It is National Baked Bean Month in July, and we are celebrating with a big ole helping of this delicious dish. Heated or cold, baked or simmered, baked beans are a staple in American cuisine, especially as a side dish at barbecue restaurants and cookouts. This widely used convenience food also features in French, English, and even Italian cuisines.
History of National Baked Bean Month
Food historians have not yet reached a consensus about the origins of baked beans, although they subscribe to a couple of popular theories about where this dish came from.
One theory states baked beans are rooted in Native American cuisine — specifically, dishes cooked by indigenous peoples in the northeast and belonging to tribes including Iroquois, Narragansett, and Penobscot. Back then, they baked beans in earthenware pots with maple syrup and, sometimes, venison meat and even bear fat.
Another theory claims baked beans have evolved from the cassoulet, which is a slow-cooked stew from southern France using Tarbais beans, flageolet, or cannellini beans. This dish has similarities to the modern baked beans and people believe English colonists brought this — or versions of it — into America.
Records show varying recipes from around the world that could have had an influence on baked beans such as ‘fagioli al fiasco’ from Italy, feijoada from Portugal and Brazil, and white beans and bacon from medieval England.
In the U.S., baked beans as we know them are made with the same beans as was used in the indigenous American recipes: a type of haricot bean known as navy beans, which are native to South America. Records show that Puritan Christian pilgrims that arrived on the east coast of America learned these recipes, which spurred the usage of baked beans as a stored treat. Since their religion did not allow cooking on the sabbath, these pilgrims cooked the beans as a Saturday supper, kept them warm in a wood-fired oven, and ate them for breakfast after Sunday church. This recipe changed shape, form, and flavor, taking on a new life as different communities adapted the recipe to their tastes. For example, in Maine, so-called ‘bean-hole beans’ were baked in cast-iron pots buried in the ground. They would use yellow eye beans for this recipe, which is still used for traditional Maine baked beans today.
Baked (or unbaked) beans were first canned in the 18th century, and the H.J. Heinz Company took this to another level. Over time, baked beans arrived in the U.K. — they were marketed as a luxury item, sold for nine pence a can, and proved to be a huge hit as time passed. Baked beans gradually made their way around the world, being eaten in a variety of ways. In the U.S. however, baked beans are more likely to be the side dish rather than the main.
National Baked Bean Month was founded by the Michigan Bean Commission to promote all the benefits of the beans and to share the best ways to prepare baked beans.
National Baked Bean Month timeline
Haricot beans, which are also called navy beans, are introduced to Europe.
Puritan Christian pilgrims that arrive on the east coast of America from Europe learn indigenous recipes from the Native Americans.
Beans (baked and otherwise) start being sold in cans.
The Pennsylvania-based H.J. Heinz Company first introduces the U.K. to baked beans, selling them at posh London department store Fortnum & Mason.
H.J. Heinz Company starts mass-producing cans of tinned baked beans.
The British Antarctic or Terra Nova Expedition takes crates full of Heinz beans with them — a photo of one of the members eating a tin of baked beans launches the tradition of cold baked beans on camping trips.
Massachusetts proclaims the navy bean — a primary ingredient in baked beans — as its state vegetable, even though beans are technically legumes.
Despite its U.S. origins, Heinz is granted the Royal Warrant and cements its status as an honorary British icon.
The Michigan Bean Commission establishes National Baked Bean Month.
Sales expand and baked beans are sold in less expensive stores across the U.K. — they are a huge hit in the market.
National Baked Bean Month FAQs
Is there a National Baked Bean Day?
National Baked Bean Day is celebrated on July 4.
When should you eat baked beans?
You can eat baked beans in a variety of ways: at breakfast with scrambled eggs, cooked in your soup, with tacos and tortillas, and so much more.
What state is known for baked beans?
Boston, Massachusetts, or ‘Beantown’ as it is called, was famous for baked beans in the colonial days, and the state continues to celebrate this fact to this day.
How To Celebrate National Baked Bean Month
Eat baked beans, of course
A favorite when the weather is cold and popular for grilling in the summer, baked beans are an all-weather dish. Not only are they delicious in recipes like baked beans with buttered rice or smoky baked beans, but they are also great for your health. So get to cracking open that can of baked beans right away!
Make an ode to baked beans
We’ve heard that people around the U.S. make special YouTube videos to honor this occasion. You can get on this trend, too, and create a special video that celebrates your love for this dish. Make it an origin story of baked beans (take help from our history section), or share a special recipe online.
Have a baked beans cookoff
Host a special baked bean competition with friends and family to see who can make the best dish using this ingredient. Bond over a common love for this yummy side. You can even turn this event into a potluck for the community, too.
5 Fun Facts About Beans
The FDA approves!
The Food and Drug Administration sent out a dietary guidance message in 2004 stating, “diets including beans may reduce your risk of heart disease and certain cancers.”
Americans eat a LOT of baked beans
In 2009, Americans consumed 50 million pounds of baked beans in July — an amount that can build a trail of bean cans longer than Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago.
Boston gained a nickname, Beantown, during the colonial days.
The full English breakfast
Toast topped with beans is the go-to supper in the U.K. — Heinz claims this dish was dreamed up for marketing purposes in 1927.
They have ‘bean’ around the world
Baked beans — specifically Heinz baked beans — are exported to 60 countries, with the U.K. being the biggest single market with around two million cans of baked beans consumed per day.
Why We Love National Baked Bean Month
They are a superfood!
Beans, all kinds of beans, are an excellent source of fiber, protein, potassium, and folate. Many of the beans are very low in fat, have no saturated fat or cholesterol, and can even help manage diabetes and help cut the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. With all these health benefits, is it any wonder we love beans so much?
The foodie in us loves such events
We're already drooling as we write this, as we imagine saucy, spicy baked beans in multiple different recipes. As the best way to celebrate a food-related event is to sample the food itself, we’ll love going all out with this one!
They are comfort food
Baked beans — besides being the best kind of beans — are comfort food. They remind us of days spent camping and hiking, and of hot and spicy tacos filled with baked beans and meat. They are sweet and hearty, they can be eaten in multiple ways (or even straight out the can, if you prefer), and they perfectly complement other foods. Plus, baked beans have the whole planet-friendly element going for them, which makes them extra special.
National Baked Bean Month dates