Kitchen Myths

Facts and fiction about food and cooking, by Peter Aitken

Myths about dried beans

There are three “facts” you’ll often hear about cooking dried beans, such as kidney and great northern beans. It turns out they are all myths.

  1. You must soak beans before cooking. You can soak beans of course, but the only advantage it provides is to shorten the cooking time. There’s no reason not to start cooking dry beans directly as long as you have the time to simmer them long enough.
  2. You must not add salt to beans during cooking or they will not soften. Tests show that the only difference between beans cooked side by side with and without salt is that one is salty and the other is not. Some people feel that salting during cooking gives better flavor because some of the salt ends up inside the beans.
  3. You must not add acid, such as tomatoes, to beans during cooking or they will not soften. Acid does in fact have an effect on beans, tending to keep the skins intact, while alkaline substances (baking soda) help the skins to break down. In both cases however the beans cook perfectly well. You can use this to your advantage, adding tomatoes during or after cooking depending on whether you want whole beans or mushy beans.

Note, however, soaking can help reduce the “gas attack” effect that some people experience after eating beans. Bring dry beans and water to a boil, remove from heat, and let sit for an hour. Drain, add fresh water, and continue cooking. This removes some of the chemicals in the beans that cause the gas.

12 responses to “Myths about dried beans

  1. TexasBruin September 8, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    You should read up on phytic acid in foods, particularly beans. This acid interferes with the body’s absorption of the minerals in the food. Soaking the beans with a little acid (vinegar) for 18 hours roughly halves the phytic acid. Phytic acid research on mineral deficiency is very convincing.

  2. maura September 23, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Phytates are indeed a reason to soak and perhaps ferment dry legumes.

  3. Danielle November 14, 2011 at 1:32 am

    I’m gonna add to the chorus of pro-soaking. It doesn’t just reduce gas, but can eliminate it and the stomach pain some people experience from trying to digest beans. This requires a long soak, no shortcuts like bringing the beans to a boil and then letting them soak like my mom showed me.

  4. Matthew December 30, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Hey thanks for the fact/myth about salting your beans. I read about this in a previous source that water hardness (like calcium) has a bigger impact on bean firmness and water absorption; that salt is a noticeable, but relatively minor factor on the cooking process that won’t ruin the beans either way.
    Thanks for the tip, I’m going to put some boullion in my beans right now.

    On an related slow-cooker note: don’t add kale to your slow cooker or your house will smell like cabbage, and your food will taste horrible.

  5. Art February 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    When slow cooking smelly foods…. put the slow cooker in the garage or outside depending on the weather.

  6. TheWordpressGhost November 3, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    I use baking soda. Beans cook faster, and usually reduces gas. Doesn’t seam to help as much on old hard beans.

    Bring to a boil. The water will discolor, rinse with cold water. If you over do it, some people tell me it will make the beans a little soapy feeling. I have never done that. I get perfect beans.

    Fill back up, and cook as normal.

  7. Liz February 27, 2013 at 9:13 am

    This is so misleading. Phytates are the real reason.

      • Liz February 28, 2013 at 1:10 am

        Yes, unfortunately Dr. Weil is only looking at the vitamin/mineral deficiencies that have obvious upfront consequences. I respect Dr. Weil, but he has come to hasty conclusions before (about fat) and had to modify his stance, which shows he is not stubbornly holding on to long held beliefs, which is why I respect him. It is only a matter of time before he learns of all the people who are reversing tooth decay by avoiding phytates, lectins, etc. Teeth are a window to the body. You can read more about that in Dr. Price’s fascinating book, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.” You can read it free online here:
        I find it fascinating that what we eat and how we prepare it has such a profound effect on our children and grand childrens’ appearances and overall health.

        Reading about Ramiel Nagel’s book, and seeing several bloggers documentations of healing cavities from the inside out by using his recommendations to avoid phytic acid and the other anti-nutrients has made it very clear that soaking grains, legumes, nuts and seeds in the traditional manners, is certainly worth while. Apparently the little things really add up.

        In my own experience, I used to get a cavity every few years, eating a very “healthy” diet. I was a fitness competitor as well as a personal trainer. I was doing everything “right”, however at the ripe old age of early 20’s I was a mess. I was actually diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Thankfully I was brought up to speed by a client who set me straight a few years before bearing children. I’ve been following the Weston A. Price Foundations recommendations ever since and had to eat a big whopping serving of humble pie, but I am so grateful to have extremely healthy athletic, strong, focused, intelligent cavity free children. My oldest is 6, and my youngest is 3, so in time we will see. Oh and I was able to completely reverse the fibromyalgia! It’s been many years and the symptoms are completely gone. Obviousely phytates are just one piece of the puzzle, but it all comes together to matter.

        A dear friend who read all the commentary on why phytates are “good” and chose that route eats pretty much the same as I do except for soaking, and she appears extremely healthy, except she still gets cavities 😦 Neither one of us eats much sugar at all.

        I can’t remember where I read it, but recently I came across a great article explaining why phytates can be helpful up to a point, but there is a tipping point, way below the amount that it gets reduced to by soaking. If I can find it I’ll mosie on back over to share it.

        My point is really just in response to this:

        “You must soak beans before cooking. You can soak beans of course, but the only advantage it provides is to shorten the cooking time. There’s no reason not to start cooking dry beans directly as long as you have the time to simmer them long enough.”

        There are some pretty good reasons to soak beans. ( For at least 8 hours- some people can’t consume them at all unless soaked 3 or more days, so for them, the long soaking opens up a whole food category)

  8. Pingback: Why Are My Beans Still Hard after Cooking? « Cooking Manager

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