Everything You Need To Know About Cooking With Canned Goods

Just one canned food can make a meal better.

Did you know that we can thank Napoleon Bonaparte for the invention of canned food? Back in 1795 during the French Revolutionary Wars, the French Army was said to have offered a huge monetary reward to anyone who could store food safely. Before food was canned, fresh food was either bottled, salted, dried, or potted (covered in butter or fat) but these didn’t always preserve the food’s flavor very well. However, without these methods, food would go bad and without any means of preservation or refrigeration, food went bad quickly.

How to store food is a problem that, up to today, is still a common problem in many households.  

A candymaker won that prize 14 years later, and it was all thanks to him and his ideas that canning is one of the most effective ways of preserving food. That’s why when it comes to creating meals for you and your family, canned food can be the ingredient that you can reliably turn to. It’s easy to use because all you really need to do is open the can and use its contents as desired. All canned food are ready to eat, so if you need to know how to use these extremely useful ingredients, here’s everything you should know about using canned food:  

Photo by Bea Faicol

1 Always check for dents, rust, or other markings in the can.

When shopping for canned food, be on the lookout for cans that are swollen, dented, or corroded. These may not be safe to eat even though the food may look safe to eat. That’s because dents, in particular, may have punctured the air-tight seal that makes canned goods so long lasting and introduced the food it contains to microscopic bacteria that was on the can when it was dented. For the safest choice, give each can you pick up a thorough look and feel all around the can for those telltale dents, rust, or any other outward sign of being otherwise contaminated. 

Clean your canned goods before opening.
Photo by andressaheimbecher from Pixabay

2 Clean the cans before opening. 

It might look clean but even before you open the can, washing the can is good practice. Why? The cans may have been on the shelves for days, week, or even months before you picked it up. Before that, the box it was in or the can itself was probably stored in warehouses. Before that, it had to have been transported. Basically, we don’t know where that can has been and just to be on the safe side, wash or at least rinse your cans before opening. 

Photo by Patrick Martires

3 You can drain or not drain.   

Once you have opened your can, you have a decision to make: do you drain the food of the liquid inside or use it together with the food in your recipe. Almost all canned food are stored in some kind of water-based liquid or fat. (Those packed in sauces, we suggest, you don’t drain since these are what makes your canned food taste super.) These liquids not only keep your food preserved but it also helped in the canning process. It’s good to note that these liquids are edible and can be used in your recipes. Your decision to use the liquid may be dependant on the recipe you’re making. 


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One example is canned corned beef. Corned beef is usually packed with fat in it. There is no need to drain these cans of the fat since it’s part of the corned beef. Your basic tuna, however, is either canned in water or oil and both of these liquids could prove useful in your recipe. Are you sautéing the tuna? Drain the oil straight into the pan and use its oil for cooking the onions, garlic, and tomatoes before adding the tuna chunks in. 

Are you leveling up your afritada or pochero recipe perhaps and adding a can of garbanzos or chickpeas to bulk up the stew? Since these will be simmered and will need water, you can use the garbanzo water (or aquafaba) in your dish. The liquid from canned mushrooms and canned corn can also be added straight into the pot! You will not be reducing food waste, but you will also be adding extra mushroom or corn flavor to your dish! 

Photo by from Pixabay

4 Heating is optional. 

Canned food is ready-to-eat. Unless the canned food has gone bad, you can open a can and eat the food straight from the can with a spoon. Barbaric? Maybe but when you don’t have access to cooking appliances or perhaps you’re just too tired to more than open a can, this quality of canned food is what makes canned food so indispensable for the hassled cook. 


If you have any worries about a can of food that emits an odd odor, has mold or rust, or otherwise doesn’t look, taste, or even smell right, toss it out. Botulism is a rare but deadly toxin and the foodborne kind can be present in improperly canned food or contaminated cans. However, if you heed the tips and tricks in this guide, you should not only be safely eating a fantastic dish made with a can or two of canned food, but you may have just discovered the possibilities of using canned food more often in your cooking, too. 



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