The 10 best canned foods and recipe ideas

From anchovies to corned beef, we share our favourite canned foods and storecupboard ingredients and how to turn them into mouthwatering recipes.

Chickpea and coconut curry served in white bowls on rice

The canned food aisle isn’t the most glamorous in the supermarket, but it encompasses the widest range of ingredients. In an age of budget eating and food banks, certain products beat their fresh equivalents in terms of cost, convenience and longevity.

What’s more, metal cans can be recycled again and again. We're not suggesting you forgo the fresh veg but everything has its place.

We dug around our storecupboards to find the tinned treats we wouldn't be without. Our serving suggestions show the versatility of canned classics like chickpeas, coconut milk (both served in our coconut, chickpea & spinach curry, pictured above) and fruit.

For more thrifty suppers and cupboard-raiding meal ideas, check out our budget recipe collection

Top 10 canned foods and how to serve them

1. Crab

Fragrant crab cakes served on a plate with saladRecipe idea: 
Fragrant crab cakes

If you’ve an abundance of time, money and patience, picking a whole fresh crab for a midweek supper is a reasonable option. For the rest of us, it’s safer to reach for the can. This usually means picking up chunks of white crabmeat, but it's possible to buy dressed brown crabmeat too.

Canned crab recipe inspiration:
Crab risotto
Crab cakes with dill mayonnaise
Crab & avocado tostadas
Crab macaroni cheese

2. Cherries

Cherry pudding in dish with spoonRecipe idea:
Cherry Bakewell sponge pudding

Think less kitsch glacé cherry and more classy clafoutis. Canned and pitted black or Morello cherries will save you hours of fiddling around with a paring knife, plus they come in a sweet, rich red syrup that can be used in cocktails and sauces.

Canned cherry recipe inspiration:
Baked cherry cheesecake
Cherry choc muffins
Cherry meringue tart

3. Chickpeas

Chickpea chana masala served on rice with pomegranate raitaRecipe idea: 
Chana masala with pomegranate raita

While dried chickpeas win on the cost front, they require soaking so are less convenient than the canned version. This storecupboard hero is one of our favourites. A top tip is to use the chickpea water to thicken sauces, as demonstrated in our chana masala recipe.

Canned chickpea recipe inspiration:
Our top chickpea recipes
Healthy chickpea recipes
Chickpea curry recipes

4. Anchovies

Spaghetti with puttanesca sauce served in a pan
Recipe idea:
Spaghetti puttanesca

Fresh anchovies are a rarity on these shores, but most supermarkets will stock at least one canned variety of this salty, umami-rich fish. If you’re making a pasta sauce like puttanesca, use the oil from the can to cook with, or use it to submerge any leftover anchovies in a storage container.

Canned anchovy recipe inspiration:
Anchovy palmiers
Roasted peppers with tomatoes & anchovies
Fresh spinach & anchovy tart

5. Tomatoes

Bean and halloumi stew served in a bowl
Recipe idea: 
Bean & halloumi stew

Staple of household and professional kitchens alike thanks to their budget credentials and enormous versatility, we couldn’t leave tomatoes off our list. Supermarket economy lines offer cans for under 40p, but if you’re willing to go the Italian way and spend a little more it's worth trying canned organic, cherry or yellow tomatoes too.

Canned tomato recipe inspiration:
Classic tomato sauce
Chorizo & rosemary pearl barley risotto
Our top canned tomato recipes

6. Pineapple

Tropical upside down cake topped with pineapple rings and cherries
Recipe idea:
Tropical upside-down cake

The taste of fresh pineapple is a tropical explosion (plus it's easy to prepare, as our video guide proves), however for pure nostalgia value, versatility, affordability and convenience, there is a special place in our hearts and cupboards for canned pineapple chunks and rings. 

Canned pineapple recipe inspiration:

Sweet & sour pork
Spiced hummingbird cake
Prawn, pineapple & cashew fried rice

7. Lentils

Lasagne in dish
Recipe idea:
Lentil lasagne

Dried lentils win on the price front, but canned lentils can be used immediately, and in this modern world of fast living, that’s sometimes just what you need. Canned lentils are soft in texture, so ideal for use in soups and cold salads, but if heated at length they’ll go mushy – perfect for a last-minute dhal. Be sure to give them a rinse as they’re likely to come in salty brine.

Canned lentil recipe inspiration:
Curried carrot & lentil soup
Lighter Scotch eggs

8. Coconut milk

Coconut traybake in pan with knifeRecipe idea:
Coconut chai traybake

Made from the flesh of the coconut rather than the liquid in its centre, this creamy product is an ideal dairy substitute for those following a lactose-free or vegan diet. It has plenty of health benefits and half-fat versions are available. Discover more uses for this storecupboard hero in our coconut milk recipe collection

Canned coconut milk recipe inspiration:
Thai prawn & peanut noodle soup
Creamy mango & coconut smoothie
Coconut fish curry traybake

9. Black beans

Black bean tortilla served in a pan topped with rocketRecipe idea: 
Black bean tortilla with salsa

Another canned pulse that's convenient and nutritious, black beans are great for bulking out chillis and stews. Serve them Mexican-style in quesadillas, nachos and salsas. However, it's worth bearing in mind that they do tend to be more expensive than more common canned beans like chickpeas, butter beans and kidney beans. 

Canned black bean recipe inspiration:
Smoky pulled aubergine & black bean tacos
Avocado & black bean eggs
All our top black bean recipes

10. Chestnuts

Chestnut cheesecake sliced on plate
Recipe idea:
Iced chestnut ripple cheesecake

In the UK, there’s a short window in which to buy nets of fresh chestnuts, so they’re often relegated to the festive season alone. On the continent, these strong-flavoured nuts are rightly celebrated all year round. Pick up a can of chestnut purée to enjoy the flavour without the tedious preparation process.

Canned chestnut recipe inspiration:
Chestnut & amaretto roulade
Chestnut fool

Canned food health and safety

Once opened, the contents of the can should be tipped out into a storage container. Never put open cans in the fridge – the metal may transfer to the can’s contents.

Enjoyed these recipes? Get more storecupboard inspiration...

Top 10 storecupboard recipes
Storecupboard pasta recipes
Healthy storecupboard recipes
Storecupboard lunch recipes
Budget meals for large families
Budget family chicken recipes
Top 10 budget food buys
Top 8 gadgets to save you money in the kitchen

As many countries urge populations to stay at home, many of us are paying more attention to our diets and how the food we eat can support our health. To help sort out the fact from the fiction, BBC Future is updating some of their most popular nutrition stories from their archive.

Are you a fan of the can? What products are always on your shelves? Let us know below...

Comments, questions and tips

Sign in or create your My Good Food account to join the discussion.
20th Aug, 2016
I like jars of roasted peppers. Use chopped in crab and pepper risotto then serve any leftover risotto stuffed into the peppers as a tapas. If you have carrots in the fridge - most of us do - grate them and make a red salad of sliced peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, red onion and parsley. Use with smoked paprika in bean soups and in frittata. Buy at Lidl for value.
29th May, 2014
Tins used to stay in the cupboard forever. Now they come with a use by date. Is it safe to use them after this?
Be the first to suggest a tip for this recipe...Got your own twist on this recipe? Or do you have suggestions for possible swaps and additions? We’d love to hear your ideas.