How To Cook Dry Beans? Cooking beans is simple – it really is. But when you consider all of the discussion out there about how-to cook dry beans, it can seem to be a rather daunting task: to soak or not to soak; if soaked, use the soaking water to cook the beans, or rinse them and then add new cooking liquid; water or broth; add salt at the beginning or the end; what about adding vinegar?
In my opinion, it’s all about personal preference, and some people have very strong opinions that shape their preferences. My approach to cooking is usually determined by trying to retain as much of the nutrients as possible and by keeping it simple. Whatever cooking method is used, here’s the simple bean facts: beans are a great tasting whole food that are inexpensive, quick and easy to prepare, and they’re a great source of protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and complex carbohydrates.
Here’s a bit about my own experience, the information I’ve gathered over the years and the cooking methods I use:
First of all, I always check for foreign objects, you know tiny rocks, mutant beans, Krugerrands… I discard the intruders and then I rinse the beans, which washes away yukky field dust and who knows what else. So now what?
I’ve cooked beans in a variety of different ways, but never in a side-by-side test, until now. Since I was writing this post, I decided I would do a test and once and for all take away any question, for myself anyway, of whether it’s best to soak a bean or not. So I cooked black beans in five different ways: 1. Soaked, then cooked in the soaking water. 2. Soaked, rinsed, then cooked in water. 3. Soaked, rinsed, then cooked in veggie broth. 4. Not soaked and cooked in water. 5. Not soaked and cooked in veggie broth.
The cooking method I’ve found I prefer… drum roll please…
… I’m an overnight soaker and let me tell you why:
- I’ve found that beans cook more evenly when soaked overnight or for at least 6-8 hours before cooking.
- Cooking unsoaked beans will definitely take longer than cooking beans that have been soaked, so soaking saves fuel. Also, if you’re cooking the beans for dinner after work or are in another time crunch, the beans will cook faster.
- Soaking, sprouting and fermenting beans breaks down and leaches out phytates and tannins that inhibit nutrient absorption by binding to nutrients in your food, like iron, calcium.
- Soaking leaches out flatulence-causing substances, ie. raffinose and stachyose.
- Older dried beans that have lost some of their moisture will cook more evenly when soaked.
Although there’s a slight loss of some vitamins and minerals when you discard the water and rinse, I discard and rinse after soaking for the reasons below:
- Getting rid of the soaking water also means getting rid of some of the phytates and tannins that can lower nutrient availability.
- Up to 1/3 of substances like raffinose and stachyose that cause flatulence can be discarded with the soaking water.
- A concern I read about rinsing soaked beans is losing too many nutrients including resistant starch. But studies have shown that these good starches are not lost at all by soaking and therefore are not discarded with the water. Resistant starch enters the large intestine without being digested. Once there, it can help support the growth of desirable bacteria in that area of the digestive tract, so it’s important to know you won’t be throwing these babies out with the bath water.
(Tip: If you’re a gardener in an arid climate, pour the discarded water in your garden or into your outdoor potted plants)
What liquid should I cook the beans in?
Okay, here’s where it gets a little tricky, because the final bean dish I’m preparing determines what I cook the beans in:
- If I’m making a bean salad or other dish that I’ll be adding dressing to, essentially adding the flavoring after cooking, I cook the beans in unsalted water. I also add beans cooked this way to quinoa, burritos, soups and chili. I’ve found that beans cook more evenly and have a more predictable cooking time in plain, unsalted water.
- If I’m making, say, a beans and rice dish or cassoulet, I will sometimes use vegetable broth. It definitely bumps up the flavor, but any kind of salted liquid, including salted water, will cook away faster and so you need to make sure you watch the pot as the liquid may cook down before the beans are tender. It’s really important that all of the beans in the pot are completely submerged in the cooking liquid so that they will all cook evenly.
- Some people swear by adding vinegar while soaking or cooking; I don’t. I’ve tried it and I think the beans don’t cook as evenly and are not as tender, even after cooking for a long time.
Of course you can always follow the cooking time on the package if you’ve purchased beans in a bag. If you purchase them in bulk, cooking times and directions for different kinds of beans are posted online, but typically you can add two and a half times as much water as beans and simmer one to two hours with the lid on the pot, depending on the size of the bean and your altitude. Cook in a deep rather than a wide pot so that the beans will be completely submerged throughout cooking.
Beans can be used in so many different kinds of dishes and they can be the main course or a side dish. They’re also inexpensive and highly nutritious. Once you start cooking with dried beans, you’ll find the methods that work best for you and hopefully collect some yummy bean recipes that will help you to get beans into your diet throughout the week.