Dried beans make an ideal food for long-term storage because they are inexpensive, nutritious and versatile and enjoy a long shelf life. Beans of all varieties can keep up to 30 years or more with only minor flavor loss when stored properly, away from light and heat in airtight containers. An overnight soak in cool water can prepare your beans for cooking, or you can grind dried beans to powder for gravies and soups.
Choosing the Best Bean
Since all beans store equally well, your family's preferences for taste and texture should guide your choices for long-term dried bean storage. For soups and stews, experiment with navy beans, split peas, great northern, kidney, adzuki, small red or lentils. You can add rice and spices to a multi-bean soup for a fully nutritious meal. Dried, stored beans can also be a viable fat substitute in many dishes. For bean "fat," rehydrate white beans, black turtle beans and garbanzos overnight, then cook until soft. Pound them with a mallet to the consistency of butter, then use them to replace up to half the butter or oil called for in a recipe. Experiment with different types of dried beans to find the one you want to store in your cupboard.
You can buy dried beans for longtime storage, or dry your own home-grown beans. Depending on the variety you choose, you can vine-dry beans, use a dehydrator or dry them at very low temperatures for up to four hours in the oven. Different types of beans require different temperatures and drying times, depending on the variety's moisture content. Vine-dried beans may be left to shrink and shrivel on the vine before harvest, but need further care to kill potential insects or larvae before storage. Spread vine-dried beans out on a cookie sheet in a 160-degree-Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes, or deep-freeze them at or below 0 F for 48 hours before storing them. Beans must be perfectly dry before storage or they may succumb to mold and rot.
Proper Storage and Rehydration
Dried beans can be stored in air-tight containers including canning jars, Mylar bags and #10 cans. Oxygen absorbers tucked into the storage container may help to preserve bean flavors and extend their shelf life. Dried beans prefer cool, dry and dark storage. To rehydrate, soak your beans for eight hours or overnight in cool water. Drain and rinse the beans thoroughly, and pick out any floating or spoiled beans before covering the beans in clean water and cooking them until they are tender.
Uses for Dried Beans
White beans are often favored for their flour-making potential with bread and pastries because of their mild flavor. You can also grind split peas, lentils, garbanzo, pintos or black-eyed peas in a food mill, then mix the powder with wheat flours for more flavorful breads and baked goods. Soy beans, limas, pink beans, mungs, lentils and split peas are among the long-term storage beans that, when ground, lend themselves to tasty dried gravies and mixes for sauces. You can also create your own dried soup mixes by combining dried, ground beans with dried spices.