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How To Thicken Refried Beans – I Try 9 Methods [Pics]

If you’re staring at a soupy, watery bowl of refried beans, you need a solution – and fast!

I have personally experimented with 9 different thickening techniques, to see what delivers the best consistency, without impacting the flavor.

Say hello to perfectly thick and creamy refried beans! No soupiness in sight!

In a rush? Here’s the short answer.

The best way to thicken refried beans is to cook them for longer. Heat the beans in a saucepan on a low heat, stirring frequently until your desired consistency is reached. Other methods for thickening refried beans include frying the beans, using a cornstarch slurry, and adding extra beans.

A note on my experiment

I cooked up a big (delicious) batch of refried beans making sure to add more water than recommended so they ended up a little soupy. 

Then I tested nine different ways of thickening the beans up.

9 ways to thicken refried beans:

  • Cooking the beans for longer
  • Frying the beans in a skillet
  • Adding a cornstarch slurry (can be subbed for flour or arrowroot powder)
  • Adding a beurre manie (mixture of flour and butter)
  • Adding some extra mashed beans
  • Adding some xanthan gum
  • Adding potato flakes (instant mash)
  • Leaving the beans to thicken in the fridge
  • Straining the beans in a cheesecloth or sieve

My favorite options were adding more beans, cooking the beans for longer (either in a pan or a skillet), or using a cornstarch slurry. 

Xanthan gum is fast and effective, but you have to be careful not to add too much.

Adding a beurre manie or potato flakes worked well but dulled the flavor of the beans.

Leaving the beans to thicken in the fridge will only work if you don’t need much thickening.

Straining the beans just left me with a load of skins and onions.

Results summary

MethodThickening powerVerdictRating
Cook for longerMediumVery easy but relatively slow9/10
Fry the beansMedium-strongGives the beans a bit of crunch8/10
Cornstarch slurryVery strongWorks well, alternatives include flour and arrowroot powder8/10
Beurre manie (flour and butter)StrongWorks well, need to cook off the flour flavor7/10
Extra beansMedium-weakCan use any beans but need a decent amount7/10
Xanthan gumExtremely strongQuick and effective, but potential to go wrong8/10
Instant mash (potato flakes)StrongWorks bests for light thickening, can dull flavors6/10
Leave the beans in the fridgeWeakSlow and not very effective2/10
Strain the beansWeakDifficult if the beans are already mashed1/10

Thickening refried beans by cooking the beans for longer

Rating: 9/10

Thickening power: medium

Taste/texture: flavors became more concentrated, no texture change

Cooking the beans for longer allows the excess liquid to evaporate, leaving you with thick, creamy beans.

How to thicken refried beans by cooking them for longer:

  1. Transfer the beans to a saucepan and heat them on a low heat with no lid.
  2. Stir every minute or two to prevent the beans from burning or sticking to the pan.
  3. Keep heating and stirring the mixture until it reaches your desired consistency.

It can be tempting to turn the heat up to get the liquid to evaporate faster, but this massively increases the chances of your beans burning.

Also, you might find that the moisture evaporates off too fast, and your beans will dry out.

How long you need to heat the beans depends on how watery they are. 5 minutes will be enough for a light thickening, but you might be waiting 15-20 minutes for a significantly thicker mixture.

Verdict

This was the simplest of all the methods I tried.

It didn’t involve any extra ingredients or much effort which is why I gave it the highest rating.

However, it isn’t instant like some other methods.

Thickening refried beans by frying them in a skillet

Rating: 8/10

Thickening power: medium-strong

Taste/texture: flavors became more concentrated, slight crunch

A quicker alternative to cooking the beans for longer is to fry them in a pan. 

How to thicken refried beans in a skillet:

  1. Heat some neutral-tasting oil or butter in a skillet on a medium heat.
  2. Add the refried beans a few scoops at a time and fry them in the pan until they’ve reached your desired consistency.
  3. Stir continuously.

This method works better with smaller quantities. You want to be able to stir all the beans easily, so nothing gets burnt. 

If you have a lot of beans to thicken, fry them in batches. 

You could even choose to only fry half the mixture and reduce it until it’s really thick, then stir this back into the original runnier mixture to reach a middle ground.

Verdict

This method gave the beans more of a ‘just-fried’ taste and added some texture in the form of crispy bits of bean. 

The only annoying thing was having to dirty another pan (the skillet).

Thickening refried beans with a cornstarch slurry

Rating: 8/10

Thickening power: very strong

Taste/texture: no change in taste, no change in texture unless you add a lot

Cornstarch is a well-known thickener, you need to mix it with water first and then add it to hot beans. It won’t thicken a cold mixture.

Flour and arrowroot powder are good substitutes if you don’t have cornstarch.

How to thicken refried beans with a cornstarch slurry:

  1. Mix together equal parts cornstarch and cold water (e.g. one tablespoon of each) until they form a smooth paste. Using one tablespoon of each will give you enough slurry to thicken 1-2 cups of liquid.
  2. Heat your refried beans to the point of simmering.
  3. Slowly mix the cornstarch slurry into the beans, constantly stirring to keep it lump-free
  4. Allow the slurry to work for around 2 minutes before assessing the thickness of the beans.
  5. If the beans aren’t thick enough, add some more slurry.

Don’t heat the beans for too long after you’ve added the cornstarch slurry because it will eventually thin out again. 

The same goes for heating the beans past boiling point – this reverses the thickening effect of the cornstarch. 

Be aware that using a lot of cornstarch can give the beans a glossy finish and more of a gooey texture.

Also, avoid using cornstarch if you want to freeze the refried beans because it gets a funny texture after freezing.

If you don’t have cornstarch (or want to freeze the mixture), you can substitute it for a different starch-based thickener.

  • Arrowroot powder has a similar thickening ability, so it’s a 1:1 sub. It’s a good gluten-free alternative. 
  • Potato starch is another 1:1 substitute.
  • Flour is a popular option, but you’ll need to use double the amount, so a one tablespoon slurry will thicken a maximum of one cup of liquid.
  • Rice flour or tapioca flour are good alternative flour options. Again, you’ll need to use double the amount.

All of these substitutes are fine for freezing. With the flour options, you’ll have to cook the refried beans for an extra few minutes to cook off any raw flour flavor.

Verdict

Cornstarch worked well for me.

It was easy to make the slurry, and the mixture thickened quickly. Cornstarch doesn’t taste of much so it didn’t affect the flavor of the beans.

Thickening refried beans with a beurre manie

Rating: 7/10

Thickening power: strong

Taste/texture: Taste slightly richer due to the butter, no change in texture

A beurre manie is a 1:1 mixture of flour and butter. It’s similar to a roux, but you don’t need to cook it before adding it to your mixture.

How to thicken refried beans with a beurre manie:

  1. Measure out equal parts flour and softened butter by volume (e.g one tablespoon of each, which will be enough to thicken 1 cup of liquid). Don’t microwave the butter. Soften it with your hands if needed. 
  2. Mix the flour and butter together until you have a smooth paste. This is your beurre manie.
  3. Heat your beans until the point of simmering.
  4. Take a few tablespoons of the refried beans mixture and mix it into the beurre manie until there are no lumps.
  5. Then take this mixture and slowly mix it back into the main pot of refried beans.
  6. Wait 2-3 minutes for the thickener to take effect before deciding if you need to add more.
  7. Simmer the mixture for 5 minutes after adding the last of the beurre manie to cook off any raw flour flavor (or do this by taste).

Making a smaller mixture with some of the refried beans and the beurre manie helps ensure the final product is smooth and doesn’t have lumps of flour in it.

Always taste the mixture before you finish cooking it to make sure you can’t taste any raw flour. If you can, keep heating it until the flavor cooks off.

You might be wondering…

What’s the difference between a flour and water slurry and a beurre manie?

There are two main differences:

  1. A beurre manie is less likely to clump than a flour and water slurry because the butter coats the flour particles helping incorporate them into the dish.
  2. The butter in the beurre manie adds a hint of richness.

Verdict

This method thickened the mixture well, and the extra butter added a nice richness to the beans which I enjoyed.

If you need to add a lot of flour be aware it can dull the other flavors slightly.

Thickening refried beans by adding extra beans

Rating: 7/10

Thickening power: medium-weak

Taste/texture: dilutes flavors, no texture change

If you have a spare can of beans in the cupboard, you can use these to thicken your refried beans.

How to thicken refried beans with extra beans:

  1. Drain a can of beans (or cook some and drain them).
  2. Mash or puree the beans, using some olive oil to help get a smooth texture if needed, but don’t add too much liquid.
  3. Mix the dry mashed beans into your refried beans.
  4. Taste the mixture and add some more seasoning to taste.

It doesn’t matter what kind of beans you add at this stage because they’re not going to make up the bulk of the dish. Just use whatever’s in your cupboard, whether that’s black beans, kidney beans, butterbeans, chickpeas, etc.

A downside of this solution is that it’s only convenient if you have canned beans. If you only have dried beans, you’ll have to wait another hour or two for them to cook.

Also, adding extra unseasoned beans will dilute the flavors and could result in a dull dish. Always taste the dish after you’ve added the beans and see if it needs some more flavor.

Verdict

This method had one massive upside – more refried beans!

But, it involved a fair bit of effort because I had to mash the extra beans by hand.

I’ve rated it weak effectiveness because you need a lot of beans to make a big difference. This method’s best if your beans only need a slight thickening. 

Thickening refried beans with xanthan gum

Rating: 8/10

Thickening power: extremely strong

Taste/texture: no change in flavor, no texture change (unless you add too much)

Xanthan gum is a popular keto-friendly thickener and is super powerful. 

So powerful that the main danger is over-thickening your sauce. Too much xanthan gum will turn your refried beans horrible and gummy.

But if you don’t overdo it, xanthan gum is the fastest and most effective method you can use.

How to thicken refried beans with xanthan gum:

  1. Weigh your refried beans and make a note of the results (see notes below if you can’t weigh the beans)
  2. For a light thickening, weigh out 0.5% of the total weight of the beans in xanthan gum. For a heavy thickening, you can use up to 1% of the total weight of the beans. 
  3. Create a vortex in your refried beans with a whisk and sprinkle the xanthan gum into the vortex as you continue to whisk (alternatively, use a blender).
  4. Continue whisking for 20-30 seconds. The sauce should have thickened. If you want it thicker, add some more xanthan gum.

If you don’t want to bother with weighing, then just go pinch by pinch. As a general guide, 1/8th of a teaspoon of xanthan gum will moderately thicken 1 cup of sauce. A ¼ of a teaspoon will give you a heavier thickening.

A significant advantage of xanthan gum is that it works with hot or cold liquids, so there’s no need to heat your refried beans before adding it.

It’s important to add the xantham gum while the beans are moving because the powder will clump as soon as it hits liquid. If you sprinkle it over the beans and stir slowly, the xanthan gum won’t disperse properly, and you’ll get gummy lumps in your beans.

Verdict

Xanthan gum is a magic ingredient. It thickened my beans instantly and didn’t affect the taste at all.

I’ve used xanthan gum before so I knew not to add too much, but if you do, then you’ll ruin your refried beans. There’s no coming back from too much xanthan gum.

If you’ve never used it before, I suggest practicing on a small portion of beans first, so you get an idea of how much you need to add to see an effect. 

Thickening refried beans with potato flakes

Rating: 6/10

Thickening power: strong

Taste/texture: dulls flavor slightly, add too much and the texture can turn grainy

I never eat instant mashed potatoes, but I always have a packet of instant potatoes in my cupboard reserved for emergency thickening.

When you add potato flakes to a liquid, they absorb said liquid and expand, thickening the sauce.

How to reheat refried beans with potato flakes:

  1. Heat your beans to the point of simmering.
  2. Add in a small amount of potato flakes and stir until well incorporated. One tablespoon of flakes will thicken one cup of sauce.
  3. Wait 2-3 minutes for the potato flakes to take full effect.
  4. Check the thickness of the beans and add more potato flakes if needed.
  5. Taste the mixture and and season.

Potato flakes have the potential to dull the flavors of your dish, but you can always add more spices and seasoning to counteract this.

What you can’t change is the texture of the potato flakes. If you add too many, they’ll give your refried beans a grainy mouth-feel.

Verdict

This method works well for light thickening, but I don’t recommend it for heavy thickening.

Too many potato flakes will change the texture of your beans and dull the flavor.

Thickening refried beans by leaving them in the fridge

Rating: 2/10

Thickening power: weak

Taste/texture: no change in taste or texture

Refried beans naturally dry out and thicken as they cool. The effect will be more pronounced the more fat you have in the beans because the fat will harden as it cools.

One suggestion for thickening the beans was to leave them in the fridge for a bit. So I tried this, but after an hour nothing had really happened, so I put the beans in the freezer for a blast of cold air.

20 minutes later the beans were slightly thicker, but nothing very noticeable.

Verdict

If you don’t plan on eating the beans until the next day and you only want a light thickening – the fridge might work.

But if you want to eat the beans soon and they need a fair bit of thickening, the fridge isn’t going to cut it.

Thickening refried beans by straining them

Rating: 1/10

Thickening power: weak

Taste/texture: no change in taste, leaves lots of onions and bean skins behind

If the beans are really watery, a good start is to put them into a sieve or cheesecloth and let the excess water drain out.

But this method only works if your beans aren’t fully mashed yet. If you’ve already mashed or pureed the beans, I don’t recommend this method.

Verdict

This method didn’t work for me.

It thickened the bean mixture, but all I was left with was bean skins and onions. If I’d pureed my beans, I would have had nothing left!

Tips for next time (how to avoid soupy refried beans)

The main reason people end up with ‘soupy’ refried beans is using too much liquid, so here’s a tip for next time.

To have total control over the thickness of the beans, drain all the cooking water into a separate bowl and slowly add it back in while you mash or puree the beans. 

It’s pretty hard to add too much water this way because you can see how the consistency develops as you go.

If you want to have the liquid and the beans all ready to go, I suggest having the water level just slightly above the beans.

You should be able to move the beans around easily, but they shouldn’t be drowning.

My refried beans are too thick

If your refried beans are too thick, simply thin them out with some extra water. The bean cooking water is best because it has the most flavor, but plain water is fine if you used canned beans or have just run out of cooking water. You could also use stock to get some extra flavor into the beans.

The BEST Way To Thicken Refried Beans

If you’re staring at a soupy, watery bowl of refried beans, you need a solution – and fast!
I have personally experimented with 9 different thickening techniques, to see what delivers the best consistency, without impacting the flavor.
Say hello to perfectly thick and creamy refried beans! No soupiness in sight!
No ratings yet
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Course Ingredient
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 1 person
Calories 92 kcal

Ingredients
 

  • 1 portion refried beans

Instructions
 

  • The best way to thicken refried beans is to cook them for longer.
    Cooking the beans for longer allows the excess liquid to evaporate, leaving you with thick, creamy beans.
  • Transfer the beans to a saucepan and heat them on a low heat with no lid.
  • Stir every minute or two to prevent the beans from burning or sticking to the pan.
  • Keep heating and stirring the mixture until it reaches your desired consistency.
  • It can be tempting to turn the heat up to get the liquid to evaporate faster, but this massively increases the chances of your beans burning.
    Also, you might find that the moisture evaporates off too fast, and your beans will dry out.

Notes

How long you need to heat the beans depends on how watery they are. 5 minutes will be enough for a light thickening, but you might be waiting 15-20 minutes for a significantly thicker mixture.
For other thickening methods, see the body of the main post.

Nutrition

Serving: 100gCalories: 92kcal
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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