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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
8. Coconut milk
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.
9. Black beans
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.
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 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…
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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…