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What are Boston Baked Beans?

By Kris Roudebush
Updated May 16, 2024
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Boston baked beans can be one of two delicious foods and they are as different from each other as any two foods can be. They are both a little sweet and unique. One is actually not a bean at all. The other is shared across the U.S. during summer holidays and can be as varied as the family gatherings where they are served. Interestingly enough, they're thought to have been first introduced to the Pilgrims by Native Americans.

Boston baked beans, the candy, aren't beans at all. They are peanuts with a sugar coating. Production of these misnamed treats started in the 1930's about the same time as Red Hots and by the same company, Ferrara Pan. Ferrara Pan might have been the company that brought you Boston Baked Beans, but the name applied to any sugar coated peanut. In fact, there were a lot of companies that vied for the Boston Baked Bean market. Ferrara Pan rose above them all and still reigns supreme.

Navy, haricot, or Boston beans, the official bean of Massachusetts, make up the main ingredient of Boston baked beans which refers to the dish that gave Boston it's nickname, Beantown. After beans the most common ingredients will be molasses or brown sugar, tomato sauce or ketchup and bacon. From there recipes can vary as onions, green peppers, dry mustard, soy sauce, and even pineapple are added for beans that are as unique to the families who created them.

The basic procedure in cooking Boston baked beans is to slow bake the beans with molasses, tomato sauce, bacon, and chosen spices in an earthenware pot for up to eight hours. This differed from the original Indian recipes, where beans were a staple, as Bostonians replaced maple syrup with molasses and bear fat with bacon or pork fat.

Molasses is the traditional ingredient because of the role Boston held in rum production. Even going back to colonial times, Boston had ample supplies of molasses because of it's role in making rum. Although it came in handy when making up a pot of Boston baked beans.

In 1919, that molasses supply got out of control and flooded the city. It was called The Great Molasses Flood of 1919, and would claim 21 lives and injure 150 people before it was all said and done. Molasses flooded the streets in thirty foot waves. Still, traditionalists will only use molasses in their Boston baked beans.

Despite the long hours of low heat required to make Boston baked beans, heat and a process that has more in common with winter foods than summer foods, July is National Baked Bean month. After all you just can't have a proper barbeque without Boston baked beans.

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Discussion Comments
By AnswerMan — On Mar 09, 2014

@Buster29, I can usually find large bags or boxes of Boston Baked Beans at grocery stores or drugstores, but the French Burnt Peanuts can be harder to find. I always thought Boston Baked Beans made great toppings on ice cream sundaes.

By Buster29 — On Mar 08, 2014

I remember the candy Boston Baked Beans were the first treat I ever got out of a penny candy dispenser other than gum. I had no idea they were available in boxes in store candy aisles. I thought they were the best peanuts every made. The only problem was finding them when they were at their freshest. Stale Boston Baked Bean candies tended to taste grainy and the peanuts would be soft. I also liked French Burnt Peanuts, which were similar in taste to Boston Baked Beans and tended to be a little crisper.

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