We all have tinned food stashed in our cupboards, often used as an addition to a recipe - but seldom the main ingredient. Tinned foods are a brilliant way to eat fruit and veg that aren't in season and that haven't been flown thousands of miles, and a great way to add fibre into your diet.
My favourite store-cupboard essential would be all the different tinned lentils, they're so good for using as a base in pasta sauces, soups, salads or dips. I also use jarred sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) a lot – a probiotic which you can just easily add to a salad to bring a little sharpness.
Tins are such an easily accessible, everyday food item: you can use them at breakfast by making sweetcorn fritters; at lunch for a haricot bean and tuna salad (great for throwing together the night before!); and at dinner for a chickpea and coconut curry!
Below are my top tinned staples:
1) Lentils: A great source of fibre and protein, and good nutrient profile and very versatile, especially when you get sick of pasta and rice (great meat-free bolognese alternative!).
2) Kidney beans: Bursting with fibre, a good source of protein, can be added to soups. They have a range of B vitamins in, including a good dose of folate, and are a good source of manganese.
3) Chickpeas: So many uses when you're limited, a great nutrient profile and again protein, fibre, and mixture of vitamins and add a delicious crunch to certain dishes (especially when made crispy under the grill with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil!).
4) Tinned salmon: Often overlooked in favour of tuna, tinned salmon is a great source of protein and omega 3, as are mackerel and sardines if you like oily fish. Tinned salmon is wild too, making it likely to be lower in environmental toxins than fresh, farmed salmon. Also, because you eat the small bones, you’ll get more than 100% of your daily requirement of vitamin D — plus a calcium boost that you won’t get from fresh salmon!
5) Tinned crab: If you're feeling flash, tinned crab is another way to get your protein in while getting a stomach full of vitamins and minerals. If you can afford it, definitely invest in lump crab over shredded.
6) Tinned tomatoes: A cupboard staple that can be used in so many increasingly innovate ways. High in Lycopene, often higher than fresh tomatoes, and high in Vitamins C, E and K.
7) Coconut milk: Tinned it provides a large dose of healthy saturated fat, a milk alternative, perfect for sauces such as curries and soups for added sweetness and creaminess.
Is there a difference between tinned pulses and cooked dry pulses?
Nutritionally, there is not much difference between tinned and dried pulses except for salt. Some tinned pulses will have added salt, but you can get unsalted varieties, it is just a matter of checking the label. Be aware of tinned fruit in syrup: tinned fruits are peeled so have lost their high-fibre skin, and as with lots of fruit, most of the antioxidant plant compounds (such as flavonoids) are found in the skin. Choose tinned fruit in juice rather than syrup, because of the higher sugar content of syrup - even by pouring off the syrup before eating, it will have infused into the fruit. I would recommend eating well-washed fresh fruit if possible or frozen versions. From a convenience point of view, tinned is much quicker, but the prices are very equal e.g., Tesco’s sells cannellini beans at £2.30/kg dry and £2.24/kg tinned, whilst Sainsbury’s sells them at £2.30/kg dry and £2.34/kg tinned.
Is organic better?
Premium brands aren’t better than basics. Generally organic tinned pulses taste of more and are a bit softer, but the cheaper ones are still decent. Pulses such as chickpeas, black beans and kidney beans are the place to start. Try buying a different tin of beans each time you go food shopping to add variety to your diet.
Does tinned food differ in nutrient value?
The only vitamins that are difficult to keep in a tin is vitamin C and some B vitamins as these are water soluble. Water-soluble vitamins are easily destroyed or washed-out during food storage or preparation. For example, the canning process reduces the vitamin C and folate (vitamin B9) content quite dramatically as these compounds get damaged by heat. Saying this, tinned food can be just as nutritious as fresh food, if not more in some cases, but it does depend on the individual item and the way it’s stored.
A recent study in the journal Nutrients found that people who regularly consumed more than 6 tinned food items a week had higher amounts of 17 essential nutrients, including potassium, calcium, and fibre than those who ate fewer than 2 tinned foods a week.
Feeling inspired yet? Here is a recipe for you I rustled together with some kitchen cupboard staples…
MIXED BEAN VEGAN TRAYBAKE
Prep time: 10 mins Cook time: 50 mins
1 large, sweet potato
2 red onions
1 tin tomatoes
400g tin of haricot beans (any alternative bean is fine)
400g tin of red kidney beans (any alternative bean is fine)
2 tbsp smoked paprika
Handful of fresh rosemary (dried is also fine)
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper to season
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 low salt vegetable stock cube
750ml boiling water
200g frozen spinach (Vit C and A levels are higher in frozen spinach as many of the nutrients of fresh spinach are preserved when the leaves are fast-frozen at source)
1. Preheat your oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas 6. Scrub the sweet potato, carrots and parsnips (no need to peel them unless you prefer to) and halve or quarter them so they’re roughly the same size. Chop the carrots and parsnips into small chunks. Peel the red onions and slice them into thin wedges. Trim the green tops off the aubergines, then chop the aubergines into small chunks. Peel and finely chop the garlic.
2. Tip the prepped ingredients into a large, deep roasting tin. Dust with 1 tbsp smoked paprika and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour over 2 tbsp olive oil and toss to coat. Slide the tin into the oven to roast for 20 mins.
3. When the veg have cooked for 20 mins, add the tomatoes and rosemary to the tin. Gently turn everything over to mix and return to the oven for 10 mins.
4. Fill and boil your kettle. Drain all the beans and rinse them with cold water. Pour 750ml boiling water into a heatproof jug, crumble in the stock cube and stir to dissolve.
5. Add the beans and the frozen spinach (use straight from frozen) to the roasting tin. Pour over the stock and stir. Return the roasting tin to the oven for a final 20 mins. The veg should be tender and browned. Taste the sauce and add a little more salt or pepper if needed. Ladle the roast veg and beans into bowls and serve – delicious with a slice of toasted sourdough bread!