- Insider asked chefs about some of the best and worst things to buy canned.
- Chefs said that canned corn, pumpkin puree, and beans are all great buys.
- Experts said skip canned green beans and fruit since you’re better off buying it frozen or fresh.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
That said, not all canned goods are created equal. Here are some of the best and worst foods to buy in cans, according to chefs.
Canned corn can save you a lot of time when you cook.
Canned corn can save you a lot of prep time, according to chef Barry Tonkinson, director of culinary research and development at the Institute of Culinary Education.
“As much as I enjoy [shucking], preparing, and cooking corn, sometimes I wish to add a touch of sweetness and colour to a dish without the lengthy preparation,” he told Insider.
There’s nothing like the creamy consistency you get with canned pumpkin.
For excellent desserts, canned pumpkin is the way to go, according to chef Tim Hollingsworth, owner of Otium, and winner of Netflix’s “The Final Table.”
“You should always buy canned pumpkin because it is a perfect creamy consistency, especially if you’re making a pumpkin pie,” Hollingsworth told Insider. “It is very time-consuming and difficult to get a puree from the pumpkin itself.”
Canned beans are truly a staple.
A lot of people don’t like to soak and precook beans, so canned ones are the next best option, according to chef Amy Riolo,award-winning, best-selling author, and TV personality.
Chef Stacie Simonson of Omaha Steaks added that canned beans, from kidney to pinto, are loaded with protein and fibre. Plus, she said they are quite versatile – you can use canned beans to make dips, side dishes, or heartier soups.
Items that fall under the “canned flavours” category are great for last-minute recipe additions.
Simonson told Insider that it’s wise to stock up on canned goods that have a lot of flavour, too, since they can amp up just about any recipe.
Anchovies, capers, artichokes, green chiles, olives, and pickled jalapeños could all be included in the “canned flavour” category. Ingredients like these make a great addition to any dish because they provide a ton of flavour with just a small amount, she explained.
For instance, adding a tablespoon of capers to a pasta dish brightens it, and gives it a salty, briny hint, Simonson said. Or, adding pickled jalapenos to a can of black beans adds spice and flavour.
Canned tomatoes are great to have on hand for sauces and stews.
Whether crushed, whole, diced, or in paste form, canned tomatoes are an excellent alternative when fresh is not an option. As Riolo told Insider, they can be great to have on hand for sauces, soups, and stews.
Tonkinson said that canned tomatoes are more consistent than fresh ones, which can have many variables, resulting in the need to adapt recipes based on acidity, sweetness, colour, flavour, and texture.
“Due to the standardization of the preparation and canning of the tomatoes, I can easily determine the size, flavour, viscosity, and colour of the product meaning a consistent result in recipes,” Tonkinson said.
Water chestnuts are an underrated pantry staple.
Water chestnuts are a nice ingredient to base a dish around and they should be in more pantries, said Hollingsworth.
“I love the crunch of water chestnuts because they bring so much texture to dishes – particularly Asian-inspired ones,” Hollingsworth told Insider. “Let’s say you throw it into fried rice or a stir-fry – it adds a lot to the meal.”
On the other hand, supplemental-recipe canned goods are best left on supermarket shelves.
You also should skip any supplemental-recipe canned goods, such as canned chilli or sloppy joe, Ron Silver, chef and owner of Bubby’s advised.
“I tend to stay away from supplemental recipe canned goods, like sloppy joe in a can,” Silver said. “Dips, refried beans, and food that is processed into its final product for you … I tend to feel I can make it better myself.”
If you’re watching your sodium intake, you may want to pass on canned cooking stocks.
Although sodium isn’t necessarily a bad thing – and, per Healthline, a low-sodium diet isn’t best for everyone – if you’re watching your salt intake you may want to avoid using canned cooking stocks.
These savoury cooking liquids often contain a lot of sodium, said Riolo, and it’s cheaper and actually quite easy to make homemade stock or prepare a substitute for it.
“[When I] don’t have time to make a homemade stock, I often use water with some seasoning in place of canned stocks in recipes,” Riolo told Insider.
Green vegetables lose flavour and some nutrients in the canning process.
“Green vegetables, such as asparagus and green beans, or even peas, are not suited to canning and lose a great deal of nutrients and flavour during the thermal canning process. Stick to fresh or use frozen in a pinch,” Tonkinson said.
Canned fruits are usually overly sweetened and lacking in vital nutrients.
Canned fruit may look tasty, but Tonkinson said you’ll want to skip it when possible. For the most part, canned fruits are stored in sweetened syrups and have lost vital nutrients.
“You’re better off sticking with something fresh or frozen that will taste real,” Hollingsworth told Insider.
Though convenient, canned soups and sauces are often highly processed.
“Although there is nothing more simple than opening a can of soup and heating quickly as a light snack or lunch, it is best to give these a pass in the grocery aisle,” Tonkinson told Insider.
There are so many ways to make a delicious soup without using these highly processed purees that can be full of additives, preservatives, and sodium, Tonkinson said.
Instead, reach for a few cans of legumes and some fresh vegetables and mix with a good chicken or vegetable stock to create your own delicious soup, he recommended.
Simonson said the same basically goes for sauces – you can also make tasty, light sauces using a few pantry ingredients. Plus, by making sauce instead of buying it canned, you can better control the sodium and sugar that goes in your food, she explained.
Canned meats often have little to boast about in terms of flavour.
“Stay clear of highly processed canned meats,” Tonkinson said. “Canned meat has a tendency to be extremely high in sodium and other preservatives to enable longevity and texture.”
There is also little to say for the taste of canned meats, Tonkinson added.
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