A Delicious Naturally Sweetened Baked Beans Recipe

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Baked Beans Recipe

Homemade baked beans are a must! And once you make this baked beans recipe, you’ll never go back to the overly sweet and metallic tasting beans from a can.

Bring On The Beans

Let’s talk about beans for a minute.

They’re quite nutritious: packing lots of iron, protein, B vitamins, potassium, and fiber.

They’re inexpensive and filling.

A side of baked beans completes any summer cookout. It’s the perfect accompaniment to burgers, brats, chicken, or ribs. You name it! If we’re summer grilling, I love having my coleslaw and baked beans.

Why You Should Make This Homemade Baked Beans Recipe

There was a day when I would pop open a can of baked beans for a quick side dish. But once I started making this homemade baked beans recipe, I couldn’t go back to the overly sweet and slightly metallic tasting canned beans.

In addition, the canned beans pack lots of added sugars, caramel color, and the ubiquitous “natural flavor.”

How To Make Homemade Baked Beans

Making homemade baked beans is incredibly simple. Yes, it does take a bit of time, but most of that time is hands off. So, you can just pop your beans in the oven and enjoy the comforting aroma as you go about your day.

  • First, the beans need to be soaked overnight and cooked until tender.
  • While the beans cook, prepare the flavoring sauce.
  • Then, mix the tender beans with the sauce.
  • Finally, bake those beans!
  • And then, bake them some more.

Baking beans in a Dutch oven or oven-proof casserole dish (with an oven-proof lid) cooks the beans slowly, infusing them with flavor, and caramelizing all the sugars in the dish into rich, golden perfection.

Should I Soak Beans In Salt Water?

In a word, YES!

If you’re used to working with dried beans, then you know that soaking them overnight is the best way to reduce the cooking time.

With an overnight soak, the beans absorb the water and begin to soften.

I’ve always been told not to add salt to that soaking water, because it would supposedly toughen the beans.

Apparently, there’s a new thinking now that you actually should add salt to your bean soaking liquid.

Here’s the science, if you want to geek out with me for a minute:

Bean skins contain both magnesium and calcium ions. These ions keep the skins firm. By soaking the beans in salt water, the sodium swaps places with the calcium, turning the firm skins into softer skins.

These softer skins can expand at the same rate as the inside of the bean as it is cooked, which means the skins of the beans won’t burst during cooking!

I don’t know about you, but when I learned this, my mind was blown!

And, of course, I had to put it to the test. Well, guess what? It’s true.

The beans that I soaked in salt water stayed whole and didn’t burst nearly as much as the beans I soaked in plain water. This is perfect for baked beans, because you want the beans to stay whole, even though you’re cooking them for an extended time.

Naturally Sweetened Baked Beans

These baked beans only use 1 tablespoon of molasses.

You read that right.

Most of the sweetness in these beans comes from chopped dates and diced apples. The dates add that deep sweetness that you would typically get from molasses, and the apple lifts the sweetness just enough to create a fun play of flavors.

If you like your beans on the sweeter side, feel free to add another tablespoon of molasses (or even maple syrup… more on that below).

Customize This Baked Beans Recipe

What I love about this baked beans recipe (after the fact that it uses all natural sugars) is that it really is a basic recipe that can be used as a starting point to make baked beans that fit your cravings and preferences.

Here are some of our favorite variations:

  • Add 1-2 tablespoons of maple syrup if you love the maple flavor in baked beans.
  • Make them vegetarian by swapping the bacon for 2 tablespoons oil of your choice to cook the onions.
  • Add ¼ – ½ cup organic tomato puree if you like tomato-y beans.
  • Add ¼ teaspoon (or more) of red pepper flakes if you like your beans to have a kick.
  • Add 1 teaspoon paprika if you like your beans really smoky.
  • Add 1-2 tablespoon additional molasses if you like your beans sweeter or deeper.

You get the picture! There are so many possibilities!

Can I Make Baked Beans In The Slow Cooker?

Yes, you can make baked beans in the slow cooker.

However, the temperature isn’t quite the same as cooking them in the oven. I have found that the beans don’t get quite the same deep, caramelized flavor when they are made in the slow cooker. And, I find that I need to leave them to cook with the lid slightly ajar for much longer (up to 6-8 hours) in order for the moisture to reduce. (If you like saucier beans, this might not be considered a bad thing though!)

Baked beans are still tasty when made in the slow cooker. But, (in my opinion) they are much better if you can commit to making them the traditional way.

Baked Beans Recipe: Sweetened Naturally

Prep: 1 hour | Cook: 2½ hours | Yield: 6 cups beans | Serves: 12


The night before:

To make the beans:


  1. The night before you plan to make your baked beans, soak the beans for 8-12 hours in a large soup pot covered with 2 quarts of water mixed with 2 tablespoons salt.
  2. After soaking overnight, drain the soaking water from the beans. Cover the beans with an inch of fresh water. Cover the pot and bring the beans to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until beans are just tender, 30-45 min.
  3. Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  4. In a large Dutch oven, sauté the bacon over medium-high heat until it begins to turn golden, 3-5 minutes.
  5. Add the onion and sauté until it starts to turn golden, 2-3 min.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and add the diced apple. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
  7. Add the chopped dates. Mix well. Add the molasses, mustard, salt, pepper, and cloves. Finally, add the vinegar and mix well.
  8. Drain the beans.
  9. Add the cooked beans to the Dutch oven, along with 2 cups of water. Mix well. Cover and bake for 1 hour, stirring halfway through.
  10. After 1 hour, reduce your oven’s heat to 250°F. Stir the beans, add more water if they look dry, cover, and return them to the oven to bake for 1 hour.
  11. Stir the beans again, and return them to the oven, uncovered, to bake for 30 minutes more. Remove from the oven when the top is caramelized and the liquid is reduced to a level that you like it.

A Vegetarian Baked Beans Recipe

Making these beans vegetarian is quite easy; simply omit the bacon and use 2 tablespoons of your oil of choice to sauté the onion.


About Sarah Ozimek

Sarah is a writer, recipe developer, traveler, gardener, and lover of (almost) all things outdoors. Together with her husband Tim, she writes the blog Curious Cuisiniere where they explore world cuisines and cooking using real ingredients and tried and true methods, the way our ancestors have done for ages. Connect with Sarah on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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  1. Lynda says

    This recipe intrigued me as I have mainly made Boston Baked Beans or a BQ type baked bean. While using dry beans isn’t new to me, adding the salt was. Anyway I made the beans today. And what a huge success. My other half loved them and told me he didn’t mind in the least if I only made this type of baked beans forever. It was such a change from the tomato, ketchup, BQ based baked beans I have been making for years. This recipe is a keeper, to be duplicated again and again and again.

  2. Susan Kirby says

    Soaking beans is needed to rid your beans of phytic acid, not just to reduce cooking time. If salt trades places with the calcium why would you want that? I want the calcium, so is it gone when you add the salt? I would like your opinions or research on that. Thank you.

  3. Ellen Ribolla says

    It would be so nice to have a link to copy for saving this recipe.