Your Guide to Cooking Dried Beans
Dried beans have been a staple of the human diet since the invention of agriculture. So why is it that I struggled with it for so long. I don’t know why, but I was just so intimidated.
Thankfully I am not alone, as these little bundles of nutrients befuddle many other home cooks.
I think that my biggest issue was investing so much time and energy (mainly time) just to save a bit of money. Yes, dried beans can cost a quarter the price as their canned counterparts, but was it worth the hassle?
After much researching, and cooking, I am here to tell you that it is indeed worth the time.
This post will go over many beany issues:
- The benefits
- My preferred method
- Soaking, Salt and baking soda?
- My experiment
- An interesting infographic
Benefits of Home Cooked Beans
- They are much tastier
- They are exponentially cheaper
- There are no concerns about preservatives, excess sodium or tin can linings
So, how do you get over the intimidation factor? Just do it. Cook beans. Experiment and find out what works best for you. There are so many ways to achieve the same thing, there is bound to be one that fits you best.
All About Beans – Companion Video
It talks about much of what is covered in this post, with some extra information added.
Before we jump into the specifics of bean preparation, let’s talk about how I make my beans.
My Preferred Method
I have tried most cooking methods and have come to the conclusion that using a pressure cooker fits me the best.
Even with soaking, I can still have beans for lunch or supper, without waiting for hours. I use my pressure cooker in two separate steps. First to quick soak, and then to fully cook them.
To quick soak beans, all I do is put the beans, water and salt in the pressure cooker. Bring it up to pressure and let cook for 2 minutes. I then release the pressure “naturally”.
After they are quick-soaked, I discard the quick soak water and get on to actually cooking the beans. I add water, and a little oil to the pot. Bring it up to pressure and cook for 6 minutes (depending on the bean). The whole thing can take less than 30 minutes, from start to finish.
Although this sounds quite simple, cooking beans can really get people defensive. Then you are bombarded with conflicting information. I will try to go over the areas of major contention, and help let you decide how you want to cook your beans. The best thing in the end is to dive in and experiment.
To Soak or Not to Soak
This is arguably the biggest source of online bean-related arguments. Soaking or not is a hotly contested debate, with everybody having their own opinions.
Personally, I like to soak beans before cooking. They seem to come out with a more consistent texture and they do not have to be cooked nearly as long.
As far as the time needed to soak; it actually didn’t take long to get in the habit of throwing them in water the night before. Truth be told, most beans can begin their soaking in the morning and be ready for cooking by supper time. “Soaking Overnight” was a convention created to make it seem more convenient. Most beans require 6-8 hours of soaking and can be done overnight or started in the morning.
My pressure cooker is a life saver because I now opt for the quick soak instead of the long soak method. Keep in mind that there is also a stove top quick soak method that takes about an hour.
While there are people who are concerned that un-soaked beans will cause excess gas, others unequivocally disagree. In the end, soaking your beans is completely up to you.
Salt or No Salt
It used to be thought that salting the soaking or cooking water would adversely affect the skins of the beans. The common theory was that it would result in tough skins and the beans would end up cooking unevenly. Well, both science and cooks are currently debunking this train of thought.
When I do a quick soak with the pressure cooker, I salt the water, but when doing an overnight soak I do not. Either way, I have not had a problem. Your mileage may vary, so experiment to see what works best for you. As for salting the cooking water, I usually do not salt and just season them after cooking.
Further down this article, you can see the results of an experiment I did to see if there actually was a difference.
There is another very popular question asked all the time: Do I need to add baking soda to the water when I soak beans? After much research, it appears that this is only necessary when you are dealing with very hard water. The baking soda neutralizes the water and allows it to better soften the tough bean skins.
If you are not plagued with hard water, you can skip the baking soda.
Whether you soak the beans or not, they need to be cooked.
Here is where a lot of people get really passionate. Who knew beans could cause such a debate?
There are lots of ways to cook beans:
- Stove Top
- Pressure Cooker
- Slow Cooker
They all have pros and cons, and it really depends on how they fit your lifestyle. Experiment and see what your preferred method is.
With all of the debates around whether soaking (and salting for that matter) is really necessary, I decided to do an experiment with my trusty pressure cooker. I wanted to see what the difference would be in my specific house, on my stove and with my stove top pressure cooker. The results were pretty interesting. Keep in mind that I did not duplicate this experiment using other cooking methods. If you have, let us know your results in the comments.
I used white navy beans for this experiment because these are the ones I use most in recipes like Classic Brown Beans and White Bean and Ham Soup. Since my preferred cooking method is the pressure cooker, I used that for all of the batches. I consistently added oil to the pressure cooker when cooking the beans because the oil reduces foaming in the pot.
The cooking time was dictated by my manual’s cooking times regarding soaked white navy beans (6 minutes) or unsoaked beans white navy beans (18 minutes).
I wanted to compare the results of:
- Soaking or not before cooking
- Adding salt or not to the cooking water
- Soaking Method: Pressure Cooker Quick Soak
- Cooking Method: Pressure Cooker (6 minutes) without salt
- Soaking Method: Pressure Cooker Quick Soak
- Cooking Method: Pressure Cooker (6 minutes) with salt
- Soaking Method: No Soaking
- Cooking Method: Pressure Cooker (18 minutes) without salt
- Soaking Method: No Soaking
- Cooking Method: Pressure Cooker (18 minutes) with salt
The verdict was very clear on one front: the unsoaked beans were tough and inconsistent. The images show where some beans are cooked nicely, while others have shriveled up skin and were still very uncooked.
The part that did divide our family was the salted versus unsalted cooking water debate. Some preferred A to B, and others visa versa. But, the preference was not strong by any means. I, ever so slightly, preferred A. So, that’s how we do them. We Pressure Cooker Quick Soak (with salt) and Cook (without salt).
So that is my little experiment. I encourage your to experiment as well. Rest assured you do not need to be so methodical about it. Just cook and see what you like better. Once you have your preferred method, write it down and just continue to cook.
There is no one magic recipe for beans. Go ahead and discover the technique that works best for you.
We have created this graphic to show the overall process of cooking beans.
As a final note: Many recipes call for either canned beans or cooked beans. What if you do not have what they call for? Here is a good general rule of thumb:
Warning: Kidney beans are toxic if not boiled for 10 minutes. If cooking kidney beans in a slow cooker or oven, be sure to boil them for 10 minutes before moving on.
The only exception is when using a pressure cooker. Laura Pazzaglia (hippressuringcooking.com) explains it beautifully:
Your pressure cooker takes about 10 minutes to reach pressure while it’s doing that you’ve already got that first 10 minutes covered – so don’t worry if you see the soaked bean “pressure cooking time” to be less than 10 minutes. It’s that time plus 10 minutes, plus however long it takes for the cooker to loose pressure naturally (usually another 10-20 minutes) during which the beans are still technically boiling.[Regarding using the cooking water]… You should use it, and I recommend replacing water or stock in any recipe with bean cooking water.
With all of this said, stop stressing about beans. Just cook them. Once you have the hang of it, you will never turn back.
Please let us know about your adventures with dried beans.