can help feed a hungry family during a serious emergency. When buying canned kidney beans, always check the “Best By” date on the can. It’s helpful to choose cans with a date well into the future so you can store the can until it is needed without concern.
Also, canned beans come in salted and no salt added varieties. If you are monitoring your salt intake for any reason, you may want to choose no salt varieties so you are in better control of your sodium intake. Canned kidney beans may also be found in organic options. These are processed without added firming or coloring agents. So, it is important to read the ingredients labels so you can be sure that you are buying what you need.
How to Store Kidney Beans
Dried: Dried beans are shelf-stable and should last for years when stored in a cool, dry, dark place, away from insects. A pantry or dark cupboard often works well for storage of dried beans. The thin plastic bags that they come in are not the best for long-term storage. Beans will have a better quality and will keep longer when stored in sealed air-tight containers, preferably with an oxygen absorber enclosed. Mason jars or mylar storage bags, with an oxygen absorber inside, and as much air removed before being sealed will keep your dried beans in the best quality for the longest time. In general, the older dried beans get, the longer they take to soften when cooked. Storing them properly will help retain their quality, especially when being stored long-term. It is helpful to mark your storage container with the “Best By” date that was on the original packaging of the beans. That can help you to rotate your inventory appropriately, and use items before they get too old.
Canned: Canned beans should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place, and away from a heat source, such as a cupboard or pantry. When reaching for a can of beans (or anything, for that matter), check the “Best By” date and choose the can with the shortest lifespan left. This will help to rotate your supply so no cans get left unused when their “Best By” date arrives. One way to help rotate your supply would be to place all new canned items you buy in the back of the lineup of cans in the pantry. Move the existing cans forward, so the newer ones are always toward the back and older ones are always moving forward as they are being used. When you need a can of something, take the one in the front of the line and it should be your oldest can of that item available.
If you have opened a can of kidney beans and cannot use all of them, the extra beans should be placed in an airtight container and stored in the refrigerator. Use them within four days. If that is not possible, store them in an airtight container or bag in the freezer for up to six months. Do not store food in opened cans in the refrigerator. This may give them an undesirable metallic flavor.
How to Prepare Dried Kidney Beans
Dried kidney beans should be prepared like any other dried bean. They should be soaked before being cooked. This makes them more tender, reduces cooking time, and also reduces their gas-producing tendencies when eaten. Preparing dried kidney beans is not hard, but it does take some time.
Rinse the Beans. First, place your dried beans in your cooking pot. Sort through them to remove any stones or other debris that may have been in the bag, and any beans that don’t look good. Then rinse the beans and drain the water. Next, cover the beans with fresh water by at least two inches. There are two methods of soaking to choose from at this point…
Overnight Soaking Method. Cover the pot and allow the beans to soak overnight or for at least 6 hours. Then, drain the water and cover the beans with fresh water by at least two inches. Cook your beans (see directions below).
Quick Soaking Method. Cover your rinsed and drained beans in your cooking pot with fresh water. Place the lid on the pot and bring them to a boil. Boil them for two minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow them to rest in the covered pot for two hours. Drain the water, then fill the pot with fresh water. Cook your beans (see directions below).
Cooking Your Soaked Beans. Place your pot filled with fresh water and soaked beans on the stove. Cover the pot and bring them to a boil, then lower the heat. Tilt the lid on the pot and allow the beans to simmer until they are soft. This can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours depending upon how old the beans are and how long they soaked. Stir them occasionally. Be sure they remain submerged. If needed, add more hot water to the pot. Do NOT add salt or acidic ingredients like vinegar or lemon juice to the water at first. This will cause the beans to be tough and will make them hard to cook. If salted or flavored water is desired, add flavorings when they are close to being done. When they are soft and finished cooking, drain the water and use them as desired. Soaked dried beans may also be cooked in a pressure cooker or slow cooker.
How to Freeze Extra Prepared Kidney Beans
If you cooked more beans than you can use at one time, simply cool down the beans to be preserved by covering them with cold water. Stir them to cool them down. If needed, drain the water and refill the pot with more cold water. Stir them again, and when the water remains cool, the beans have cooled enough to be frozen. Drain them well. Then you can simply transfer them to a freezer container or bag, label them with the date, and store them in the freezer. To prevent the beans from freezing into one big lump, you could spread out the cooked, cooled, and drained beans in a single layer onto a baking sheet. Place that in the freezer until the beans are frozen, then transfer them to a freezer container or bag. Label and date the container. For best quality, use them within six months.
Dried vs Canned Kidney Beans
Fresh kidney beans were not included in the following comparison since they are not usually stocked in grocery stores, and would be hard to find in farmers markets. About the only way one would encounter fresh kidney beans would be if you grew them yourself or belonged to a farm co-op that grew them for local distribution. Therefore, the following comparison was limited to what most people would find in their local grocery stores.
Dried Kidney Beans: Dried kidney beans are stocked in most grocery stores. They are inexpensive, considering the amount you have when they are cooked. They will last for years in the pantry when kept dry and away from insects and light. However, their nutritional quality will start to dwindle after being stored for 2 to 3 years, so it is best to rotate your supply as you use them, for best flavor and nutritional value. If you notice insects or any unusual odor in them when they are opened, discard them and opt for another bag. For optimal storage, transfer them from their original plastic bag into a glass mason jar or mylar food bag. Place an oxygen absorber inside the container, remove as much air as possible, and seal your container. Your dried beans will keep longer and maintain their quality better than when stored for prolonged times in the thin plastic bags that they are usually sold in.
If you want to make meals easier when including dried and cooked kidney beans, cook and freeze them in advance. Soak and cook one or two pounds at a time (see directions earlier in this article). When they are finished cooking, rinse them with cold water to chill them down, drain them well, then package them in freezer bags or containers and store them in the freezer. They will be ready to use when you need them, and can be included in cooked or uncooked dishes, such as salads. To thaw them quickly, simply place the amount needed in a colander and run warm water over them. They will thaw quickly, and can be used as desired.
Canned: Canned kidney beans (or any canned bean you prefer) are worth having in your pantry at all times. They are relatively inexpensive and are an easy protein source that can be included in just about any meal. If your supper plans include beans and you haven’t had time to cook dried beans, then canned beans are a must go-to for easy and quick meal preparation. Also, in case of an emergency where you lose your power, in a pinch, you could simply open a can and eat. It may not be your favorite way to eat kidney beans, but it’s food!
Nutritional Comparison: The nutritional comparison tool available online at https://MyFoodData.com was used to compare one cup of canned and cooked dried kidney beans, both cooked without fat. Overall, both types were very close in nutrient value when comparing calories, fat, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. However, there was one noteworthy difference between the two. The cooked dried kidney beans had a much higher folate content (of 232.2 mcg, or 58% of the Daily Value), whereas the canned kidney beans had a much lower folate content (of 70.2 mcg, or 18% of the Daily Value). If you are monitoring your folate intake or are trying to boost your folate intake, you might either opt for preparing dried kidney beans, or including a folate-rich food with your meal, such as leafy green vegetables.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Kidney Beans
* When using canned beans of any type, unless the recipe calls for the liquid in the cans, rinse and drain the beans first. The thick liquid in the can of beans is extra starchy and often high in sodium. These extra ingredients may or may not be a welcome addition to your intended use for the beans.
* Canned beans of any type are often processed with added salt. Unless you bought salt-free beans, be sure to cut back on added salt in a recipe when using beans that were canned with salt. Otherwise, you may find your finished recipe to be too salty. When in doubt, taste first, add a little salt at a time as needed, then taste again. It’s much easier to add salt than remove it.
* On average, dried beans triple in size when cooked. If a recipe calls for using dried beans and you don’t want to bother soaking and cooking them, and want to simply use canned beans, remember the conversion rate between the two. Substitute two (15 ounce) cans of beans for every 1 cup of uncooked dried beans in a recipe.
* If you’ve opened a can of beans and didn’t use them all, don’t store them in the open can in the refrigerator. They may pick up a metallic flavor when stored that way. It’s better to transfer them to a food storage container (glass or plastic) with a lid, and store that in the refrigerator. Make a point of using the leftover beans within four days.
* Kidney beans are very high in fiber that helps to improve digestion. But, if you’re not used to eating beans on a regular basis, a sudden increase in bean fiber can have undesirable effects, such as excess gas, stomach pain, diarrhea, or constipation. Rather than suddenly increasing your bean intake from little or none to a lot, it’s better to give your body and microbiome time to adjust. Slowly increase your intake of beans over time. Don’t rush it!
* If you have a recipe that calls for kidney beans and you don’t have any or don’t have enough, small red beans, pink beans, pinto beans, or cranberry beans may be used as a substitute.
* Canned beans of any type are ready to use and don’t need further cooking. Just rinse and drain them and they are ready to be added to your recipe, dish, or salad.
* You can easily add some extra flavor to your beans by cooking them with aromatics like onion, garlic, and herbs like rosemary, thyme, parsley, and/or a bay leaf.
* Make a quick soup by combining vegetable broth, a can of rinsed and drained kidney beans, a bunch of your favorite greens and some other veggies, as desired. Add some onion, a little parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. To help thicken the soup and make it heartier, add some cubed potatoes or rice to the pot. Bring it to a boil, then simmer for about an hour to allow the flavors to blend and enjoy!
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Kidney Beans
Anise seeds, basil, bay leaf, cayenne, chili pepper flakes, chili powder, cilantro, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, oregano, paprika, parsley, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme, turmeric
Foods That Go Well with Kidney Beans
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Bacon, beans (in general, i.e., green, garbanzo, yellow wax beans), beef, black-eyed peas, peanuts, peas, pumpkin seeds, sausage, tofu, walnuts
Vegetables: Bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, celery, chiles, chives, fennel, greens (all types), onions, parsnips, potatoes, scallions, spinach, tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini
Fruits: Avocados, lemons, limes, oranges
Grains and Grain Products: Barley, corn, cornbread, kamut, pasta, quinoa, rice, wheat berries
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Cheese (i.e., cheddar, Parmesan), sour cream
Other Foods: Chili pepper sauce, oil (i.e., olive, sunflower), soy sauce, stock, vinegar (i.e., red wine, sherry, white wine)
Kidney beans have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Cajun cuisine, Caribbean cuisine, casseroles, Central American cuisines, chili, Creole cuisine, dips (i.e., bean), gumbo (esp. vegetarian), Jamaican cuisine, meatballs (vegetarian), Mexican cuisine, red beans and rice, refried beans, rice and beans, salads (i.e., bean, green), sauces (i.e., pasta), soups (i.e., minestrone, pasta, vegetable), South American cuisines, spreads, stews (i.e., vegetable), veggie burgers
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Kidney Beans
Add kidney beans to any of the following combinations…
Chipotle Peppers + Garlic + Rice + Tomatoes
Oregano + Sage + Thyme
Rice Cooked in Coconut Milk with Chili Peppers
15 Ways to Cook with Kidney Beans https://www.thespruceeats.com/many-ways-to-use-kidney-beans-4842273
Kidney Bean Burger with Mushrooms https://www.thespruceeats.com/kidney-bean-burger-with-mushrooms-recipe-3378616
Vegetarian and Vegan Dirty Rice https://www.thespruceeats.com/vegetarian-dirty-rice-cajun-style-recipe-3376415
30 Simple Kidney Bean Recipes https://insanelygoodrecipes.com/kidney-bean-recipes/
Jamaican Rice and Peas (Coconut Rice and Beans) https://www.curiouscuisiniere.com/caribbean-red-beans-and-rice/
Pasta e Fagioli Soup https://www.cookingclassy.com/olive-garden-pasta-e-fagioli-soup-copycat-recipe/
Kidney Bean Vegetable Soup https://www.food.com/recipe/kidney-bean-vegetable-soup-234605
One Pot Vegetarian Chili Mac https://cozypeachkitchen.com/vegetarian-chili-mac/#recipe
Slow Cooked Bean Medley https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/slow-cooked-bean-medley/
Pronto Vegetarian Peppers https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/pronto-vegetarian-peppers/
Easy Three Bean Chili Recipe (Vegan) https://simple-veganista.com/texas-three-bean-chili-sweet-chia/#tasty-recipes-8964-jump-target
Vegan Minestrone Soup https://simple-veganista.com/vegan-minestrone-soup/#tasty-recipes-25748-jump-target
Vegetable Quinoa Soup https://simple-veganista.com/vegetable-quinoa-soup/
Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.