I see plenty of advice out there on how to make canned pinto beans taste delicious, but does anyone know how to recreate that cheapo refrito taste? I've tried countless combinations of freshly cooked pinto beans, salt, garlic, chili powder, onions...

They always seem to be missing some crucial element, and I don't mean the sitting-in-a-can-forever-flavor!

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    A little freshly ground and fried til just brown cumin seed can be helpful to getting the taste right. Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 3:24
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    Why would you want to do this to perfectly good pinto beans? If you want canned, buy the canned!
    – Deacon
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 16:54
  • 1
    @DougR. But bulk buying 25lbs of pinto beans from Costco is soo cheap! Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 0:41
  • I'll buy that for an answer.
    – Deacon
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 13:56

6 Answers 6


Lard is the fat of choice in many "el cheapo" canned refried beans, and could be what you are missing.

  • 6
    As soon as I saw the question on the sidebar, my brain said "lard!" Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 14:10

My first guess would be: more salt than you think. This is probably the main "secret" for most processed foods.

Ortega Traditional Refried Beans have 560 mg of sodium per serving (that's a serving of 131 g, making 3.5 servings in a standard can). A 1/4 tsp of table salt has 590 mg. If you're making the equivalent of 1 can of beans, you would have to put in a little over 3/4 tsp of salt.

If you're making a biggish pot, starting with 1 kg of dry beans (makes about 2 kg cooked), that would be about 4 tsp (9.5 g) of salt. Yeah, it's a lot. You can think about whether you really want to do that.

Other suggestions I have heard: sugar and cinnamon. Haven't tried it myself, though.

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    I'm amazed they're allowed to claim that a can contains a non-integer number of servings. Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 6:54
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    @DavidRicherby: AFAIK they don't have a choice. In the US, food manufacturers used to be allowed to set their own serving sizes (until the mid-90s, I think), but there were obvious abuses where a manufacturer would set an absurdly small size so they could say "Only 50 calories per serving!" Now they are set by the government; so every manufacturer of refried beans will give nutrition information based on a 131g serving, regardless of whether there's an integral number of servings in their particular can / box / package / etc. Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 15:05
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    @DavidRicherby: It looks like for foods that come in "discrete" units, the serving size can sometimes be rounded to the nearest unit. E.g. if cookies have a standard serving size of 30g, and your cookies weigh 12g each, you can use a serving size of "3 cookies". But this doesn't seem to apply to "continuous" products like canned beans. I found some info at cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/nutrition_insights_uploads/… Maybe this would make an interesting new question! Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 15:08
  • @NateEldredge you're right that there could be a new question in there. Note that "who comes up with servings" has already been asked though, so it would be about some more specific detail.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 21:04

You're missing fat in the equation. The previous member suggests bacon but I don't know how you feel about the smoke flavor but fat will do you good.


Try mashing the beans with butter and bacon drippings along with just a enough cumin so you can "tell" it's different but you can't taste the cumin.

  • Oh! That's exactly what I always do wrong; in addition to under-fatting I also over-cumin! Thanks!
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 3, 2022 at 18:57

You might be missing epazote. IMHO an absolute must in any Mexican bean dishes. Do not overdo it though.

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    I do like epazote, including with beans, but I've never noticed its flavor in plain canned refried beans.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 1:52

Lard. It's all you need. There is usually a tub of it in the same part of the store as Crisco (vegetable shortening).

  • Maybe you want to explain how and when to use this lard? And why you think/know lard is all the OP needs? And what is a crisco BTW?
    – Marc Luxen
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 17:26
  • @MarcLuxen: Crisco is a brand of vegetable shortening in the US.
    – JS.
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 17:52
  • crisco is NOT vegetable shortening. It is cotton seed oil. It is NOT a food, whether it's sold as a food or not.
    – Escoce
    Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 14:44

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