14 Ways To Add Flavor To Canned Refried Beans

Store-bought refried beans are an amazing option to keep on hand at home. You don't have to sit around for hours to soak and cook your beans. Thanks to canned refried beans, you just have to open the can, heat it up, and it's ready for your meal. They're not a one-flavor-fits-all either. These canned beans come in a range of options, from jalapeño to black beans instead of pinto. They're affordable and approachable. You don't have to feel overwhelmed by rinsing fresh beans, taking out any debris or rocks, and then cooking them for hours at a time. 

Consult this list if you're on the hunt for fun, fresh ways to add flavor to your canned beans with minimal effort. There's not one specific secret ingredient but many that can transform them from drab to distinctively delightful. Whether you want tart and sharp lime-infused beans for your torta or you have leftover herbs you want to finish before they wilt beyond recognition, there are plenty of options to jazz up canned refried beans. Grab whatever refried beans you have in your pantry, and get cooking.

Include a dollop or two of sour cream

Mix in some sour cream to make your canned refried beans silky. This quick hack makes your beans decadent with a melt-in-your-mouth feel. It adds a creamy texture and slightly tangy taste that can elevate your quesadillas, enchiladas, burritos, nachos, and more. The sour cream makes refried beans smooth and balanced, offering richness to the earthiness of the beans. 

For every 16 ounces of canned beans, you'll want to add around ⅓ to ½-cup of sour cream. Even if you're a sour cream fanatic, don't add much more than that; otherwise, it'll completely alter the taste of the beans and can make it runny. You want to add just enough to smooth out the texture but not so much so that it tastes like sour cream with some beans in it. Since sour cream gets added to many bean dishes anyway, it makes sense to mix it in rather than simply adding it on top. Add cotija cheese or hot sauce and serve on top of eggs, on toast with sliced avocado, or as a dip with tortilla chips. 

Squeeze in some lime juice

Lime is a staple in Mexican cooking. You'll find it on the side of nearly every taco or burrito. It's always available at the salsa bar at those fantastic hole-in-the-wall restaurants. It makes sense you can balance out the richness of canned refried beans by squeezing in lime. The tart, sharpness of the lime cuts through the density of the beans to give it a savory flavor. Feel free to use fresh lime, but pre-packed bottles of lime juice are fine as well. It's all about utilizing what you have at home to make canned beans even tastier. Fresh lime can be pretty strong, so you don't have to use a lot.

Since limes range in size and juiciness, there's no one size fits all on how much to add. Start small, then taste and squeeze until you get the desired flavor. The addition of limes also provides a good source of vitamin C and antioxidants. The acidity enhances the beans to give brightness, no matter whether you're using the beans as a dip for chips, a burrito filling, or a side dish.

Sautee onion and garlic

When in doubt, add onion and garlic. This iconic duo can make just about any dish taste better. Many instant pot refried bean recipes call for sauteed onion and garlic to give that pungent and garden-spicy burst of flavor. You could potentially cook the alliums in a fatty cut of meat leftover from your dish, such as a piece of pork from carnitas. Heat them until translucent, then add in your canned refried beans and mix everything thoroughly together. The beans should take only a couple of minutes to warm up since they're already fully cooked.

Garlic and onion will add a dimension to your beans as well as a bit of texture. Chop them finely if you don't want chunks, or go all out and blend everything together so it's completely smooth. These beans make a great addition to nearly any meal as they're packed with a depth that improves both flavor and aroma. The smell itself will entice your family to make their way into the kitchen to devour. Scoop a generous portion onto your nachos, burritos, or tacos, and dig in.

Experiment with warming spices

Canned refried beans don't have to taste dull. Warming spices such as cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and allspice are a good place to start, especially since failing to season canned beans is one of the biggest mistakes everyone makes. Unless you get a low-sodium version, beans usually contain salt, water, and bean starch, so the rest is up to you. Canned refried beans come as a blank slate, which allows you to customize them by seasoning them however you'd like — you're the chef here, and you call the shots.

While you're heating up your beans, sprinkle in your warming spices to taste. Start by adding spices you know you enjoy, but be open to the notion of experimentation. If you need a jump-off point, cumin or coriander pair well with savory foods. Cumin adds warmth and a slightly musky finish that tastes wonderful with any meat-based dish. You should keep with a less is more attitude, integrating additional spices one pinch at a time as you taste it. Stir everything together and let the beans simmer for a couple of minutes, which will allow the warming spices to infuse as they heat up.

Start with flavored refried beans

Canned refried beans come in more than one flavor. There are standard refried beans made with pinto beans and salt, but there are quite a few options out there for you to pick from. Start by keeping an eye out for a flavored version such as spicy jalapeño, green chile and lime, or refried black beans. Some are fat-free or low sodium, while others are prepared with coconut oil, lard, soybean oil, etc. These versions allow additional flexibility for your meals. 

You'll find different flavors readily available at the grocery store or online, but it's also a good idea to check Mexican grocers. You don't necessarily have to add flavor to your canned refried beans if it already comes with tasty options. Many of the canned beans also have simple seasonings to start, such as onion and garlic powder, so you can build off of them or leave them as is. All you have to do is grab your can opener and heat it up. Save yourself a bit of time and purchase already-flavored refried beans. 

Pack on the heat with fresh chiles

Give your refried beans a touch of spiciness with fresh chile peppers. There are many different types of chiles out there, so you can make it as mild or spicy as you desire. Do some research on the Scoville heat units (spice level) attributed to various popular peppers, like jalapeño, serrano, chile de árbol, habanero, and you can more accurately predict the intensity that will be given to your refried beans. Along with customizing the spice level based on the chile variety you choose, there are more subtle notes you can induce beyond the heat. For example, far below their fiery notes, habanero peppers have a bright, floral note that's different than the vegetal profile of something like serrano. 

Roast the peppers ahead of time in the oven or on a comal, then blend them in with the beans for a spicy plate of refried beans. Roasting will cut some of the heat down. To keep the fresh and full pungency, finely chop and mix your chiles into the beans. No matter which method or chiles you choose, be sure to keep your windows open and your kitchen fan on since the capsaicin molecules from the peppers can fly through the air. 

Mix in canned adobo sauce

Canned foods are all about convenience. Why not double up on the canned goods by using canned beans and canned sauce? Try refried beans with canned adobo sauce if you want a smoky, spicy bean. The canned adobo sauce is like a secret weapon that adds incredible flavor with minimal effort — just pop the top. There are several kinds of canned adobo sauce out there, and many come with whole chipotle peppers. 

If you're using a can with whole peppers, blend the adobo sauce and chipotle peppers until they are smooth, and then mix it into your beans for whipped texture. This will also tint your beans into a rich crimson color. The combination is delicious when served with meat such as grilled chicken or carne asada. You could also use just the sauce itself in your refried beans, which saves you the effort of having to process the whole peppers and makes the flavor a bit more mild and approachable.

Cook with broth for deeper flavor

Beef, chicken, or vegetable broth can be used to integrate a new level of flavor into your beans. The broth will also alter the consistency so it will be smoother; this is where you can customize exactly how much liquid you'd like to integrate into your beans. If your canned refried beans have a little bit of water already, drain that and replace it with the broth. The broth deepens the flavor of your beans and gives them some dimension without overwhelming them.

Unlike adding chiles or tons of herbs, cooking your beans in broth won't completely change the taste. It'll simply deepen the flavor and act as a stepping stone for how you ultimately eat the beans. Although using this method to add flavor to your canned refried beans will make them thinner, broth-cooked beans can be used for just about anything, such as tacos, burritos, enchiladas, or as a side dish with meat and rice. It's an easy upgrade with no downside.

Prepare with epazote leaf

Epazote leaf is an essential ingredient in Mexican cooking. You can find this herb in the Latin market or online. When purchasing online, it'll often come as the dried version, which is perfect if you want to have some for your spice cabinet without worrying about freshness. You could potentially shop online for a live plant if you want to add it to your garden. Epazote adds depth of flavor to beans, stews, soups, and more. It's on the more unique side as far as herbs with an almost anise or licorice-like taste with hints of oregano and creosote. While the raw flavor can be described as medicinal, when combined with such an umami-full side, it provides an earthiness to complement beans. 

You can use both the leaves and stems of this plant for your beans, so there's minimal waste or cleanup. No need to chop epazote leaves; simply wash them and chuck the whole thing into your beans as you warm them up. If you would like extra aromatics and texture in your beans, you can roughly chop them and also top your beans with them, like a fresh herb garnish.

Simmer your beans

Don't wait until the last minute to add canned beans to a dish since heat can alter the taste of your beans. Canned beans come cooked and ready to devour, but rather than simply heating your beans until they're warm, allot extra time for them to simmer and absorb any flavors and liquids. Heat your beans on the stove, reduce the heat, and allow them to simmer for several minutes. Once simmered, turn off the heat, give the beans another stir so it doesn't stick to the pan, and then let it rest for extra flavor.

This technique adds flavor to your canned refried bean by letting the flavors blend and develop for a few extra minutes, which is particularly helpful if you add any ingredients, herbs, or aromatics. No matter what, you're still saving yourself the time of cooking beans from scratch. This upgrade is also particularly useful if you want to keep the beans simple for use in the base of a dish, such as on tostadas. It doesn't overpower or change the taste in a huge way; it just makes it taste better. 

Don't skimp on the aromatic herbs

Unleash the power of aromatics by trying fresh herbs like cilantro, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, thyme, or bay leaf. Aromatic herbs are notorious for their ability to change the flavor and aroma of a dish. While fresh is more potent as a garnish, dried versions of any of these herbs will give you a stronger flavor while cooking. Consider the profile you want, as each herb will provide something different. Try fresh oregano in your beans if you're making menudo or cilantro if you're making birria. Sage will add an earthy, peppery taste, while parsley can impart more of a neutral, garden-fresh profile.

Aromatic herbs will make your beans burst with flavor, taking canned refried beans from a convenience food to a tempting side dish. Remember that you can finely mince both the leaves and stems of these aromatic herbs to get the most and reduce food waste. If you want to consume your refried beans without small pieces of plant matter mixed in, use fresh herbs still attached to the stalk while cooking, then remove them when you're ready to eat. Skimping on aromatics is one of the most common mistakes everyone makes with beans.

Season with chili powder

Chili powder is versatile and affordable and brings a breadth of flavor to just about any dish, whether you're seasoning meat, vegetables, or stews. It's a scrumptious blend of spicy, savory, and a wee bit earthy, making it one of those spices that you'll keep reaching for. While it may sound straightforward, chili powder is actually a blend of spices such as ground paprika, cayenne, garlic, cumin, coriander, oregano, and salt. The chili powder ingredients can range based on the brand you buy, so look at the nutrition label to figure out exactly what's in it. Some have cloves and allspice for even more warmth to enhance the taste of your beans. 

If you're in the mood to make chili powder yourself, many Latin and Hispanic markets have a section specifically with dried chiles. Pulse, blend, or grind them along with paprika, cayenne, garlic, and salt to make a homemade chili powder blend. Try chile de árbol if you want smoky, rich chile or dried pasilla chiles to pair well with mole or salsas. Sprinkle a generous amount into your beans as they heat up, and serve with chilaquiles, grilled shrimp, or carnitas.

Make your beans creamy with milk

If you want your side dish to be silkier but without the tanginess of sour cream, start adding milk to your refried beans. Begin by adding just a small amount of milk to your beans so you can get a feel for the consistency. If you have a standard 15-ounce can, use a ⅓-cup of milk and then add more as needed. It's up to you if you prefer a softer and looser refried beans or if you want the mix to hold its texture. 

A loose consistency is great if you're making enfrijoladas or something where runny beans are part of the dish. If you need something where the beans keep their texture without leaking out, like a burrito, keep the milk minimal. Depending on the milk you use, the flavor of your canned refried beans can be easily shifted, whether that's skim, 2%, whole milk, or even oat milk. Half and half will provide a more decadent, opulent taste, whereas skim milk will give it a slightly creamy base without taking over the flavor. 

Add a bit of fat

Fat can add flavor to your beans. Luckily, there's no shortage of options to achieve this, and you probably have a few of them already in your refrigerator or cabinet. You can use olive oil, lard, bacon, beef bones, sausage, or a fatty piece of meat such as a ham hock or steak to rev up the flavor of your beans. While there are many tips for cooking beans, the addition of fat gives your refried beans a luxurious taste. 

Different types of fat will offer unique flavor profiles to canned refried beans. Bacon fat can impart smokiness, while olive oil will be slightly more neutral. Start by heating your pan and then adding your fat to allow it to cook and unlock the flavor. For example, you'll want the bacon to cook before integrating your beans in order to allow the natural oils to release. After heating your fat of choice, open your can, pour, and stir everything together to allow the flavors to meld together. Amplify your beans to a new level with a touch of fat.