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ingredients and techniques

Cooking Dried Beans

meg's picture

Beans are an elemental food. We take them for granted because we usually buy them in a can, drain and rinse them, and then add them to other things where they fade into the background--little more than a pleasing texture or a cheap ingredient to add bulk.

But beans, along with some other stalwart foodstuffs such as rice, are an integral part of almost every culture. From the soy, mung, and adzuki beans of Asia to the cannellini beans of Italy to my grandmother's October bean patch, beans are a plentiful, inexpensive, and greatly varied source of protein and fiber.

While it is appealing to rely solely on canned beans, being able to cook them from their dried state is more than worth knowing how to do. Not only will you be able to find a greater variety of dried beans than canned, and not only do they taste better, but there's just something homey and warm about a pot of beans bubbling away on the stove. It brings a sense of security and wholesomeness to your kitchen that canned beans just can't compete with.

You may have heard all sorts of things about cooking dried beans--that they take hours to cook, that you need to soak them, that you shouldn't salt them before cooking. Don't let these rumors keep you from enjoying the frugal and rewarding results of cooking dried beans.

Myth number one: dried beans take hours to cook. The truth is that every bag of beans is a little different. Some beans take very little time to cook--30 minutes or so. Lentils take even less time. But even the toughest beans, such as chickpeas, don't take "hours" to cook. Sometimes, you may want a thick, soupy consistency--my favorite way to have cranberry beans--in which case you can let them stew over low heat for hours. However, most beans are perfectly amenable to an hour to two at the most. There are other variables that impact cooking time--bean size, how old the beans are, how hard your water is--and so cooking beans is more of a "by feel" technique than others, but there's no need to chain yourself to the stove in order to serve beans at your next meal.

Sometimes, when beans have been stored in a warm, humid place for too long, they become so hard that they are no longer fit to eat and are difficult, if not impossible, to cook. This is why it is best to buy only the beans that you know you will use within six months to a year. 

Myth number two: you must soak dried beans before cooking them. I don't want to promote the idea that soaking beans is a bad idea. If you have time and can remember to do so, soaking is actually a great thing to do. Soaking will decrease your overall cooking time and make the beans slightly more digestible. In fact, if you soak beans in salted water, it can actually substantially decrease the cooking time and help season your beans in the process (thank you Harold McGee for that fun fact). My trouble is, I can never remember to soak beans.

There is the famous "quick-soak" method, which works well: rinse and pick over your beans, then put them in a pot and cover them by 2 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil, boil for one minute, then remove the pot from the heat, cover it, and allow it to stand for an hour. At this point, you're ready to cook the beans to completion.

Many cooks also swear by this method to help reduce the, ahem, musicality of beans, and discard the soaking liquid. This is a large price to pay nutritionally, however, as doing this leaches out nutrients, color, flavor, and antioxidants.

I've found that most beans don't need to be soaked, and I almost always dispense with this step for sanity's sake. Slowly simmering dried beans or cooking them in a pressure cooker seems to do the trick.

Myth number three: don't salt beans before cooking. The idea is that salt prevents beans from cooking as quickly. This is somewhat true--if you add salt to a pot of simmering beans, it will initially prevent the outer hull from absorbing water and softening. However, if you salt beans during the soaking phase, they not only cook faster, but will be better seasoned, the salt penetrating to the core of each bean. I prefer not to salt beans before cooking for the simple reason that I feel like I have a better handle on the seasoning after the beans are cooked. But if you like, salt away!

My basic method for cooking beans:

            -Rinse the beans. Beans are dirty. They are often covered with dust and dirt and can have little pebbles or twigs mixed in. Don't be tempted to skip this step.

            -Cover the beans with just enough water to cover in your favorite Dutch oven or pot. Don't let your beans dry out in the pot--they will become hard and leathery.

            -Add any flavorings you want. I always cook my beans with at least a bay leaf thrown in. I also love onions and whole garlic cloves. If I'm going to be serving beans as part of a Mexican or southwestern style meal, I'll add dried epazote, avocado leaf, and a dried and seeded guajillo pepper. For southern-style beans, add a ham hock.

            -Simmer the beans until they're done. I realize how vague this is, but as I said earlier, there are many variables that determine how long beans take to cook. I usually start with 30 minutes on my timer, and then I taste them. If the beans are still hard or chalky inside, set the timer for 10 more minutes or so. Keep checking them at regular intervals until the beans are tender but still firm. You don't want them falling apart. A great way to tell that beans are done or almost done is to blow on a spoonful of them. If the outer skins of the beans peel back (it's very noticeable), keep a very watchful eye on them--they're pretty much there. The key word here is "simmer." You should never boil beans--it can affect the integrity of the bean (they may fall apart), and it can cause the exterior of the bean to overcook before the interior is fully cooked. The one exception to this rule is kidney beans. Raw kidney beans contain the toxin phytohemagglutinin (not lethal by any means, but may cause gastrointestinal discomfort and symptoms similar to food poisoning) and must be boiled for 10 minutes to destroy it. Always boil kidney beans for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat and simmer until cooked. If using a pressure cooker to cook kidney beans, you do not need to pre-boil for 10 minutes as the very high temperatures reached inside the pressure cooker are adequate to destroy the toxin. If using a slow cooker, you MUST pre-boil the kidney beans.

            -Season the beans. Add salt and pepper to taste and a healthy glug of olive oil. You may be surprised at how delicious beans are on their own.

To pressure cook: my average time for cooking dried beans in a pressure cooker is 20 minutes. Some smaller beans such as black eyed peas take less time, but the average bean in my kitchen gets 20 minutes in the pressure cooker. Sometimes, I have to cook them more after their stint in the pressure cooker, but I save a lot of time by using this method.

There is, however, a very detailed chart that I would be remiss not to show you. What's really great about this chart is that there are cooking times given for both soaked and unsoaked beans.

I hope, at the very least, that this inspires you to cook up a big pot of beans. They are everyman's food--inexpensive, plentiful, healthy, filling, and delicious. And cooking them, once you know the basics, is so easy it's almost instinctual.

Other articles you might enjoy: Pressure Cooker Chicken Stock, Separating Eggs, Celery Revisited

Comments

Shirley's picture

good,accurate information...would like more information on varieties, and theiruses.

Judith's picture

Found this info very helpful.

meg's picture

Glad to hear, Judith! I hope a big, delicious pot of beans is in your near future.

Aaron L's picture

Your page looks cool but I'm struggling to read the content with the gray font and gray background.

meg's picture

Thanks for the feedback Aaron! We're always trying to improve the site. We'll certainly take your observation into consideration.

Marty's picture

How much water does one add???? Just throw black beans in a pressure cooker? Sounds dangerous!

meg's picture

Add water to cover by 2 inches, just like in the Dutch oven method.

Anne Glenn's picture

I've heard that undercooked beans have toxicity, especially kidney beans.

john's picture

Yes! Here's the official FDA take on this... interesting reading. Take away: never use a slow cooker for red kidney beans... unless you boil them for 10-30 minutes first. From the FDA's Bad Bug Book, 2nd edition:

"Phytohaemagglutinin, the presumed toxic agent, is found in many species of beans, but is in highest concentration in red kidney beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). The unit of toxin measure is the hemagglutinating unit (hau). Raw kidney beans contain from 20,000 to 70,000 hau, while fully cooked beans contain from 200 to 400 hau. White kidney beans, another variety of Phaseolus vulgaris, contain about one-third the amount of toxin as the red variety; broad beans (Vicia faba) contain 5% to 10% the amount that red kidney beans contain.
The syndrome usually is caused by ingestion of raw, soaked kidney beans, either alone or in salads or casseroles. Several outbreaks have been associated with beans cooked in slow cookers (i.e., countertop appliances that cook foods at low temperatures for several hours) or in casseroles that had not reached an internal temperature high enough to destroy the glycoprotein lectin.
PHA is destroyed by adequate cooking. Some variation in toxin stability has been found at different temperatures. However, Bender and Readi found that boiling the beans for 10 minutes (100°C) completely destroyed the toxin. Consumers should boil the beans for at least 30 minutes to ensure that the product reaches sufficient temperature, for a sufficient amount of time, to completely destroy the toxin. Slow cookers should not be used to cook these beans or dishes that contain them. Studies of casseroles cooked in slow cookers revealed that the food often reached internal temperatures of only 75°C or less, which is inadequate for destruction of the toxin. "

Full PDF here:
http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/UCM297627...

Anonymous's picture

Thank you! So helpful!

Leah's picture

FANTASTIC. Thanks so much - this is exactly the info I was looking for! Do you have any reference for approximate conversion from dried beans to cooked ? (i.e. 1 cup of dried black beans will yield 1.5 cooked, etc.)

meg's picture

Yes, Leah--1 cup of dried beans equals approximately 2 1/2 to 3 cups cooked beans depending on the type of bean. One pound of dried beans is about 2 cups dried beans, so one pound dried beans equals approximately 5 to 6 cups cooked beans. Hope this helps!

RAJ's picture

what about using baking soda, and how much,, thanks

meg's picture

We don't recommend using baking soda. It can speed up the cooking time, but it also imparts a soapy taste and a slick texture to the beans and cooking liquid. Overall, not worth it.

josee 's picture

Hi there. Enjoying your information about cooking red beans. As a rule, you said do not boil beans. The FDA article you have says red kidney beans are toxic and need to be boiled for 10 minutes. Just to verify! Do I boil the red kidney beans? Answer. Yes?! Because of the toxins.

meg's picture

Yes! So sorry that's unclear--I'm going to go back and make sure this is clarified. Boil 10 minutes, then simmer slowly.

Stavros!'s picture

Ok, one question comes to mind, after I rinse and soak the kidney beans, if I plan to cook them in the pressure cooker, is that sufficient to destroy the glycoprotein lectin toxin, or do they have to be boiled for 10 minutes before cooking them in the pressure cooker?

-Thanks!

meg's picture

Good question! If you're using a pressure cooker, you don't need to boil them for 10 minutes first. Since the pressure cooker attains greater temperatures than boiling, the toxin will be destroyed.

Linda 's picture

I have been cooking red kidney beans for a day and a half and they are still hard any suggestions?
I soak them overnight first then I put them in the slow cooker for at least 15 hours with hamburger all my other stuff to make chili. I also put them on my stove and cooked them for about an hour with a slow boil.
Do I have to throw my chili out? Need some answers to soften up my kidney beans.

meg's picture

Hi Linda. It sounds like your kidney beans may be unsalvageable. Sometimes, depending on growing conditions or long storage, beans can develop what is called "hard seed." These beans never soften completely. More importantly, though, never slow cook kidney beans. They contain a toxin called phytohemagglutanin, which can cause food poisoning-like symptoms. Kidney beans must be boiled hard for 10 minutes before using. Cooking them in the slow cooker can cause this toxin to be even worse.

Miriam's picture

Are phytohemagglutanins the same as the phytates that I have been trying to remove from my beans by soaking them before cooking them?

john's picture

Hi Miriam. No, phytates are not related to phytohemagglutanins. Phytates are a type of salt that bind to minerals like zinc, calcium, and iron, making them harder to absorb. Phytohemagglutanins are a type of protein (a lectin) that binds to sugars/carbohydrates. Though phytates may lessen the amount of zinc or calcium you absorb from the foods you eat, they are not toxic and do not cause severe gastrointestinal distress.

Rachelle's picture

Thank you so much for your valuable information! When I went online to verify cooking time, I found out about the toxicity. Was able to get half the information I needed on other sites but yours gave me the full picture of how to cook the beans and keep my family healthy. Thanks again!

Jaki's picture

When I cook in the pressure cooker the food never touches the aluminum. I use mine primarily for canning....obviously there's no contact there, but my other primary usage is rice or beans, and I put those in a glass bowl or ceramic crock/dish on the rack inside the pressure cooker. Works great and never burns.

john's picture

Hi Jaki! You must have one of those huge pressure canners. The bowl on the rack trick sounds like a good way of using it for something other than canning... ours is stainless steel. We can fit four quart jars in it for canning, but we primarily use it for quickly making stocks (http://www.thejoykitchen.com/recipe/pressure-cooker-chicken-stock) and simmering beans. Thanks for the tip, in case we ever have the room for a pressure canner in the cupboard!

anonymouse's picture

If you have to add water to your beans, make sure that you add boiling water. Adding cold water lowers the temperature of the cooking liquid, lowering it's vapor pressure. The higher relative vapor pressure inside the beans causes them to burst, leaving you with a put of mush.

M D's picture

So what is the best way to get rid of the phytate?

john's picture

Soaking overnight reduces phytate levels.

Jim Michalek's picture

I found this out by accident. Fill a glass jar about a quarter full of dry beans, then fill the jar with water that you boiled hard, about ten minutes in the microwave will do it, then put the lid on the jar, and the jar should seal. If not, and this happens when too many beans are added, just use them the next day and consider them soaked.

susie Chapin's picture

Great information! I'm planning to make some chili in my slow cooker. How long should/can I soak the beans before I add them to the vegetables? I prefer not to wait 24 hours, but will if I should. I'm trying to avoid the beans getting too soft between soaking and slow cooking. Thanks.

GRC's picture

Your info is very misleading, because you say to never boil beans. Most beans have the same toxin as in kidney beans, just not as much, but you can still become very very sick from this toxin if the beans are not thoroughly boiled. The amount of time necessary to deactivate the toxin vary according to the type of bean, so just to be on the safe side, the FDA recommends a hard rolling boil for 30 minutes when cooking beans, then and only then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender.this is how I cook beans and they turn out great. Please edit your advice. God bless.

meg's picture

A hard rolling boil can damage the outside of the bean, resulting in a less than ideal texture. Kidney beans are definitely an outlier in the amount of phytohemagglutenin that they have (so much so that they named the cause of sickness from it Red Kidney Bean Poisoning), and so a 10 minute boil is called for. We also wouldn't use a slow cooker or an oven to cook kidney beans (or any other type of bean, to be honest). We have researched our advice extensively with numerous sources and feel comfortable with the advice we have given. Not to mention, we eat beans almost weekly (and all different kinds), and we use our simmering method for all of them excepting kidney beans. We do not experience gastric distress because of this. Granted, that's anecdotal evidence--maybe we have iron stomachs! But it's a method that gets us beautifully intact, creamy beans that taste wonderful. I've recently come back around to soaking beans as well for the same reason--better texture and hydration. Of course, regardless of what I say, you should cook beans in a way that you feel comfortable with. You are the master of your own kitchen, and I can totally respect that, so boil away! My professional advice may differ from yours, but we have done enough research to feel confident that we aren't going to make people sick. Thanks for commenting!

meg's picture

Be careful when slow cooking beans, Susie. If using kidney beans, you need to boil them hard for 10 minutes before slow cooking or they could make you sick. I wouldn't worry about the beans getting too soft. They should be perfect when the chili is done.

Michelle's picture

Salt and sugar has never worked for me - I wish I had the same experience as described for cooking beans and having salt or sugar in the liquid. I bake beans often and I have routinely found that if I put any of the normal ingreadients in from the start, they do not cook even after 8 to 10 hours. I use different kinds and now preboil them for 30 minutes to help ensure the cooking process.

Oge's picture

Thanks for the posting and everybody's comment is helpful
More strength

Prayer Works's picture

Hi there was wondering when is the right time to pull pods off their vines so that I can cook a big pot of delicious cranberry beans.
Thank you for your time,
Pray Daily

posted 6.22.2016 @ 1:37pm

ck out the FB pg:
Glorify God thru Jesus

meg's picture

My grandmother and grandfather grow a big patch of cranberry beans every year, and I know they normally pick them when the pods turn yellow/brown. They will start to look shriveled. When you open a pod, the beans should have that beautiful reddish pattern that cranberry beans are known for. I'm jealous! Cranberry beans are my favorite!

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Combine in a small, dry skillet over medium heat:
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