You probably think all canned kidney beans taste the same. Well, after tasting 15 different cans of both dark red kidney beans and light red kidney beans, I can say with certainty that they do not taste the same. Some are sweet, some are bland, some are salty. Some have thick skins, some have thin skins, some have skins that are falling apart. And only a few qualify as the best kidney beans.
If you’re wondering what’s the deal when it comes to dark red kidney beans vs. light red kidney beans, it’s pretty basic: Dark red kidney beans have thicker skins than light red kidney beans. That means they hold up better if you’re planning on doing some serious cooking. Light red kidney beans and their delicate skins are better for things like salads. But, really, it all comes down to personal preference.
Here’s what we were looking for in the best canned kidney beans (regardless of color): Creamy interior (not grainy or mealy), intact exterior (no burst skins, please), and quality bean flavor. That last quality is up for interpretation. Some of the beans we tried tasted earthy and rich, and that was great. Others tasted bright and zingy, and that was great, too. Really, as long as they expressed some authentic bean quality rather than tasting like can, we gave them points.
Without further ado, here are the best canned red kidney beans for your next bean salad, chili, or whatever else people make with a can of red kidney beans.
- Westbrae Natural Organic Kidney Beans
If you’re looking for pure bean flavor, this is the can of low sodium kidney beans for you. The beans are firm on the outside, creamy on the inside, and they have a clean, vegetal bean flavor. There’s no salt added and it is very evident. I would highly recommend adding some salt when you’re preparing these beans. But the lack of seasoning means these are a perfect blank canvas on which you can paint your own masterpiece of flavors. They’re also the best pick for you if you’re watching your sodium levels. Each serving contains just 5 mg of sodium!
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- Trader Joe’s Organic Kidney Beans
These organic canned kidney beans from Trader Joe’s have a very strong kidney bean flavor without too much salt to get in the way (each serving contains 120 mg of salt). They’re creamy with thick-ish skins, so they can handle some cooking. I think their pronounced bean flavor would make this can of kidney beans a great addition to a minestrone soup, where they can hold their own without getting lost amongst all the other flavors and textures.
Credit: Merc / Trader Joe’s
- Bush’s Best Dark Red Kidney Beans
Yes, Bush’s makes more than some of the best baked beans. The brand knows how to handle a bean. The dark red kidney beans taste great but, most importantly, they are some of the firmest canned red kidney beans we tasted, making them perfect for slow-cooked chili. They won’t break down, thanks to their thicker skins.
Credit: Merc / Target
- Hanover Light Red Kidney Beans
I’d never tried a Hanover product before this taste test but now I am a convert. These light red kidney beans taste almost like baked beans—they’re sweet and very seasoned (we’re talking 450 mg of sodium per serving!). While I wouldn’t cook with these due to their very pronounced (and very good) flavor, I would absolutely use these in a salad. And if you want an even sweeter bean, go for the Hanover dark red kidney beans. They practically taste like bean salad in a can.
Credit: Merc / Instacart
- Goya Organic Dark Red Kidney Beans
Goya’s dark red kidney beans are a lot of the best parts of some of the other canned kidney beans on this list, all rolled into one can of kidney beans. They’re organic kidney beans. They’re low sodium kidney beans. They have a bright and bold kidney bean flavor with a touch of sweetness. And the skins are seriously intact—I didn’t find one single split bean in this can of red kidney beans. And while they are quite firm (so you can definitely cook with them), they give way to creamy insides. It’s everything you could ever want in the best kidney beans.
Credit: Merc / Walmart
Best Low Sodium
Best for Chili
Best Light Red
Best of the Best
Other canned kidney beans we tried: Green Valley Dark Red Kidney Beans, Great Value Dark Red Kidney Beans, Dakota’s Pride Dark Red Kidney Beans, Simple Truth Organic Dark Red Kidney Beans, Goya Red Kidney Beans, Kroger Dark Red Kidney Beans, S&W Kidney Beans, Goya Organics Red Kidney Beans, Kroger Light Red Kidney Beans