Clever Uses for Dried Beans

Beans are music, magical and good for so much more than eating. Photo by s.e. smith.At the supermarket, you may pass by dried beans without a thought, whether they're pre-bagged and ready for sale or in the bulk section, but it's worth taking a second look. Dry beans actually have a lot of uses ... and not just culinary ones. These legumes come in a range of shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors which make them ideally suited to a range of craft and cooking projects.

1. Recipe ingredient. The first and most obvious use for dried beans is the intended one: as a recipe 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 don't contain any additives. Beans also provide a great source of protein as well as numerous vitamins and minerals.

Store dried beans in a cool dry place until you’re ready to use them. Soak for at least six hours before use to help the beans soften more quickly and reduce the flatulence that legumes are infamous for provoking. Be sure to drain the soaking water and rinse well when you’re ready to start cooking.  Use in chili, soup, refried beans, homemade humus, and a variety of other recipes from all around the globe. Prepare and freeze a big batch so you’ll have cooked beans ready for use whenever needed. Or stew them super fast in an Instant Pot.

2. Gluten-free flour. Grind dried beans into gluten-free flour, which can be used as a thickener for sauces and gravies or as part of nutritious 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 food store that grinds beans and 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 items only.

3. Pie weights. You can also utilize beans as weights for prebaking (also known as "blind baking") empty pie shells; no need to buy expensive fancy ceramic pie weights from the gourmet kitchen gadget store. Pour some dried beans into the bottom of a pie crust -- atop a foil or parchment liner -- to hold the crust down during prebaking; then remove them when you’re ready to add the filling. Beans may be reused for this purpose several times, but discard them when they start getting overly browned.

4. Beanbags. Outside the kitchen, use dried beans to fashion beanbags, which can be more than simply children’s toys. Beanbags also serve as handy hot or cold packs. Sew the beans into a lined fabric bag. Then chill as a refreshing compress to apply to cool yourself down on hot days or or soothe strained muscles, or heat in the microwave to drape over your tense shoulders and relax at the end of a hard day. In addition, beanbags  make great wrist props for working at the computer or performing similar tasks where you need ergonomic support.

5. Playthings. Beans are useful for games and more. Dried beans make useful counters for games ranging from poker to improvised checkers. You can create simple percussion instruments and rattles with them, as well. If you’re holding a party for older children featuring low-cost craft activities, bean crafts are one option; get kids to make and decorate noisemakers or glue beans of different colors, sizes, and textures onto paper or other backings to produce mosaic-style patterns and scenes. CAVEAT: Dried beans are a choking hazard, which must be kept out of reach of children under 5.

6. Crafting. In the adult crafty world, dried beans can be very useful as a weight or anchor for various handicrafts; try filling a vase partway with dried beans to prop up arrangements of dried flowers from your garden, for example, or use a bean-filled container to hold knitting needles, paintbrushes and other favorite crafting tools so they’re easy for you to grab as needed. You can also weight felt sculptures and similar projects with beans inside to keep them upright without the need for an obtrusive base.

s.e. smith writes about San Francisco fencing companies and roofers for Networx.

Updated February 26, 2018.

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