Long-term storage requires stability, nutritional balance, and cost. There’s no wonder preppers love beans. They have it all! Carbohydrates for energy, protein for structure, and versatility! Last but not least, they are cheap.
Preppers love beans so much they form the foundation of the prepper mantra “Beans, Bullets, and Bandages.” To a prepper, beans represent food. Around the world, beans represent a part of a complete meal. Because of this, there are two types of preppers. Those with a basement full of beans, and those who want a basement full of beans.
As you will soon see, beans are cheap and easy to store in bulk. Let’s look at first why you should store beans and then how best to purchase and store them.
Table of Contents
Beans Then and Now
As soon as humans learned the benefit of beans, we sought to propagate them as opposed to seek them out and forage them. As early as 7,000 years ago, the peoples of Mexico were harvesting and storing beans in quantities. Domestication started somewhat later.
Regardless of the timeline, the people in Central and South America knew the value of the lowly legume. It didn’t take long for beans to spread throughout the Americas as well as Europe. Soon there were too many varieties to count.
Show me a school-age child that doesn’t know the story of the three sisters. Native Americans would plant beans, corn, and squash. They would plant a mound of earth with corn. The corn would support the climbing beans. The squash would then spread at the base of the hill.
I learned as a child that the three sisters single-handedly got the colonists through the first few winters in North America. OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, however, we cannot contest the place beans have in human history.
Sadly, today we tend to mono-crop foods on large farms, and no longer benefit from the Native Americans’ ingenuity. That being said, we have the benefit of many types of beans that we have developed over the generations.
The United States alone plants over 1.5 million acres of beans per year, and has an annual harvest of over 1.5 million tons of dried beans. This is only a small portion of the over 23 million tons annually produced across the world.
Prepper and Health Benefits of a Bean-Rich Pantry
So you have a basement full of buckets of beans. Aside from me telling you this is a good idea, why is this good? Beans have a lot going for them. Let’s look at the benefits!
Dried beans are cheap and store for an incredibly long time. As they are relatively easy to grow in quantity and require little additional processing other than drying, you can purchase beans for between $1 and $2 per pound.
Buying in bulk is the key. I’ll discuss this a little later, but for me, 50-pound bags at the local restaurant supply store work out to be half the per-pound cost of the local grocery store.
Next, beans store really, really well. Unlike animal proteins or fats, they require little extra treatment other than proper storage. Keep your beans cool, dry, and out of reach of critters, and you are set for the long-term.
Seal in Mylar and with oxygen (O2) absorbers and you’ll have food to pass down to your grandkids. While beans do dry out over time, there are a few ways that you can still cook over-dry beans. YouTube is your friend for treatment methods.
Finally, there are the health benefits of beans in your diet. While beans are not a calorie powerhouse such as meats or fats, they pack about 200 calories per cup. This is on par with your long-term rice and rolled oats.
Beans contain complex carbohydrates. This translates to slow released energy. Sometimes you want a boost of energy. For these times have a Snickers bar. For the bulk of your life, you don’t want to put your body through that sugar roller coaster. The low glycemic index of beans evens out the available sugars for your body over time.
Nutritionally beans are a rich source of iron. When red meat may be at a premium, you will need other sources of iron to help fight off anemia. Regularly adding beans to your plate will boost your iron intake.
The potential lack of meat in your diet can also be offset by beans. That same cup of beans has about 7 grams of protein. This essential building block helps you to build your muscles after periods of physical strain.
Those recovering from injuries need increased amounts of protein in their diets. When beef, pork, chicken, and fish become hard to source, your basement full of beans will be the perfect substitute!
What beans have is fiber. The same fiber leaves you feeling bloated and contributes to the expected after-effects of beans.
Regardless, fiber is healthy and will keep “things moving” when societal collapse interrupts your diet and leaves you “bound up.” The fiber in beans also fills you up. A cup of beans can hold off hunger for several hours.
The Don’ts of Bean Storage
Bean storage is fairly easy when you follow the rules and, thankfully, the rules are simple. Avoid some things, and encourage others. Let’s take a look.
Beans come dry and all ready for short-term storage. If you are topping off your pantry and you’ll be rotating them every six months, there is little to do. Since we are looking at decades of storage, you need to guard against a few negative factors.
Insects and Rodents
Beans don’t suffer from insects as wheat, rice, and flour do. While the critters may be in there, beans are large enough and dark enough that any weevils or other bugs can hide effectively.
In rice, you can see the dark critters crawling around in a field of white. Same with flour, especially when you sift.
As insects are everywhere, you must kill them in place rather than have any chance of removing them. Killing them involves three options.
First, freeze the bugs and their eggs. Three to five days in the freezer suffices to kill the eggs and any crawlers that have survived the packing and shipping process. A quick wash before you cook your beans removes any remnants.
Second, you can add diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous Earth is the fossilized remains of microscopic diatoms. The powder-like material is actually like broken glass, albeit very, very small broken glass.
The diatomaceous earth gets on insects, and quickly dehydrates them through a series of cuts. Add one-half cup of diatomaceous earth to your beans, and thoroughly mix before packing.
Although it is harmless to ingest, wear a high-quality dust mask when mixing. Again, a quick rinse before cooking is all that is needed to wash off the diatomaceous earth (although this step is not needed).
Finally, you can remove oxygen from the environment. We will discuss this a little later with the application of oxygen (O2) absorbers. By removing the O2 and creating a vacuum, you remove one of the necessary ingredients for life.
Rodents are another matter altogether. It doesn’t take long for a rat or a few mice to spoil a large quantity of food. For rodents, you need two approaches: prevention and barriers.
The best way to keep rodents out of your food stores is to prevent them. The area must be clean and well-sealed. I cannot emphasize keeping a storage area clean enough. Even the smallest bits of scrap food will draw in rodents.
Once they get the smell of food, they are persistent! And if food was there once, they’ll be back… With friends!
Once your storage area is spotless, seal up any crack or hole a quarter inch or larger. Full-grown mice can fit through a hole the size of a dime. Oh, and if it’s not big enough, they’ll make it bigger.
You can purchase spray-foams designed for rodents, but the reviews are mixed. I prefer a combination of both spray foam and steel wool. Better yet use these and patch up the wallboard, foundation, etc. wherever the hole is.
Once the environment is rodent-proof, use a durable container. We will talk about 5-gallon buckets soon, but suffice it to say, leaving bags of beans stacked on a pallet is not conducive to rodent protection.
Light and Moisture
The next layer of protection you need to add is to thwart light and moisture.
Light is fairly easy to block. Storage in an interior room or basement will suffice. If that is not an option, a durable container (e.g. 5-gallon buckets) or a tarp will do. The light issue is that it slowly, but steadily, breaks things down. From the plastic of your storage containers to the nutrients in beans, they all suffer over time.
Moisture is a little harder to combat. If your storage environment is not naturally dry, you need to create a barrier and dehumidify. Proper packaging is the perfect barrier to water, moisture, and excess humidity. We will talk about Mylar bags in the next section.
These thick backs are specifically designed to keep moisture away from your precious beans. As always, two is one and one is none. Try to have two layers or barriers in place at all times. This includes Mylar bags and your 5-gallon bucket with a new lid.
The final moisture layer is dehumidification. Most basements and some households are wet. In the Southeast United States during summer, it is nearly impossible to escape the humidity. Keep a dehumidifier running in your storage space.
If possible, use one with a pump that auto empties into a drain. This is not only convenient, but it also ensures that you don’t neglect your responsibilities.
The Do’s of Bean Storage
The first items on your bean storage checklist need to be mitigation strategies for insects, rodents, light, and moisture. After that, bean storage is pretty easy.
The first goal is to use robust packaging. Proper packaging solves the moisture, O2, insect, and rodent issues. We will discuss how Mylar bags and 5-gallon buckets do all of this for you.
Regarding dates, beans do “expire.”
Depending on your storage method you will want to rotate out your beans sooner rather than later. While this article is focused on the best method for long-term storage, there are other options.
- Original packaging (paper or plastic): The plastic and paper beans come in is not an ideal packaging material. Depending on the quality you can only expect 3-5 years. This is highly dependent on your environment. Check often, and be prepared for earlier spoilage.
- Mason Jars: Vacuum-sealed mason jars are a great way to store small quantities of beans. The method removes the air but not oxygen. Expect 5-10 years of storage.
- 5-gallon buckets (no Mylar or O2 absorbers): 5-Gallon buckets are great on their own for bean storage. Be prepared to check them yearly as the gaskets on the lids do not form a perfect seal. Expect 10-15 years.
The last variable in the food storage equation is temperature. Hot temps can accelerate the aging process, and cause natural fats and oils to go rancid. Heat also degrades plastics, and can cause your seals to fail.
Cold temps, especially freezing temperatures, can also cause adverse effects. When frozen, cells rupture, and the quality of your food diminishes quickly. Ever freeze lettuce? Yup that on a smaller scale.
Your goal for long-term storage is cool, even temps. Ideally, your storage area stays a constant 50 degrees. I once read an article that stated food storage life is doubled for every 5 degrees below 70. Unfortunately, I cannot find that.
While I’m not sure about the complete validity of this, I do use it as a goal. My basement storage averages 60 degrees. After a decade and a half of storage, I have yet to have any signs of spoiling.
Labeling and Rotation
Second, once you have completed the packaging process, you will need to label the inside and outside of your packaging. Label with the contents and the date.
Listing the contents helps you to avoid opening your third bucket of black beans when you were hoping for Pintos. The dates allow to you eat the oldest packages first.
Speaking of, you need to set up a rotation schedule. While beans can last for many years when packaged properly, you still need to prove that to yourself. Beans can become overly dry in time, and difficult to cook.
Every few years open a bucket, pull out a few cups, and cook them. If they are over-dry, use this as an opportunity to learn how to pre-treat or cook them. If you just can’t find a method that works for you, the date allows you to rotate out any beans that are no longer usable.
You also need to add labels to the inside of your buckets. It doesn’t take much for a label to peel, get worn, or fade. A label on the outside is useless if it gets ripped off during transportation. Avoid mystery meals, and add a second label to the inside of your bucket.
Finally, set up an annual review schedule. Accidents happen to the best of us. It is too easy to pack and forget long-term food. You must review it every so often.
Set a calendar reminder to pull everything out, inspect it for damage (rodent or otherwise), and replace any worn or faded labels. Then stack it all up again, with the confidence that it’s all in good shape.
The 5-Gallon Bucket and Mylar Bag Packing Method
Time for packing up your beans!
Let’s bring it all together. Long-term storage is born of time, effort, and money. Therefore, you want the best environment possible for your beans. One of the highest standards in the prepping world for food storage is 5-gallon buckets, Mylar bags, and O2 absorbers.
5-Gallon buckets have a million uses in prepping. They are rigid and therefore stack well. They can have a great seal. They come in a consistent size that you can plan around. Oh, and they are great for storing long-term dry goods.
You can pick up new buckets from Amazon, Home Depot, Lowes, or your favorite hardware store. You can also get them from your local bakery, usually for free. Most bakeries get icing in them and give them away for free.
When I am getting ready to pack up food, I make the rounds to a half dozen grocery stores and bakeries and can usually fill my trunk with free buckets.
If you need to get replacement lids, I highly recommend Home Depot. Currently, they are under $2, and have a great seal. I have found the ones from Lowes are not as good as they don’t seal very well.
All buckets you use should be “Food Grade.” If you are getting them from a bakery, make sure they have only been used for food storage only. Don’t accept any that have had cleaners or chemicals. Here’s a good primer on identifying food grade buckets.
Once you get your buckets home, give them a quick wash with hot, soapy water, and you are ready to go!
Two is one, and one is none. Mylar bags are your second line of defense against the elements with the buckets being the first.
Mylar is thick plastic with a thin metal coating. When you heat-seal them closed, you are creating an air and watertight seal. At $1 – $2 per bag, they are cheap insurance.
Get bags sized for 5-gallon buckets or larger. You can also get smaller bags (e.g. 1-gallon) for smaller quantities of stored food.
One of my favorite strategies is to make buckets with several 1-gallon bags each containing beans, rice, oats, and pasta. I fill in the cracks with spices, salt, and a water filter and I’ve got a bucket that I can grab on the go or give to those in need.
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Sealing the Mylar bags is simple but requires heat. Amazon sells dedicated impulse sealers specifically designed for use with Mylar bags. If you have the budget, they are a convenient addition to your preps.
You can also use a simple iron to seal your bags. It will take a little trial and error to find the correct timing and cadence, but it’s cheap and easy. When the bag is ready, drape the bag over a wooden dowel or a long block of wood and run your iron over the Mylar.
Within a few seconds, you will have a perfect seal! Always do a second seal an inch above your first seal as insurance.
The final variable in the bean packing equation is oxygen. O2 absorbers chemically bind with iron powder and oxygen removing O2 from the bag. Basically, they rust the oxygen out of the environment.
Manufacturers size O2 absorbers based on the amount of oxygen they use. For a 5-gallon bucket, you will need 4,000 cubic centimeters (cc) of absorption. That’s two 2,000 cc absorbers per bag (a common size).
Toss any unused absorbers into quart jars, and seal up with a lid and ring. They will soon take up all the O2 and seal the lid.
Packing Up Your Beans
With the trifecta of buckets, Mylar, and O2 absorbers, you will not need any further treatment of your beans. Simply pack and go. But I have a few hints.
First, plan on 30-33 pounds of beans per bucket. You can do less, but you really can’t do much more. I usually purchase beans 100 pounds at a time. That gives me three filled buckets with no leftovers.
Lay out your beans, buckets, Mylar, O2 absorbers, and your iron. Put a Mylar bag in each bucket. Fill each bucket half-way and toss in 2,000 ccs of O2 absorbers. Lift up on the bag to let the beans settle and allow the bag to form-fit into the bucket.
Fill up the rest of the way and toss in the remaining 2,000 ccs of absorbers. Give the bag another lift and shake to finish shaping the bag to the bucket.
Next, set your dowel across the top of the bucket, and lay the Mylar bag over your dowel. Press out as much air as possible then seal the Mylar with the iron.
Take care to ensure that there are no creases in the Mylar. Don’t seal the bag too low. You want to leave a little room just in case you need to open then reseal the bag.
Once you have made your first seal, make a second an inch above the first.
Don’t seal up your buckets just yet. Leave your buckets accessible for a few days so you can monitor them. Over 2-3 days they will pull in as the O2 absorbers do their thing, and a vacuum forms.
Eventually, depending on the available oxygen, temperature, etc., the bag will pull in completely. It’s ok if the bag doesn’t pull completely in. As long as there has been observable shrinkage, you will be good to go.
If the bag does not pull in at all, the O2 absorbers may be spent. All you need to do is open the bag, insert a few more absorbers, then re-seal.
When your buckets are set, label them inside and out, hammer on the lids, and move them to your long-term storage area. Check them annually but you can expect over 25 years.
Other Storage Methods
Ok, we’ve described the best, let’s touch on the rest. While I’m partial to buckets and Mylar, there are other methods popular throughout the prepper industry. Let’s look at a few.
Beans store in warehouses for months both in bulk containers and in their final paper or plastic packaging. Original packaging is good for a few months and up to a year or so, however, it allows light, oxygen, moisture at the beans and provides a minimal barrier to rodents.
It is best to place any bags or cases of beans inside a protective container such as plastic totes with well-fitting lids. Make sure to first freeze the beans for three-five days.
Mason jars are the thing of country magazine covers. They are picturesque as well as protective. While you won’t be storing hundreds of pounds of beans this way they are great for small quantities especially for barter.
First, wash and sterilize your jars and lids. Second, add your beans to the dry glass jars and add the warm lids and rings. Finally vacuum seal with your food saver jar attachment.
A second option is dry canning. Like the prior method wash and sterilize your jars and lids. Second, dry the jars and fill them with beans. Cap them off with lids and rings.
Finger tighten the rings and place them in a warm oven (not over 110 degrees). After 30 minutes, shut off the oven, tighten the rings, and leave them in the oven until cool.
5-Gallon Buckets (No Mylar or O2 Absorbers)
While buckets, Mylar, and O2 absorbers are one of the best methods, that does not mean 5-gallon buckets can run solo.
For basic storage start with a clean 5-gallon bucket with a new lid and beans that have been in the freezer for three-five days. Wash the bucket and thoroughly dry it. Pour in your beans, they will hold 30-33 pounds, and hammer on the lid.
You can add a layer of protection against insects with diatomaceous earth (1/2 cup per bucket) or by adding a little bit of dry ice to the bottom of the bucket.
This will force out the oxygen as it sublimes. Make sure to allow ample time for the dry ice to do its thing before you cap off the bucket. Otherwise, you may blow off the lid from the pressure.
A well-sealed and prepared bucket should get you about 10-15 years of storage.
Where to Buy Beans in Bulk
Once you start looking, beans are in a lot more places than just the grocery store. That being said, the grocery store is probably the most convenient. The unfortunate part is most grocery stores only sell beans in 1-pound bags.
If this is the case, ask the manager if you can purchase by the case. They may even be willing to give you a discount if you buy them in bulk. Especially if you buy multiple cases.
Where you can save some money is with wholesale stores. Sams, BJs, Costcos all sell beans in bulk. Be prepared to buy 25 pounds or more. Remember that each 5-gallon bucket holds about 33 pounds, and each 1-gallon bag holds a little over 5 pounds.
In this category are also restaurant supply stores. Our local store carries a half dozen bean types in 50-pound bags. Some require memberships, others have public shopping days where no membership is required. I save up for these days, and will buy a few hundred pounds of beans, rice, oats, etc. Then I’ll spend a weekend packing things up.
Don’t forget to shop at the local ethnic stores. Locally, we have Mexican, African, and Asian stores. Each has a variety of bulk ingredients that I can add to my long-term storage.
What Beans to Buy and Their Uses
Ok, you know how to store them; you know where to buy them. Now it’s time to figure out what to get.
First, food fatigue is real. Just ask my brother, my mom made mac-and-cheese almost every Monday for his entire at home life. My memory might exaggerate history a little, but one thing is certain, it was a struggle each week for him to choke it down.
The solution to fatigue is variety. Beans have this in spades. This section will only scratch the surface. I’m sure you have your own recipes to add; don’t be shy, and seek others not on this list.
Black beans are my favorite, and I’ve stored a lot. We use them with rice, on their own simmered in chicken broth with a few chunks of bacon, or pureed into a dip with olive oil and horseradish.
Black-Eyed peas are a southern staple. A small black spot gives them their unique name. They have a neutral and earthy flavor that is brought out when cooked in chicken or ham broth.
Great Northern Beans
Another mild bean, Great Northern beans are plump, smooth, and a great addition to salads, soups and can even make their way into tomato sauces for a little texture change and nutty flavor. Their soft texture makes them an excellent option for purees or spreads.
Cannellini beans are often mistaken for Great Northern beans. Cannellini beans are firmer and hold up to stews and longer cooking times. They are most often added to soups or Pasta Fagioli.
Pintos are one of the most beautiful dried beans. Their painted appearance fades with cooking, but that does not detract from their use. Like other beans, they also make an impressive addition to soups and stews.
Lentils are my go-to quick-cooking bean. Their small size lets them get cooked up in a fraction of the time of larger beans.
Also known as Garbanzo, these were the no-thank-you helping of my youth. On every salad bar, I always tried to ignore them. Once I tried them as an adult, I fell in love. Their shape, size, and texture make them a great protein-rich addition to salads.
They can even be roasted and seasoned with your favorite spice for a fun and filling snack or side dish.
Adzuki beans are one variety often used in sweet dishes. Asian cuisine purees Adzukis for pastries, cakes, and ice cream. Don’t paint all your beans into the “rice and beans” corner.
Be flexible and adventurous with your recipes. It’s the only way to combat long-term food fatigue.
Aside from the memorable line in “The Silence of the Lambs” I know nothing about cooking and eating Fava beans. I know their nutty and buttery flavor has a huge following. Just not for me, especially with liver and a nice chianti.
Mom only used kidney beans and northern beans. Kidney beans were her go-to for chili and bean salad. I have since used them in many applications, but they still are the main bean in my chili recipe.
From a nutritional perspective, it’s interesting to note that kidney beans contain as many antioxidants as blueberries!
Lima beans were another “Yeah… I’m good!” moment from my youth. There are a few lima sub-varieties, including butter beans.
Their mild flavor and texture make them a good, in-the-background addition to most soups and stews. They are a great way to add bulk (fiber), nutrients (mostly potassium), and protein.
Borlotti, or cranberry, beans are another visually striking bean that just looks good dry. They are most often used in Minestrone Soup, Pasta Fagioli as well as other Italian dishes. They are another on the long list of beans with a smooth texture and a nutty flavor.
Wrapping Up Beans
Beans were once something I just pushed aside. Eventually, I learned to first tolerate them, then love them. These days I spend a few weeks per year eating mostly rice and beans (usually during the 40 days of lent).
It’s pretty amazing the varieties you can purchase, and even more the myriad of ways you can cook them. The options seem endless. For this aspect alone, you should have some in your pantry.
When you consider that beans are built for long-term storage, stack them high and deep in your prepper pantry. Especially when you consider their cost and the ease at which they are stored.
With a few buckets and an Amazon cart filled with Mylar bags and O2 absorbers, you can be well on your way to having secured a protein-rich food source for you and your family if times get tough!