Produce explained: 8 canned food items to complete your kitchen

Canned food does get a pretty bad rap for being overly salty and laden with preservatives. While that is still true for some canned items, that’s not always the case. Like any good home cook,  I have scoured the canned food aisle in the supermarket, and these are some canned food necessities, narrowed down to eight essentials, you should have whether you are in a pinch or otherwise.

1. Beans

What it is:

Canned beans ran the gamut from chickpeas, butterbeans, peas, and cannellini beans. No, I’m not talking about baked beans, by which you should only buy Heinz.

What makes it unique:

These canned beans make it much easier if you’re attempting any bean dish or even making hummus. Plus, have you ever tried soaking raw beans? A beautiful process, yes, but it takes an extremely long time. So, having canned beans on hand is helpful.

What it’s used for:

Well, basically anything you’d use canned beans for anything you’d use beans for. Since they are cooked and ready to go, they save your prep time by a lot. The only thing I’d advise you is to rinse your beans thoroughly as they are usually in a brine, which means they can be a little salty. Otherwise, toss them in salad, stew, and, best of all, hummus.

You can buy an assortment of canned beans here.

2. Baked beans 

What it is:

A little self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised at the origin of the humble can of baked beans.

What makes it unique:

What’s fascinating is that baked beans are part of Native American cuisine and made with indigenous beans to the Americas. Then, like a tale as old as time, colonisation took over, and this dish was adopted by the English colonists and spread to other regions.

By all means, you can make baked beans from scratch by stewing beans, but is there anything more satisfying than opening a fresh can? Well, canned baked beans are cooked with a steaming process and then in a tomato sauce.

What it’s used for:

There is no end to how you can use your baked beans. Most famously, you can use it to complete your English breakfast, or you can top-up your army stew, both of which are delicious options.

You can buy an assortment of baked beans here.

3. Soup 

What it is: 

Perhaps one of the first few things that will come to mind when you think about canned goods. Not to mention, Campbell’s soup with its trademark red and white packaging is unmistakable; even Andy Warhol loved it.

What makes it unique:

Okay, not all canned soup is created equal. Campbell’s soup is famously condensed soup, so you have to add water to it when you are preparing it. While Campbell’s is an icon in and of itself, they are not the biggest on flavour.

Instead, look for more of the smaller brands that feature some chunks; they might taste so good you’d think it’s homemade.

You can buy an assortment of soup here.

4. Canned fish

What it is:

This has to be one of my favourite category of canned food. But, unfortunately, canned fish such as sardines, tuna, mackerel, and anchovies don’t get as much credit as they should.

What makes it unique:

You’ll find these fish usually packed in oil, salt, brine, or water. These tiny cans of fish are typically packed with omega-3s and protein, so they are nutritionally dense. When it comes to anchovies and sardines, what’s even better is since these fish are pretty low on the food chain, so it’s quite environmentally friendly to consume them.

While canned tuna has been a mainstay for the longest time, there are concerns about mercury levels. To circumvent this, it’s always good to check where a company sources their fish from and whether they are sustainably caught.

What it’s used for:

I love using anchovies as a bit of punch to any sauce, not to mention, they melt away. Sardines are always lovely in a salad, or you know the classic sardines and onions. As for canned tuna, never has there been a fish that was adapted to a tuna melt.

You can buy an assortment of canned fish here.

5. Tomatoes

What it is: 

If you cook any pasta at all, you’ll come across the sheer variety of canned tomatoes available in the canned food. There are whole peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and San Marzano.

Without getting too much into it, here is a brief lowdown on each tomato and how to use them. For sauces, stews, or even tomato soup, whole peeled tomatoes are great. That way, you get to crush the tomatoes to your desired consistency.

For diced tomatoes, you can use them in salads or even some sauces, and half the leg work is done for you. For crushed tomatoes, you get a coarser texture as opposed to the tomato puree. Since tomato puree is already processed, you won’t get that bright, acidic flavour from crushed tomatoes.

Then for tomato sauce, since this is smoothest, this would be good for pizza sauces or in slower cooker recipes. As for tomato paste, this would be the most concentrated amount of tomato that you only need in smaller quantities. Of course, now they sell tomato paste in tubes, so that is much easier for storage.

As for the belle of the ball, San Marzano tomatoes are tomatoes from Italy that all chefs swear by. A highly coveted tomato that comes with its certification, if you see this in the supermarket, make sure you grab one to try.

What makes it unique:

Here’s a little fun fact about canned tomatoes, all canned tomatoes are comprised of two varieties, the standard garden vine tomatoes and plum tomatoes. Plum tomatoes have good structural fortitude which makes them ideal for canning, while garden vine tomatoes don’t hold nearly as well and have a totally different shape and flavour. A general rule is that you want to know what kind of tomato you’re getting and better brands will tell you too.

You can buy an assortment of canned tomatoes here.

6. Coconut milk

What it is:

A non-dairy alternative that has been all the rage, coconut milk is made from the flesh of coconuts that have been pureed and strained.

What makes it unique:

We are no stranger to coconut milk seeing as it makes its appearance in many of our local dishes. Now, there’s a slight difference between coconut milk and coconut cream. Coconut cream is what you get in those Kara coconut cream, mostly made of coconut fat which is rich and oh-so-fragrant. With coconut milk, you get a little bit of coconut cream floating on the top and coconut flesh mixed with water.

What it’s used for:

You use coconut milk as a dairy alternative, so in your coffee or even in your cereal. However, coconut milk tends to be a diva as much as she tries not to. Plus, coconut milk still contains a high amount of fat, so do use it sparingly.

You can buy canned coconut milk here.

7. Spam

What it is:

Spam or luncheon meat is truly God’s gift to us. Processed pork meat that seems to go with anything, you’d probably share my sentiments.

What makes it unique:

Not surprisingly, spam was also used as a war ration given its long shelf life. In addition, spam is usually salty and just tastes so good.

What it’s used for:

With the evolution of luncheon meat, you can find in between a bread roll from your HDB bread shop. Or the trendy spam fries, which always feel like a slight rip-off. Otherwise, you can use them cha chaan tang style with a bowl of Maggi noodles. Either way, spam will taste good.

You can buy spam here.

8. Beets

What it is:

Well, this is mostly for convenience. Canned beets do all the heavy lifting, so your kitchen doesn’t have to look like a crime scene.

What makes it unique:

If you are going for canned beets, make sure you get those that come with low sodium or no salt added at all. Beets are incredibly nutritious with numerous health benefits that aids in immunity, balancing your blood pressure, cardiovascular health, to name a few. Plus, with canned beets, they retain their red pigments, which offer ample amounts of Vitamin C, B-6, Vitamin K, and vital trace minerals, such as potassium and magnesium.

What it’s used for:

When it comes to beets and their uses, nothing can really beet it. There is nothing this vegetable cannot do, from a cold beet soup, beetroot hummus to pickled beetroot eggs.

You can buy canned beets here.

Other articles you might like: 

Produce explained: 7 essential root vegetables you need in your kitchen

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