Even if you can't tell the difference between a potato peeler and a paring knife, chances are there's some type of canned food in your kitchen pantry. Whether it's a can of soup squirreled away for a rainy day or a tin of sardines for a midnight snack, most of us rely on one type of canned ingredient or another.
Modern canning methods utilize fruits, vegetables and meats that are processed at their peak of freshness to retain flavor, nutrients, texture and color, and canning is a stable and reliable way to preserve food. It's so stable that some canned goods can be stored safely for up to five years under the right conditions [source: USDA].
You probably don't rely exclusively on canned goods for your dietary needs, but keeping a few canned ingredients in your pantry will make life easier and tastier.
Tomato Based Products
Tomato sauce is one of the most versatile of canned ingredients. Well, not just the sauce, but also the many other tomato based products. Tomato sauce is a blank canvas waiting for culinary inspiration. With a little ingenuity and some time, you can make many popular dishes using a canned tomato base. How about chili, spaghetti, stew or pizza sauce? That's just to name a few.
Tomato products are well-represented on your local grocery store shelves, but they can be a little confusing. Here's a short primer:
- Tomato Sauce - For a basic, wholesome product that's as at home in a nice marinara sauce as it is in meatloaf, tomato sauce is at the top of the list. It has a relatively thin consistency, but can still be considered a tomato puree.
- Tomato Puree - Usually thicker than tomato sauce, tomato puree has more tomato pulp and less water than plain tomato sauce.
- Tomato Paste - Thickest of all, tomato paste is a concentrated tomato product that's often combined with a liquid, like broth or water, when used in recipes.
- Canned Tomatoes - From whole to diced varieties, the name is pretty self-explanatory. These tomatoes are peeled, sometimes seeded, and occasionally contain seasoning ingredients, like cumin or oregano.
- Stewed Tomatoes - Although this term can refer to a simple canned tomato in light juice, it often means that other ingredients have been added, like onions, celery and peppers.
Broth and Condensed Soup
Canned soup has been a staple in American homes for generations. In 1897, Dr. John T. Dorrance invented a concentrated canned soup product that used less packaging, was cheaper to ship and required less shelf space. It was an instant success, and the Campbell's Soup Company was born.
Soup is a natural for a quick meal in itself or as a foundation for other dishes. If you want to experiment, try a basic beef, chicken or vegetable stock and create your own masterpiece. You'll still be saving hours over making the stock from scratch. Need something heartier than a thin broth? How about using a cream soup, like mushroom, broccoli, celery or asparagus, in your next casserole or side dish? If you stock up on canned soup, you'll always have options.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that you eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. To get all those vegetables from fresh sources means spending a lot of time at your local grocery store or open-air produce market. A simple solution is to eat canned produce to fulfill some of that requirement.
Canned and frozen veggies lose some of their food value over fresh, but still retain a good percentage of their nutrients. Canned produce also has the advantage of being convenient and portable, and you can find canned vegetables year round that may only be available fresh seasonally. If you're saving your pennies, using canned vegetables in some of your meals is a great way to stretch your food budget too.
Adding a few canned fruits to your pantry, like pears, peaches and apples, can make a big difference at mealtime. Use the sweet flavor of fruit to transform even savory dishes from bland to exciting and take a step up from meat and greens. Don't think that you have to stick with the same old vegetables to stay healthy. Use fruit to add a little zest to dinner. Try putting canned pineapple on your next baked ham, kabobs or teriyaki. Poach some pears in wine for dessert, and serve them with cheese. Canned fruit doesn't have to be loaded with extra sugar and calories, either. Just look for varieties that are packed in their own juices.
If you want to have a dessert backup plan for when company drops by, keep a can of apple pie filling around for a quick apple crumble or to serve with ice cream.
Ah, the comfort of knowing there are beans in the house. Really. Beans are rich in vitamins and minerals, are a low cost source of protein and can be very versatile. You may be equating beans with spicy, high calorie dishes like chili and refried beans, but a single serving of beans, about a half cup (128 g), only contains 120 calories and has six to seven grams of protein. The dense texture of most beans, together with their protein content, will make you feel full and satisfied, too.
Toss kidney beans into salads, or mix black beans with sour cream and green onion, and serve them as a cold summer side dish. Beans are a low-cost, lower-calorie alternative to many meat dishes, so keep a few cans around.
When you think of canned fish, tuna probably comes to mind. Having a stash of canned tuna is an easy way to get the benefits of eating fish a couple of times a week without the hassle of shopping for fresh fish at the market. Tuna isn't the only fish you should consider, though. Like tuna, canned salmon and herring have stores of omega-3 fatty acids that promote heart health, and they provide an interesting change to the traditional tuna sandwich. For a healthy comfort food, try salmon cakes, or use your trusty canned tuna to make fish chowder.
If there's fish in the pantry, you'll always have something to serve for lunch or dinner.
Gravy and Sauces
In recent years, grocery store shelves have bloomed with all manner of canned preparations designed to make it easier to throw a meal together fast. Canned gravies and sauces take an idea that started with simple tomato products and condensed soups and add a gourmet touch. You don't have to tinker with a can of cream of mushroom soup to make stroganoff anymore. You can find a canned sauce that will bring more to the table -- literally. Many of these preparations only need the addition of a little meat. If you need to cut precious minutes off your prep time, invest in some of your family's favorite sauces and gravies for a great meal in minutes.
From vegetable to apricot, you can find lots of tasty juices in a can. They aren't only for drinking, either. Both tomato and vegetable juice are used in lots of one-dish meals, like roasts and stews, and having a couple of cans on the shelf will open up some interesting possibilities.
How about making your own summer cooler with peach nectar and pineapple juice? Or you could turn that ham glaze or sweet and sour recipe into something divine by adding just a bit of pomegranate juice instead of water. Once you have a few canned juices in your inventory, you'll be coming up with lots of tantalizing notions about how to use them. Who knows where your creative instincts will take you?
Did you just think of Spam? Well, that time-honored canned meat food isn't the only option available when you start exploring the world of canned meat. There are a number of minced and ground meat products that taste great in a sandwich and make a satisfying stand-in as an appetizer.
From chopped liver to deviled chicken, canned meats are ready to be transformed with the addition of a little celery, some mayonnaise and a few spices. They are a practical choice, too. When you need a portable food that doesn't require refrigeration, canned meat can be a hearty, no fuss option.
The next time your electricity goes out, you'll be glad a can of prepared meat is in the back of the cupboard.
Complete Meals in a Can
You probably loved canned spaghetti as a kid, and it's likely that you have a can of chili or stew in the cupboard today. There's nothing like the convenience of a complete meal in an easy open, reliable can. If you want to prepare a fast, effortless lunch or dinner, this is it. Heck, with pull tops on many canned goods, you probably won't even need a can opener.
There are more complete-meal options available in cans today than ever before, and keeping a few of these little gems handy will insure that you never go hungry. Many are comfort foods too, like mac and cheese, which makes them a satisfying choice in more ways than one.
Canned foods are super convenient, but there's often a stigma attached to serving them. Is that warranted? HowStuffWorks takes a look.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
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