What Are Refried Beans?

Mexican food is the best. I’ve genuinely never met someone who doesn’t like it. No doubt such people exist, and I’m sure they have their reasons, but for most of us, the prospect of going out to a big Mexican or Tex-Mex meal is a joy. Today we’re discussing a central but slightly confusing part of Mexican cuisine: the refried bean. What are refried beans, exactly? What kind of beans are they made of? Are they really refried? Let’s fire up some answers. 

What are refried beans?

Refried beans are a staple of Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. In essence, it is a dish made of beans that have been boiled, mashed into a paste, and then fried or baked. Notice that there’s only one frying, maximum, in the process.

So, where does the term “refried beans” come from? It’s actually a mistranslation of the Spanish name for the dish, “frijoles refritos.” The word “refritos” is more closely translated to “warmed over,” but it definitely looks sort of like it might mean “refried,” right? Thus, the misnomer was born. 

What kind of beans are refried beans?

In Tex-Mex cuisine, when we’re talking about refried beans, we’re usually talking about pinto beans. However, in other cuisines, all manner of beans can be used. For example, black beans make a great refried bean option, and you can also use red kidney beans, pole beans, or really any other bean your heart desires. 

Are refried beans vegetarian? 

Alas, while beans themselves are of course a great protein option for those eschewing meat, there’s no guarantee that refried beans are vegetarian. If we take a look at Rosalita traditional refried beans, we see that the ingredients list lists “Cooked Beans, Water, Less than 2% of: Lard, Salt, Distilled Vinegar, Chili Pepper, Onion Powder, Spices, Natural Flavor, Garlic Powder.” While most of these ingredients are A-OK for vegetarians, lard is animal fat.

Luckily, there are plenty of vegetarian-friendly refried bean options available with similar recipes that don’t use lard. Be sure to check that the label says “vegetarian” or something similar.

How long do refried beans last in the fridge?

In their canned state, refried beans can last quite a while, but if they’ve been opened, that’s another story. Refried beans should keep for about three to four days when refrigerated—but, of course, if you notice mold or a bad smell on the beans, you should toss them. 

How to cook canned refried beans?

If you’re wondering what to do with that can of refried beans you have sitting in the pantry, don’t worry, it couldn’t be simpler. All you have to do is open the can, dump the contents into a pot and put it on the stove, stirring occasionally. If that’s still too much effort, you can just dump the beans into a microwave-safe bowl and put it in the microwave. Either way, the result will be smooth, delicious beans that are a great side dish.

If you are feeling a little more ambitious, there are lots of ways to jazz up those canned beans. They’re extremely versatile so there’s no real wrong way to enjoy them, but frequent add-ins include cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, hot sauce, and cumin. Just mix, plate, and enjoy.

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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