This Brand of Canned Beans is Hiding a Surprising Ingredient


My husband went to the store a few weeks ago to pick up the fixin’s for a week’s worth of dinners: eggs, cheese, broccoli, bread, and beans for burritos. He came back with two cans of La Costena brand beans. And while he was scanning the ingredient list for non-vegetarian ingredients (Thanks honey, no lard in these beans!) he missed a most curious addition to the list:


Monosodium glutamate.

La Costena beans

The ingredient that infamously makes Chinese food so delicious. I know beans (whole and refried) tend toward the bland, but there are easy flavour remedies that don’t include MSG (see our family recipe below!).

MSG is an interesting food additive because it does actually occur naturally in some foods; namely seaweed and meat. It provides that savoury “umami” flavour scientists recently discovered and which makes bacon-lovers froth at the mouth. And it’s the reason that, no matter how hard you I try, I can’t replicate the flavour of Cool Ranch Doritos without it.

Just because MSG can occur naturally doesn’t mean it belongs in other random foods.


I think of it this way: I drink coffee, which contains naturally occurring caffeine, but I don’t drink or eat other foods that have caffeine added. In its natural matrix, I’m fine with it. But start removing components from one food and adding them to another and you cross into processed food territory.

Also, it’s just lazy. Add some herbs and spices, why don’cha!

La Costena beans can that says "no preservatives"

Don’t worry about that MSG; at least there are no preservatives!

When making beans for burritos we find it worthwhile to go one step farther than opening a can. Here’s our easy family recipe, which takes all of 10 minutes to prepare.

Easy Homemade Bean Burritos Recipe

Refried bean burrito

Makes 4 burritos.


  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 fresh jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)
  • 1 (400 ml) can beans (refried pinto or black beans or whole kidney beans), or about 1½ cups home-cooked beans
  • 1-2 Tbsp. chili powder


  1. Heat the oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
  3. Add the garlic and peppers and stir. Cook a few minutes more.
  4. Add the beans and chili powder.
  5. Heat through and serve on whole wheat flour tortillas. Top with cheese, avocado, tomato, green onions, lettuce, and sour cream.

References and reading:

  • On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee (2004)


  1. Elaine Harris says:

    Glad to know about the MSG. Many of us cannot consume it without getting splitting headaches and pain down the arm.

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