Make Extra-Tender Beans With A Little Baking Soda

How Much Baking Soda Do You Add To Beans To Prevent Gas?

Research dating back more than 25 years (“Effect of Processing on Flatus-Producing Factors in Legumes“) found that adding baking soda to the soak water of dried beans before cooking (about 1/16 teaspoon per quart) significantly decreases the content of the raffinose family of sugars.

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Preparing Dried Beans

Dried beans need to be rehydrated, and this is accomplished equally well by either overnight soaking (12 to 24 hours) in cold water or simmering in hot water (3 to 4 hours). If you wish, you can discard the liquid after soaking (which will reduce the gas possibility by a small amount but will also discard some nutrients), or you can continue to cook the beans in the same liquid. Here's one way to prepare dried beans:

  1. Dump beans into a Dutch oven and add twice as much well-flavored and seasoned stock to the pot.
  2. Place on the stove and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
  3. Cook for 3 hours and top-off stock as needed to keep beans covered by 1/2 inch of liquid.
  4. Add other ingredients based on your recipe.
  5. The final cooking step should take place in a Dutch oven in the oven at 300 F. The beans and other ingredients will simmer surrounded by heat instead of cooking from the bottom up as they do on the stove-top.
  6. The final cooking will take another 3 hours. Make sure to check occasionally to ensure the beans aren't drying out.

Results

When the beans in the alkaline environment turned tender, the others were far behind. The beans in the plain water had only slightly softened after 45 minutes. We returned this pot to the oven and they required another 15 minutes of cooking time, an hour in total. Those in the acidic water were still rock-hard after 45 minutes. They required a total cooking time of one hour and 45 minutes to soften fully.

At the 45-minute mark, we removed some beans from each pot and placed them on the counter. We then applied a 5-pound weight on top. The beans cooked with baking soda were incredibly tender and squished down beautifully. The beans cooked in a neutral environment squished slightly but were still hard. The beans cooked with acid were rock-hard; the weight barely made a difference.

When to Add Spices

Let’s face it, beans can be pretty bland. Spices can make or break your bean meal and the addition of spices to my food storage has been crucial for my family to have a variety of flavors. For added flavor, you can even add spices during the soak. Just be sure to keep these tips in mind:

Tips and Tricks

  • 1 tsp of oil per cup of beans will reduce the foaming that often happens during cooking.
  • A pinch of baking soda in the cooking pot will help old beans get soft.
  • Don’t add salt to the soak water or during the first hour of cooking, it will keep the beans from getting soft.
  • Vinegar and acidic foods like tomatoes or lemon, should not be added to the soak or the first hour of cooking,  they also keep the beans from getting soft.

The Night Before You Need Your Beans – Overnight Soak: 8 to 12 Hours

Place your beans in the pot you will cook them in and add 3-4 times the water. Two cups of beans need six to eight cups of water. Most beans will more than double in size as they hydrate.

The US Dry Bean Council (USDBC) recommends a 12-hour soak in cold water before cooking to help hydrate the beans and shorten the cooking time. You can get away with 8 hours in a pinch. Ideally, beans should be kept in a cool place, or in the refrigerator, to avoid any fermentation taking place.

My take on it? I think the USDBC is being overly cautious and it is perfectly acceptable to soak your beans on the counter. That’s what I do. Just like Katie, we’ve never had any problem with our beans. I usually use cold water, but that’s just out of laziness on my part.

Why Some Beans Are Hard, and Stay Hard

Debbie Wee

But everyone's cooked beans and found some that seemingly refuse to become soft. There are a couple of reasons for this phenomenon. Bean hardness is a hot topic in bean science, specifically the phenomenon of H.T.C. beans. Many bean scientists classify beans as either easy-to-cook (E.T.C.) or hard-to-cook (H.T.C.). H.T.C. beans don't soften even after cooking because their pectin remains insoluble (although their starches also fail to gelatinize properly). H.T.C. beans are often the result of long storage times and/or storage in conditions of high humidity or temperature. However, if you brine H.T.C. beans before cooking them, they will cook faster and have a better final texture, and, in addition, they will have greater nutrient availability.

The hardening of the bean pectin takes place primarily because of two enzymatic reactions. An enzyme called phytase releases calcium and magnesium ions from the lamella, and these ions quickly encounter and attach to pectin molecules, which ends up strengthening the pectin. A second enzyme, called pectin esterase, will modify the pectin, too, making it even more resistant to being dissolved. The chemistry of pectin is quite complex, but for our purposes, the first enzymatic reaction is the one I want to focus on.

Since calcium and magnesium are partially responsible for hardening the pectin in beans, I reasoned that if there was a way to pop them out, I could destabilize the pectin and thereby the integrity of the bean, making it softer and fully tender with a shorter cooking time. And, of course, the reason why I focused on this element of bean hardness is that there's a simple way to remove those ions from the pectin.

If you’ve cleaned tarnished silver or copper utensils, you know that you can make them shiny all over again simply by dropping them into a pot of water mixed with salt and baking soda. The way this works is that, over time, silver and copper utensils become oxidized and develop a patina as the metal reacts with chemicals present in the air. When the tarnished utensils are treated with salt and baking soda, the sodium ions present in the solution displaces the silver in the tarnish and restores the metal back to its original state, and the utensil becomes shiny again. This reaction is called a displacement reaction.

The sodium present in salt (sodium chloride) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) will perform a similar displacement reaction with any calcium and magnesium ions present in a bean's pectin. As soon as they come into contact, the sodium takes the place of calcium and magnesium, and the pectin consequently becomes more soluble.

Therefore, prior to cooking, beans can be soaked in brine made of either salt or baking soda. In addition, depending on the texture desired in a dish, beans can be either boiled in a pot of salted water or water to which a bit of baking soda has been added. The brine provides an environment where the sodium is in excess and helps push this transformation forward.

The Experimental Setup

To evaluate the beans, I set up three groups for each type: Water, Salted Water (15g in 1 L), and Baking Soda (5g in 1 L). The amount of salt used in these experiments comes from Kenji’s previous work on Serious Eats and the baking soda from a research paper published in Food Research International. To see how beans performed in a brine with a combination of baking soda and salt, I added one more group to the experiment, a salt and baking soda brine (15g salt with 5g baking soda in 1L of water).

To monitor how the beans performed, I measured the total dry weights of the beans and then both their raw and cooked wet weights after 24 hours. To give each bean a fair chance of starting out under similar conditions, I removed any beans that displayed any cracks or damage to their skins. To avoid any interference from salts that might be present in tap water (hard water contains a lot of calcium and magnesium, although, given the amount of sodium in the brines, the effect should have been negligible), I used filtered water in the brines. The beans were soaked at room temperature.

Both raw and cooked beans were rinsed gently with water and left to sit on dry pieces of absorbent paper towels for one minute before they were weighed to remove any excess water and get a more consistent measure.

The soaked beans were rinsed to remove any traces of the salts and then cooked in plain filtered water until tender. The endpoint for cooking beans was subjective; I determined the bean doneness by pressing them to see if they were tender all the way through.

How to Cook Beans

rate this recipe:

5 from 14 votes

Prep Time: 8 hrs

Cook Time: 2 hrs

Serves 8 to 12 (makes 6 cups) Pin Recipe Print RecipeLearn how to cook dried beans on the stove! Simmer them with water and salt, or add aromatics to the pot for extra flavor.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dried beans
  • Water
  • Sea salt

optional aromatics:Onion quarters , halved shallots Smashed or sliced garlic cloves Scrap veggies , scallion tops, fennel fronds, herb stems Desired spices , bay leaves, peppercorns

Instructions

For black beans, white beans, red beans, garbanzo beans:

  • Place the beans in a large bowl. Discard any stones or debris. Cover with 2 to 3 inches of water and discard any beans that float. Soak at room temperature for 8 hours or over overnight. Drain and rinse well.

  • Place the beans in a large pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Skim any foam off the top, then add 2 teaspoon sea salt and desired aromatics. Continue simmering until tender but not mushy, up to 2 more hours, stirring occasionally. The timing will depend on the type and freshness of your beans. I typically check them every 30 minutes. If they start to look dry, add a bit more water to the pot.

  • When the beans are tender, discard the aromatics. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Store cooked beans in the fridge for up to 5 days or freeze for several months.

For adzuki beans:

  • Skip the soaking process. Rinse, then place the adzuki beans in a large pot. Cover with 2 to 3 inches of water and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes with desired aromatics and sea salt. Season to taste.

For split peas:Skip the soaking process. Rinse, then place 2 cups split peas in a large pot with 4 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until soft, 25 to 40 minutes. Season to taste. Split peas will become mushy in texture, similar to red lentils. They're great for thickening soups and stews.

Why does something so good hurt so bad?

Beans and other seeds have their own natural defense system that includes anti-nutrients such as phytates, saponins and trypsin inhibitors. That is to say, the stuff evolutionarily designed so the bean can pass through our systems unscathed.

These anti-nutrients are also what allow beans to be stored for a long time without going bad. Pretty great if you’re a bean or other seed, but pretty lousy if you’re a human trying to eat them without having endless gas, bloating or stool changes (Mega Lousy for a first date, for sure).

Additionally, the phytic acid that protects the bean also prevents you from absorbing all the good nutrients that beans have to offer. Beans then cause gas and discomfort because they are hitting your gut in a form that’s hard to digest. Over time, eating unsoaked beans can really irritate the gut and contribute to health problems, such as IBS, SIBO and leaky gut. 

Some harder beans, like kidney, black, and navy beans also have oligosaccharides (large, complex sugars) that can completely do a number on your digestion.

Let’s look at the facts:

As detailed on the Weston A. Price website, “Legumes have their own agenda, which is to germinate, grow and perpetuate their genetic inheritance, rather than go softly into your cassoulet. These seeds are well-armed with anti-nutrients… and some have specialized complex sugars that can wreak painful revenge upon the mammalian gut that consumes them without proper disarming. But long ago clever humans devised ways to coax these sometimes headstrong legumes into many safe, savory and nutritious transformations.”

In other words, although beans have been a part of human diets around the world for thousands of years, our modern use of beans “is not healthy or appropriate fare for humans and our digestive systems.”

How to cook soaked beans:

After soaking your beans using one of the above three methods:

  1. Drain the beans.
  2. Add fresh water.
  3. Cook till the desired texture is reached.

Update: I’ve answered many more bean questions in: How to Soak Dried Beans: Your Questions Answered

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