You may have passed dried beans in the bulk section at the store or pre-bagged and ready for sale with other dry goods without a thought, but they actually have a lot of uses, and not just edible ones. They come in a range of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors which makes them ideally suited to a range of craft and cooking projects, as well as some surprising and creative repurposings.
The first and most obvious use of dried beans is the intended one: as a culinary ingredient. Dried beans are very inexpensive and they can be a great way to save money on groceries. They’re less costly than canned beans and come without additives, allowing you to control how they’re processed. Beans also provide a great source of protein as well as numerous nutrients. The specific nutritional information can depend on the bean, but they tend to be high in useful vitamins.
You can store dried beans in a cool dry place until you’re ready to use them. Plan on soaking them for at least six hours before cooking, and make sure to drain the soaking water and rinse them well when you’re ready to start cooking. Soaking helps the beans cook more quickly and it can also reduce the flatulence beans are infamous for provoking. You can use beans in chili, soup, and a variety of other recipes as directed. Try preparing a big batch and freezing them so you’ll have cooked beans ready for use when you need them.
Dried beans can also be ground into bean flour. This gluten-free flour can be used as a thickener in numerous recipes and as part of gluten-free flour blends for baking. If you don’t have a flour mill at home, food processors often come with attachments you can use to make flours, or you may be able to find a local health foods store that grinds grains into flours for its customers. If it’s critical that your flour be gluten-free, make sure to check with the staff at the store to confirm that their flour mill is reserved for gluten-free grains.
You can also use them as pie weights; no need to buy fancy ones from the gourmet kitchen gadget store. Pour some dried beans into the bottom of a pie crust to hold it down during prebaking, and remove them when you’re ready to add the filling.
Outside the kitchen, dried beans can be used to make beanbags, which make more than children’s toys. They’re also useful as hot or cold packs. Sew the beans into a lined bag or pillow and try chilling it for hot days or strained muscles, or heating it in the microwave to drape over your shoulders and relax at the end of the day. Beanbags can also make great wrist props for working at the computer or performing similar tasks where you need ergonomic support.
They’re also useful for games and more. Dried beans make useful counters, tallies, and indicators for games ranging from poker to improvised checkers, and you can also use them to create simple percussion instruments and noisemakers. If you’re holding a children’s party where you want to have low-cost craft activities, bean crafts are one option; get kids to make and decorate noisemakers, for example, or engage in the time-honored tradition of using beans as a medium for artwork. They can be glued to paper or other backings to create various patterns and scenes, using different colored and sized beans for texture and variation.
Dried beans aren’t just for kids. In the adult craft world, they can be very useful as a weight or anchor for various craft projects; try filling filling a vase partway with dried beans to hold up dried flowers and other crafts, for example, or use a bean-filled container to hold knitting needles and other tools upright so they’re easy to grab. You can also weight felt sculptures and other projects with beans inside to keep them upright without the need for an obtrusive base.