The mashed bean dish that is a staple of Mexican cuisine is known as “refried beans”. Refried beans, or frijoles refritos in Spanish, are a dish made from pinto beans or other varieties that have been cooked, mashed, and then fried again. They are a popular side dish and ingredient in many Mexican foods.
What Are Refried Beans?
Refried beans start with dried pinto beans that are soaked overnight and then cooked until very soft, either on the stove or in a pressure cooker. Once the beans are cooked through, they are mashed or puréed until smooth. The beans are then fried in oil, usually with onion, garlic, and spices added for more flavor. Sometimes lard is used for frying which adds a distinctive taste.
As the beans cook in the hot oil, they absorb the flavors and become the soft, creamy dish known as refried beans. The term “refried” is a bit misleading – the beans aren’t fried twice, but the process of mashing and then frying gives them their distinctive melted, spreadable texture that is different from whole cooked beans.
Refried beans can be smooth or chunky depending on personal preference. Adding some of the whole cooked beans back into the mashed mixture will give the dish a chunkier texture. The beans are typically fried in enough oil to make them spreadable but not greasy.
Common Ingredients in Refried Beans
While the main ingredients in refried beans are cooked pinto beans, oil, and salt, many other seasonings are often added as well:
- Onion – Finely chopped yellow or white onion is sautéed at the start to add flavor.
- Garlic – Like onion, minced garlic adds extra flavor to the dish.
- Cumin – Ground cumin is a key seasoning and brings a warm, earthy flavor.
- Chili Powder – A touch of chili powder brings mild heat.
- Epazote – This herb has a unique, almost medicinal flavor and is traditionally added to beans in Mexico.
- Cilantro – Chopped cilantro leaves add freshness.
- Jalapeño – For extra heat, add minced jalapeño pepper.
- Bacon grease – Some recipes use bacon fat for a smoky, rich flavor.
The variety of spices and herbs added to refried beans can vary widely depending on regional or family traditions. But onion and cumin almost always form the flavor base.
Differences Between Fried Beans and Refried Beans
There are some key differences between whole fried beans and refried beans:
- Fried beans are cooked pinto beans that are simply fried whole in oil until softened with onions, garlic, and seasonings.
- Refried beans start with fried whole beans, but are then mashed and fried again to get their smooth, spreadable texture.
- Refried beans absorb more oil and seasoning flavors since they are fried twice.
- Refried beans have a softer, creamier consistency compared to the whole bean texture of fried beans.
So in summary, refried beans go through an extra step of mashing and second frying to become the soft, spreadable side dish that is an essential Mexican staple.
Ways to Use Refried Beans
Here are some of the most common ways to enjoy refried beans:
- As a side dish – Refried beans are often served as a side for enchiladas, tacos, burritos, and other Mexican food dishes.
- As a dip – Topped with cheese, they make a great chip dip.
- In burritos and tacos – They are an essential filling in burritos and can also be used in tacos.
- In enchiladas – Cheese enchiladas are often rolled up with refried beans in addition to cheese.
- In tostadas – Spread on flat crispy tostada shells and topped with lettuce, cheese, etc.
- In chilaquiles – Typically served on the side for this popular tortilla and salsa casserole.
- As a topping – Used as a topping for nachos, baked potatoes, tostadas, and more.
- In soups – Some Mexican soups and stews contain refried beans.
Refried beans can also be used to make vegetarian versions of Mexican dishes by substituting for meat in recipes.
Unique Types of Refried Beans
While pinto beans are most common, refried beans can also be made with other varieties of beans, including:
- Black beans – Whole cooked black beans mashed and fried make dark, earthy colored refried black beans.
- Black-eyed peas – Used in African-influenced Mexican cooking.
- Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) – These make a great gluten-free option.
- White beans like cannellini – Have a buttery flavor when refried.
- Fava beans – Popular in central and southern Mexico.
Some regions in Mexico have their own special types of refried beans that are tied to local culinary traditions. For example, a popular dish in Oaxaca is refried black beans flavored with avocado leaves.
Nutrition Information of Refried Beans
Refried beans are packed with nutrition:
- High in protein – Just under 8g protein per 1/2 cup serving.
- High in fiber – Approximately 5g of dietary fiber per serving, supporting good digestion.
- Low glycemic index – The complex carbohydrates break down slowly, preventing spikes in blood sugar.
- Iron – Provides about 10% RDI of iron per serving.
- Potassium – Around 13% RDI of the essential mineral potassium.
- Magnesium and zinc – Contains around 11% RDI of magnesium and zinc.
- Low fat – Only 1g of fat per serving if made without lard.
Like other beans and legumes, refried beans are a very healthy plant-based protein that fits well into a balanced diet.
How to Make Refried Beans from Scratch
Making your own homemade refried beans is simple. Here is an easy recipe:
- 1 pound dried pinto beans
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- Water for cooking
- Salt to taste
- Rinse the dried beans and remove any debris. Soak the beans fully submerged in water overnight.
- Drain the soaked beans and place them in a pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 1-2 hours until very soft.
- Once the beans are cooked through, drain them and set aside the cooking liquid. Mash the beans well with a potato masher or fork.
- In another pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute.
- Add the mashed beans, spices, and 1/2 cup of the bean cooking liquid. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring and mashing frequently, until the beans become a smooth, spreadable texture.
- Remove from heat and add salt to taste. Add more cooking liquid as needed to reach the desired consistency.
Adjust the spices according to your taste preferences. Serve warm with your favorite Mexican foods and enjoy!
Canned vs. Homemade Refried Beans
While canned refried beans are quick and convenient, homemade allows you to control the ingredients and offers some advantages:
Benefits of Homemade:
- No additives or preservatives
- Use higher quality ingredients
- Adjust spice flavors to taste
- Highly nutritious
- Can use different bean varieties
- Slightly creamier, smoother texture
Benefits of Canned:
- Very fast and convenient
- Consistent flavor
- Long shelf life
- Low cost
- Easily accessible
Canned refried beans can work perfectly well in many dishes. But homemade allows for more variety and control over the ingredients used. Overall, homemade refried beans have a fresher taste and texture.
Popular Brands of Refried Beans
Some of the top brands for commercially made canned refried beans include:
|Rosarita||A very popular brand, available in original and low fat versions.|
|Old El Paso||Mildly spiced flavor, also makes fat free refried black beans.|
|Taco Bell||Mild beans meant to replicate those used at Taco Bell restaurants.|
|Bush’s Best||Their “traditional” recipe has a touch of added bacon flavor.|
|Santa Fe Bean Co.||Organic refried beans with no added fat or preservatives.|
Most major supermarket chains also offer their own store brand versions. Shoppers can choose standard, low sodium, or fat-free bean options depending on their dietary needs.
Refried Beans Around the World
While refried beans originated in Mexican cuisine, they have become popular globally due to the rising popularity of Tex-Mex and Latin American food worldwide. Some examples of refried beans internationally include:
- American Southwestern cuisine – Found frequently in Tex-Mex restaurants.
- Philippines – Mashed mung beans similar to refried beans are used in dishes like munggo guisado.
- India – Some dishes use puréed urad dal which has a similar texture.
- Brazilian Feijoada – Includes smashed black beans somewhat similar to refried.
- Portuguese cuisine – Refogado beans have some similarities with a mashed bean texture.
- Middle Eastern Ful medames – Fava beans are mashed but have a chunkier texture.
So while not exactly the same as Mexican style frijoles refritos, many global food cultures have adapted the basic idea of mashed fried beans in their local cuisines.
Interesting Facts About Refried Beans
Here are some fun facts about this iconic bean dish:
- The term “refritos” in Spanish actually means “well fried” not “re-fried.”
- Consumption of refried beans dates back hundreds of years to the Aztec Empire.
- Traditionally lard was used for frying but vegetable oil is now more common.
- Friday was known as “Refried Beans Day” in some parts of old Mexico.
- They have become an cultural icon and even have their own museum exhibit at the Smithsonian.
- National Refried Beans Day is celebrated on June 6th in the US.
Clearly refried beans hold an esteemed place in Mexican culinary heritage and pop culture both within Mexico and abroad!
Refried beans are a cherished staple of authentic Mexican cooking, with a history stretching back centuries. While refrying techniques may vary, their smooth, spreadable texture and robust flavor remain a distinctive component of dishes across Mexico. Their popularity has also spread globally along with Mexican food. Whether you prefer making them from scratch or opening a can, refried beans are a tasty tradition with an amazing legacy.