How Do I Choose the Best Great Northern Beans?

Erin J. Hill

Choosing Great Northern beans should be done with consideration to the recipe you will be cooking. Canned, dried, and fresh beans may all be ideal in certain cases. You should consider your own convenience and budget when choosing beans to purchase as well. If you are working from a particular recipe, it may be listed the type of beans you should use. Additional factors you should consider are nutrition, how long the beans will be stored, and availability in your local stores.

Woman baking cookies
Woman baking cookies

Great Northern beans are commonly sold in canned, dried, frozen, and fresh forms. The type you choose is mostly dependent on your own personal preferences, although certain recipes might call for one type or another. For instance, if the other ingredients will cook quickly, it is often better to use pre-cooked canned beans rather than fresh, since they can take longer to fully cook. If the recipe you are using doesn't list a particular type of beans, just use your best judgment after reading all the instructions.

Price is another factor you might consider when buying Great Northern beans. By weight, frozen beans are often more expensive than fresh. Dried beans are typically the most economical, although most beans are not expensive in general. You should also purchase the Great Northern beans that will be most convenient for you to prepare. With dried beans, for instance, it is often necessary to soak them for several hours prior to cooking, and then they have to be cooked for several more hours in order for them to become tender. If you don't have that kind of time, using canned beans which can just be heated might be a better choice.

Nutrition is another issue you should consider when choosing Great Northern beans. Fresh or frozen beans usually maintain more of their nutrients than canned versions, since foods are usually heavily processed. Dried beans also have more nutrients than canned if you have the time to prepare them. Canned beans can also be high in sodium. If you choose to use canned versions due to convenience, rinse them off to remove some of the added salt. This also helps remove any added flavorings if you don't enjoy the taste.

If you'll be keeping the beans stored for awhile, both dried and canned are non-perishable. Frozen beans won't go bad, but they may become freezer burned if you don't eat them within a few months. Fresh beans can be frozen after cooking if you want to keep them longer. You might also be limited to the beans in your store. When picking them out, make sure you choose fresh beans without blemishes, mold, or shriveling to ensure you are getting the freshest food possible.

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Discussion Comments


I buy my great northern beans canned. I don't think there is any difference in terms of flavor and they're always perfectly cooked.


@ZipLine-- There are ways to tell if beans are old. Dry beans that have been sitting on the shelf for too long tend to shrink a little, and may have wrinkly skin.

You should always check the packaging date, but sometimes that's not a guarantee of when the beans were actually produced. If there is a brand that you know is fresh, then you might want to stick to it.

One thing you should do to avoid boiling dry beans every time you need them for a recipe is to boil a big batch and then freeze them in smaller batches. That way, when you need boiled great northern beans, you can take out a bag from the freezer and your beans are ready to go.


The last bag of great northern beans I purchased turned out to be old. I soaked them in water overnight but they were still fairly hard and took hours to cook. They didn't taste too great when they were finally cooked either.

It's already a challenge for me to soak and boil beans whenever I want to make something with beans like bean casserole, stew or soup. I don't want to have to deal with old beans. Is there a way to know whether dry great northern beans are fresh or old?

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