Baked beans is a dish containing beans, sometimes baked but, despite the name, usually stewed, in a sauce. Most commercial canned baked beans are made from haricot beans, also known as navy beans – a variety of Phaseolus vulgaris in a sauce. In Ireland and the United Kingdom, a tomato and sugar sauce is most commonly used, and they are commonly eaten on toast or as part of a full English breakfast.
In the United States there are multiple styles. Boston baked beans use a sauce prepared with molasses and salt pork, the popularity of which has led to the city being nicknamed "Beantown". Beans in a tomato and brown sugar, sugar or corn syrup sauce are a widely available type throughout the US. Maine and Quebec-style beans often use maple syrup.
Canned baked beans are used as a convenience food, shortening cooking times for a meal, or may be eaten straight from the can, in camping or emergency settings, as they are fully cooked. They are sometimes served with chips, waffles, or the like.
The beans presently used to make baked beans are all native to North America and were introduced to Italy in 1528 and to France by 1547. The dish of baked beans is commonly described as having a savory-sweet flavor and a brownish or reddish tinted white bean once baked, stewed, canned or otherwise cooked. According to alternative traditions, sailors brought cassoulet from the south of France or northern France and the Channel Islands where bean stews were popular. Most probably, a number of regional bean recipes coalesced and cross-fertilised in North America and ultimately gave rise to the baked bean culinary tradition familiar today.
While many recipes today are stewed, traditionally beans were slow baked in a ceramic or cast-iron beanpot. A tradition in Maine, USA, of "bean hole" cooking, may have originated with the native Penobscot people and was later practiced in logging camps. A fire would be made in a stone-lined pit, allowed to burn down to hot coals and then a pot with eleven pounds of seasoned beans would be placed in the ashes, covered over with dirt and left to cook overnight or longer. These beans were a staple of Maine's logging camps, being served at every meal.
Canned beans, often with pork, were among the first convenience foods and it is in this form that they became exported and popularised by US companies operating in the UK in the early 20th century. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated in 1996 that "It has for years been recognized by consumers generally that the designation 'beans with pork,' or 'pork and beans' is the common or usual name for an article of commerce that contains very little pork." This is typically a piece of salt pork to add fat to the dish.
United Kingdom and Ireland
In the UK, Ireland, Hong Kong, Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore the term baked beans usually refers to tinned beans in a tomato sauce, originally imported from American companies including Heinz as an 'exotic' imported convenience food, quite distinct from the French-style cassoulet largely unknown in Britain at that time. Heinz baked beans were first sold in the UK in 1886 in the upmarket Fortnum & Mason store in London as a foreign delicacy at a high price. Many people now regard baked beans as an integral part of the modern full English breakfast, including beans on toast. Every day 2.3 million British people eat Heinz Baked Beans; 1 million of those people eat them for dinner. Although Heinz Baked Beans continue to be the biggest selling brand, with 80% of their global baked bean sales coming from the UK - other brands such as Branston Baked Beans, supermarket own brands, and HP baked beans (later purchased by Heinz), are available.
Although they are now a staple food, the store continues the tradition of selling Heinz Beans among its more expensive wares. Baked beans are also considered to be a staple food of students most commonly served on buttered toast, as they are typically easily and quickly prepared, cheap and nutritious.
Freshly cooked from raw ingredients 'baked beans', much closer to their original unprocessed, unindustrialised form are making an appearance on the menus of some brunch establishments and restaurants.
Australia and New Zealand
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Metropolitan Australian and Kiwi cafes typically serve beans in a tomato sauce prepared freshly rather than canned, as the provision of canned food would be considered odd in an eating establishment. These are made with crushed tomatoes (which may or may not be peeled), smoked hock of ham, onion, garlic, and assorted spices. The beans may be of haricot, navy, borlotti & cannellini varieties. UK-style tinned baked beans are also popular for home consumption due to the quick preparation time. Wattie's Baked Beans are considered a cultural icon for New Zealanders.
In the United States, Bush's (Bush Brothers and Company), Van Camp's, B&M (Burnham & Morrill Inc.), Allens, Inc., the H. J. Heinz Company, and the Campbell's Soup Company are well-known producers or brands of packaged baked beans. B&M specializes in Boston-style baked beans often sold in beanpot shaped jars, and canned brown bread, a traditional regional accompaniment to baked beans; whereas Bush and Van Camp produce multiple flavor varieties of canned beans, some styles using cured bacon to add its flavorings to the products.
In the New England region, baked beans are flavored either with maple syrup (Northern New England), or with molasses (Boston), and are traditionally cooked with salt pork in a beanpot in a brick oven for six to eight hours. In the absence of a brick oven, the beans were cooked in a beanpot nestled in a bed of embers placed near the outer edges of a hearth, about a foot away from the fire. Today, baked beans can be made in a slow cooker or in a modern oven using a traditional beanpot, Dutch oven, or casserole dish.
In southern states and along the eastern seaboard of the US, the beans become tangier usually due to the addition of yellow mustard. For example the baked beans of Tennessee based Bush's include mustard in most of their varieties of beans. Ground beef may also become common alongside bacon in the home versions some of these bean styles. They may take on a flavor similar to Cowboy Beans, a home mixed stew, somewhat similar to a chili but made instead with sweet baked beans.
Heinz baked beans became very successful as an export to the UK, where canned baked beans are now a staple food. In America, the H. J. Heinz Co. continue to sell baked beans, however, they are not always as widely distributed as competing American brands. Despite their international fame, there are currently substantial differences between the Heinz baked beans produced for the UK market (descended from the original American recipe) and the nearest currently equivalent American product (Heinz Premium Vegetarian Beans).
The American product contains brown sugar where the British beans do not, and the US product contains 14g of sugar per 16 oz tin compared to 7g for the British version (equating to 140 vs 90 calories). The US beans have a mushier texture and are darker in color than their UK counterpart. This has resulted in a situation where the product is now imported back to the brand's home country. For several years, the UK Heinz Baked Beans have been available in the US, either in different sized cans from those sold in the UK or in a 385 gram can (the same can as the 415 gram can in the UK) with an "export" label with American English spelling and the word "baked" dropped from the title on the label. These are sold in many US specialty stores, such is the popularity of baked beans and their appeal to expats. Bush, Van Camp, B&M, and Heinz all produce pork-free baked beans labeled as vegetarian beans, making this American dish available to people who abstain from pork for religious, dietary, or ethical reasons.
Around the world
Traditional cuisines of many regions claim such recipes as typical specialities, for example:
- In Poland, with the addition of bacon and/or sausage these are known as Breton Beans (fasolka po bretońsku).
- Jersey bean crock
- Boston baked beans
- Pork and beans, which despite the name often contain very little pork
- Guernsey Bean Jar
- Spanish Cocido Montañés
- French cassoulet
- Frijoles charros, pinto beans cooked with bacon and sometimes tomatoes, are popular in Mexico and the American border states.
- Greek Fasolia Gigandes Gigandes plaki
- In the Italian cuisine beans (of various size and various types) are widely used for several recipes also mixed with other ingredients: "fagiolata" generally stands for baked beans but there are also regional variations like "fagioli alla uccelletto" in Florence; "minestra di fagioli" (beans soup normally cooked with vegetables) "pasta e fagioli" (meaning "pasta and beans").
- New England baked beans
- Quebec-style baked beans are often prepared with maple syrup.
- Bean-hole beans, traditionally from Northern New England and Quebec, cooked in a covered fire pit in the ground for up to two days
- British cuisine claims beans on toast as a teatime favourite, the combination of cereal and legume forming an inexpensive complete protein; compare rice and beans. Variations of "beans on toast deluxe" can include extras as such as egg, grated cheese, marmite, tuna etc., and baked beans sometimes form part of a full English breakfast.
- Beans cooked in barbecue sauce (or a similarly flavoured sauce) are a traditional side dish in an American barbecue.
- "Franks & beans", a recipe wherein hot dogs are cut up and cooked in the same sauce as the baked beans. In Canada, this recipe is more commonly called "beans and wieners".
- In Mexico and Latin America baked beans are also popular: black beans (frijoles negros) and frijoles pintos (pinto beans) are the most common.
- In the Balkans, they are known as prebranac.
- The traditional Jewish Shabbat dish cholent (also known as hamin) is made with meat, potatoes, beans and barley.
- Silver Lake Baked Beans are served with tofu and house made catchup
- Food truck Baked Beans substitute sriracha for more traditional sauces
Many unusual dishes are made with baked beans including the baked bean sandwich. These are slices of bread topped with beans and other additions, such as melted cheese.
In 2002 the British Dietetic Association allowed manufacturers of canned baked beans to advertise the product as contributing to the recommended daily consumption of five – six vegetables per person. This concession was criticised by heart specialists who pointed to the high levels of sugar and salt in the product. However, it has been proven that consumption of baked beans does indeed lower total cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, even in normo-cholesterolaemic individuals. Some manufacturers produce a "healthy" version of the product with reduced levels of sugar and salt.
Baked beans are known on occasion to cause an increase in flatulence following consumption; this is due to the fermentation of polysaccharides (specifically oligosaccharides) by gut flora, specifically Methanobrevibacter smithii. The oligosaccharides pass through the upper intestine largely unchanged, and when they reach the lower intestine, bacteria feast on them, producing copious amounts of flatus. This condition is the basis for the US children's song "Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit" or, in the UK, "Beans, Beans, Good for the Heart". One of the more prominent examples of the phenomenon, in popular culture, is the campfire scene in Mel Brooks's film Blazing Saddles, in which the cowboys' banter is punctuated by fusillades of flatulence—an early instance of the potty humor later popularized by moviemakers like the Farrelly brothers, and a red flag to censors at the time.
Generally baked beans are considered as a cheap food. However even the price of the same baked beans can vary considerably from country to country. For example, Tesco value baked beans in tomato sauce cost £0.25 in the UK. The same, in a Tesco shop in Poland would cost 2,49 zł (around £0.50). Transport costs and tax variations influence local pricing, but labour costs in Poland are about 5 times lower than in the UK. Because of the price, baked beans are also considered as "donation food", especially in cans used in camping/military/disaster food.
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