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In an age conscious of the health and financial costs of relying on ready-made processed foods is it time to call time on the oh-so-sweet baked bean? Not at all! Packed with protein, energy, fibre and essential vitamins and minerals, beans are among the tastiest and nutritional foods you can eat.

While a tin of baked beans is merely convenient, real home cooked baked beans are a world apart. Moderate the sweetness in this savoury dish, sweeten with something healthy and replace modified corn starches and herb extracts with tomatoes and real herbs and spices, and baked beans become a star dish, tasty enough to blow your palate, without blowing a hole in you pocket or the planet’s resources

Best Homemade Baked Beans

À La Différence

This article guides you on selecting and combining flavorful ingredients for rich and savory sauces to coat each bean to perfection. From choosing your beans to using the best the best cooking technique and having fun with condiments, we’ll cover it all. Armed with a cupboard-full of tricks and tips you’ll have a wealth of ideas for transforming a simple side dish into the star of any meal

Baked Beans – A Potted History

Baked beans date back to the early English colonists of modern-day New England in the 17th century. Though beans had been a staple of European cuisines since the middle ages, the baked beans recipe we know today was more likely adapted from the cuisines of Native Americans who slow-cooked beans with maple sugar and bear fat in clay pots placed in fire pits 

With time maple syrup gave way to brown sugar and later molasses. Though traditional baked beans are still served in parts of the US, modern-day commercial baked beans are usually sweetened with sugar, though some healthier varieties use anything from apple juice to stevia. They are cooked on the stove-top and not baked at all

Baked Beans: A Personal History

Our baked beans go back to the mid-2000’s when our Mexican friends Claudia, Mónica and Marcel were staying with us in East London. We wanted to show them a traditional British Sunday breakfast down the local caff: they loved the instant coffee, white toast with cheap margarine, pork bangers, mushrooms and bacon. Then Claudia made a face: “sweet beans? Wákala!” (yuk!)

Obviously they didn’t go to waste. I grew up with baked beans and love them. But I did think it might be time to come up with a proper homemade baked beans recipe that was more delicious, definitely nutritious and fit for a Mexican


Baked beans are typically made from white beans such as haricot, or cannellini, but any bean is good. You can even mix different beans for a multi-coloured version. I’ve tried everything from pinto beans to baked chickpeas – they’re all fantastic!


This is one instance where using a can of precooked cooked beans still gives decent results. Canned baked beans made entirely on the cooker-top can break up a bit and are best prepared using the oven-baking method


Pressure cooked beans don’t technically need pre-soaking, but they will cook more evenly and also quicker when soaked. I strongly recommend soaking the beans for at least 8 hours, and preferably overnight

Throw the soaked beans in a pot with 4 times their volume of water. Salting produces a bean with a firm skin with a lovely creamy centre. If you like your beans soft, add the salt after the initial pre-cooking stage

Cooking times vary with the type and age of your beans, your pressure cooker and even the altitude of your kitchen (if you live in a high place you’ll know that water boils at a lower temperature)


As a rule of thumb cook soaked white beans for 6-8 minutes at high pressure then turn off the flame and let the pressure reduce naturally to ambient – around 10 minutes

Unsoaked beans will need 30-40 minutes of pressure cooking on high before returning to ambient pressure with the valve still applied

If in doubt, undercook your beans, let down the pressure and check them. Overcooked beans are great in soups, but will be no good in your baked beans recipes


If you don’t have a pressure cooker soak the beans for 8-12 hours and simmer in fresh water for an hour or longer until the beans are tender but hold their shape

Check this handy chart of pressure-cooking times for beans and other items


Tinned tomatoes are great. Often better than the tasteless off-season ones you get in supermarkets. But if you have access to decent fresh plum tommies, it’s a no brainer. Cut them in four, throw them in the blender with a drop of water and blitz them till smooth. No blanching, no peeling, no chopping, no sieving. Tomato skin is full of healthy lycopenes, and you’re throwing away too much flavour by discarding the seeds


Traditional baked beans are sweetened. How sweetened they are depends on you. Bear in mind this is a savoury dish. A bit of acidity will perfectly balance the sweetness. It’s generally advisable to keep any acidity low. And since it’s not an element of the original recipe, maybe you’d prefer to leave this out altogether?

I’ve known chefs use tomato ketchup. Fair do’s. But if it’s sweet and sour you’re after there are plenty of options. Check out some of the many ways to add sweetness and acidity in the chart below:

SUGAR: jaggari, muscovado, demerara, (white?)
NECTARS agave, maple, coconut, honey
OTHER pomegranite or blackstrap molasses, stevia, xylitol
VINEGAR malt, wine, cider, sherry, rice
CITRUS lemon, lime, bergamot, yuzu
OTHER tamarind, dried mango powder


Along with onions and garlic, carrot and celery constitute the dynamic duo of Italian soffritto (French mirepoix), a savoury base used in a number of sauces, including tomato. They are packed with umami (deliciousness) and impart a gentle sweetness to the sharpness of the tomato. They also add body,  helping to thicken the sauce so you’re less likely to need to resort to thickeners such as corn starch

Japanese for deliciousness, umami is your body’s ability essentially to detect protein. Free amino acids such as glutamate and guanylate from protein breakdown are registered as a savoury deliciousness. This is why two or three day old refried beans taste even better than freshly made

The most traditional baked beans recipes call for slow baking in a sealed clay pot for several hours to develop that delectable umami

You can add further umami in the form of fermented pastes such as Japanese miso, Korean doengjang and gochujang or Chinese yellow or black bean sauce, to name just a few sources. I can’t see that commercially synthesized monosodium glutamate used in the right amounts would do any actual harm, but somehow I can’t help feeling it’s just too much like cheating


If restraint is your thing, simplicity will always yield a good, clean result. However, if you’re not one for keeping things simple you can really go to town here

Beans and tomato love a bit of chilli, and you can add that touch of piquant heat in several forms, from straight up chilli powder to your favourite chilli sauce. Try smoky Spanish la Vera paprika. Or gochujang, a fermented traditional Korean rice and red chilli paste

Za’atar is a wonderful Palestinian blend of oregano, marjoram and thyme with ground sesame, sumac and salt. Using any of the above herbs singly or in pairs gives equally great results

Try these condiments:

chipotle in adobo, guajillo, pasilla, ancho and just about any other fresh or dry chilli. Herbs: epazote, hoja santa, oregano ...
cumin, garam masala, black cardammon, fenugreek, asafoetida ...
gochujang, doengjang, miso, ginger, sriracha, shichimi togarashi, black bean sauce, sesame oil, sichuan pepper ...
sumac, ras el hanout, preserved lemon, za'atar, nigella seeds ...


We are used to pre-cooked tinned baked beans having a lovely sheen. This is due to the use of corn starch as a thickener. While corn starch gives a nice shiny glaze, if your sauce needs cornstarch it may be that it’s just too thin. The carrot and celery soffritto above will, when liquidized or cooked sufficiently dissolve to give body. On the other hand, the best thickener for tomato sauce will always be tomato


baked beans
Baked Beans A La Différence
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Cuisine American, European, Native American
Servings 6
  • Pressure cooker (optional)
  • 400g dry white beans eg haricot, cannellini or 2X 400g cans cooked white beans
Base (soffritto)
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 400g tin tomatoes or 4-5 fresh plum tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp vinegar eg apple cider
  • 1-2 tsp brown sugar, agave or maple syrup or stevia
  • 2 tsp Korean gochujang or 1tsp Spanish smoky paprika (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp za-atar or any combination of thyme, oregano and marjoram
  • salt to taste
Dry Beans Without Pressure Cooker
  • If you're using tinned beans skip this step
  • soak the beans in plentiful water 6-8 hours or overnight
  • discard the soaking water and rinse the beans under a running tap
  • cook the beans generously covered with water with a teaspoon of salt for around 1 hour or until tender but not mushy
No-soak Beans In A Pressure Cooker
  • place the beans with 4 times their volume of waterf and teaspoon of salt in the pressure cooker and cook on a low flame at high pressure for around 20 minutes. But please note that the cooking times will depend on the type and also age of your beans. Turn off the flame and allow the pressure to come down gradually to ambient pressure (about 15 minutes)
Make The Sauce
  • scrape the carrot and celery stick, or peel using a vegetable peeler, then chop very finely
  • finely chop the onion and garlic
  • saute all the above in a pan with a little oil. When the mixture is well covered in oil pop a lid on and cook until very soft (this can take 15-20 minutes). Avoid browning by adding a large pinch of salt and an occasional small splash of water
  • Cut fresh tomatoes in quarters and liquidze in a blender. Chop whole tinned tomatoes
  • add the tomatoes, za'atar herb mix and gochujang or paprika
  • Add the "sugar" and vinegar
  • cook the sauce for 10-15 minutes
Purée The Sauce
  • purée in a globlet blender or a hand-held to a very smooth sauce
  • adjust the seasoning, sweetness and acidity to your taste
Stovetop Baked Beans
  • Add in the cooked beans to the sauce and and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring gently so as not to break the beans. Add a little water if the sauce gets too think
Oven Baked Beans
  • put the beans and sauce into an ovenproof dish with a good lid. If you don't have a lid cover the beans with tin foil, sealing it well to retain the steam
  • bake in a medium low oven for one to one and a half hours
Keyword beans, pulses


Baked beans take pride of place in a Sunday brunch, though they are just as often eaten at breakfast or for supper. They’re great over a baked potato and, if you’re not a vegan, love a poached egg on top

All beans pair well with grains, the two combining to provide complete protein.

Try your baked beans with wheat or corn tortillas or some crusty wholemeal bread and a vegetable side. Or pair then with rice: simply steamed rice can be served in a separate side bowl, while a rice dish like our Mexican inspired paella will demand a more prominent position, with a nice bowl of beans on the side

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