Canned beans come with a liquid that may be eaten. Do the calories shown on the can reflect the calories with the liquid, or without? Either way, is there a way to know the calories in just the beans or just the liquid (without a calorimeter)?

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    The only way I can think of is to call the canning company and ask them. – mech Feb 21 '16 at 23:53

If you want to be certain, I suppose you should ask the canning company.

I can't speak for all countries, but in the U.S., I'm pretty sure the usual nutritional information reflects the total contents (with liquid), unless the nutritional information explicitly specifies "drained," e.g., "Serving Size: 1/2 cup beans (drained)."

The relevant regulation appears to be from the Code of Food Regulations, Title 21, Sec. 101.9(b)(9):

(9) The declaration of nutrient and food component content shall be on the basis of food as packaged or purchased with the exception of raw fish covered under 101.42 (see 101.44), packaged single-ingredient products that consist of fish or game meat as provided for in paragraph (j)(11) of this section, and of foods that are packed or canned in water, brine, or oil but whose liquid packing medium is not customarily consumed (e.g., canned fish, maraschino cherries, pickled fruits, and pickled vegetables). Declaration of nutrient and food component content of raw fish shall follow the provisions in 101.45. Declaration of the nutrient and food component content of foods that are packed in liquid which is not customarily consumed shall be based on the drained solids.

But how do we know whether the bean liquid is "customarily consumed"? For most foods, we can go to this FDA document, which gives instructions for isolating the "edible portion" of foods for nutritional analysis. Alas, that does not help either, since there are no instructions specifically for canned beans. Some canned vegetables are apparently often analyzed drained, but canned beans with sauces (e.g., pork and beans, chili and beans) are explicitly listed with instructions NOT to drain. There's no listing for plain beans.

Yet there's a clue in the USDA nutritional database guidelines (p. 97):

Data for canned legumes were often developed for the purpose of nutritional labeling; therefore data are presented for the total can contents. During the canning process, and sometimes during cooking, the cotyledons of legumes rupture, releasing starch into the brine; therefore, draining of the liquid medium is difficult. However, cooks do generally drain these products. Some packers may add sugar to certain canned legumes and this may also affect the nutrient content.

Another clue is in the reference amount for suggested serving size of beans in the FDA regulations, which has the following qualifications:

Beans, plain or in sauce: 130 g for beans in sauce or canned liquid and refried beans prepared; 90 g for others prepared; 35 g dry.

My experience is that I almost always see 130g as the serving size on canned beans in the U.S., suggesting that they are following the above nutritional guidelines from the FDA and USDA and would include any sauce or canned liquid in nutritional analysis. (Also, in the past I've compared this 130g approximate serving size to the number of servings listed on a typical can of beans, and the only way to get close to the estimated number of servings is by counting the liquid. Usually the beans alone will weigh significantly less than the number of servings.)

Lastly, I would note that in the case of plain beans, the canning liquid likely contains only a small amount of calories anyway. For beans listed as being "in sauce," clearly the implication is that one could consume the "sauce" and therefore any calories in it would be included.

All of that said, the fact that there's no explicit mention of beans in the first two documents I linked leaves a little "wiggle-room," and thus I don't think a bean canning operation would be in violation of U.S. labeling regulations if they drained the beans before calculating nutritional content. (Though I'm not a lawyer, so this is speculation.) But various other documents -- including the other two I cited -- seem to indicate that including bean canning liquid for nutritional purposes is the norm in the U.S.

  • I just realized I didn't really answer the main question of how many calories are in the bean liquid itself. But I don't think there's any way to really determine that accurately. You could look for a value for drained canned beans in a nutritional database and do subtraction to find the amount of calories in the liquid, but I doubt that number would be more than a very rough estimate. – Athanasius Feb 27 '16 at 2:58
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    Funny, I was so entranced by what you did say, that I didn't notice what you didn't say! HA! I'm not undoing my upvote :) – Jolenealaska Feb 27 '16 at 3:04

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