Soaking Beans


What's on This Page

Why Do I have to Soak Beans?

Why Do I Need To Rinse Beans After Soaking?

Methods of Soaking Dried Beans

How to Soak Beans

Problems with Old Beans




Why Do I have to Soak Beans?

A lot of people have misconceptions about soaking beans. Beans are grouped according to hardness, and not all beans need to be soaked. The softer categories of legumes like Split Peas, Lentils and Butterbeans can be quickly pressure cooked without soaking, but the hardest beans, such as the Soybean, are so hard they need a full 12 hours to rehydrate.


Soak your beans because they are dirty

A close up small red beans shows a collection of powdery, grayish "field dust", an accumulation of debris that covers all the beans. This surface dirt would be very hard to see on beans with light or mottled skins.


Just as an experiment to demonstrate how dirty dry beans can be, I took a wet Q-tip and ran it over three beans. You can clearly see the darker discoloration on the swab as it picked up the surface dirt from the beans.

Many think the main reason to soak beans is to minimize gas, and while it's true that soaking does help to remove the indigestible complex sugars (oligosaccharides) from the outer coating of the beans, it's certainly not the primary reason to soak.

Probably the most important reason for soaking is that it allows shorter cooking times, and that preserves the most nutrients, so you get the benefits of all the proteins, vitamins and minerals in the beans and maximize their food value. According to the California Dry Bean Advisory Board, there's no need to worry that soaking is going to remove the proteins, enzymes or other nutrients that are stored within the beans.

If your family's nutrition isn't enough to convince you to soak those beans, here's another convincing argument; Beans are dirty!

Beans go through a series of threshing and sifting processes, but none of these steps include washing because any moisture could cause the beans to mold or start sprouting. So lets be clear, soaking the beans is the only way to clean them and remove the accumulated surface dirt, bacteria, and nasty stuff like insect larva, rodent contamination, and any fertilizer or pesticide residues that might be present -- what the industry politely calls 'field dust' -- none of which you'd likely want to eat.

Soaking also allows beans to slowly absorb the liquid they need to cook evenly and completely so they don't split open, lose their skins, or cook only the outer surface while the middle remains hard.


Soaking cuts the cooking time by as much as 70%, so most soaked beans will pressure cook in as little as 8 to 15 minutes. That saves you -- and your wallet -- a bit of cash in using less cooking fuel, and that in turn, means that you can help the environment by using less energy with shorter cooking times. If you fail to soak the beans first, a large part of the cooking time (and energy expense) is wasted while the beans rehydrate to the point where they actually can begin to cook and soften, extending the cooking time to 40-60 minutes.

And lastly, soaking helps further break down those pesky oligosaccharides, the indigestible sugars that cause gas in beans, as well as removing tannins, phytic acid and tryspin inhibitors.


Do I Really Need To Rinse Beans After Soaking?

Of course you do! You really don't want to eat whatever is in all that dirty soaking water do you? Don't use the soaking water to cook the beans in, not only does it contain all the gas causing, indigestible complex sugars of oligosaccharides that have leached off the outer coating of the beans, but also all the other revolting stuff that came off the beans.

Doesn't sound so yummy if you stop and think about it, does it? So let's drain off the filthy old water the beans have been soaking in, and then give them one final rinse before putting them in the pressure cooker and adding more fresh, cold water for cooking.


Methods of Soaking Dried Beans

Pressure Soak Method

Quick Soak Method

Long Soak Method

  1. Cover beans by 3 inches of water. Bring to pressure. Cook 5 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat, and let pressure drop naturally.
  3. Drain and discard the water and rinse beans.
  4. Proceed with the recipe.
  1. Boil beans in water for 3 minutes in a heavy pot.
  2. Cover and set aside for 2 hours.
  3. Drain and discard the water and rinse beans.
  4. Proceed with the recipe.
  1. Soak beans according to the Cooking Time Chart.
  2. Drain and discard the water and rinse beans.
  3. Proceed with the recipe.

There are three methods of soaking the beans, but whichever method you use, remember that dried beans will swell to at least twice their dry size, so be sure to start with a large enough cooking pot. In pressure cookery the Five Formulas apply, and this means the maximum capacity is 1/2 full.


If you're wondering what would happen to the beans if you simply cooked them anyway, here's the scoop. Yes, of course the bean will eventually get soft enough to eat, but they will cook unevenly. Unsoaked beans make a sloppy mess that leaves some beans soft while others are still too firm, or even crunchy, while other beans will fall apart and disintegrate, or burst open, leaving behind a mealy textured, starchy broth. Some beans will split their skins or even slough off the skins, which we want to avoid when using a pressure cooker. These problems apply in corresponding degrees to beans that cooked unsoaked, beans that quick soaked, and beans that are fast soaked in a pressure cooker.

Really, to get the best bean, use the traditional, long soak method.


How to Soak Beans

I prefer to use a glass or ceramic bowl to soak beans because small amounts of metal can leach into the water when using metal bowls or cookware like a the pressure cookers. Plastic containers often have a sticky, hard to clean and unseen residue of accumulated oil and fats that may impart unwanted odors and taste.

Water first seeps into the bean through the hilum, or scar, where the bean was attached to the stem in the pod. At this stage, the seed coat, or skin, begins to wrinkle, but wait until most of the beans have wrinkly skins. A few beans won't ever get wrinkled, and some will only get partially wrinkled -- as you can see in the photo above -- but most of the beans should show some wrinkles. This will take... well, as long as it takes, because every package of beans is different.

When the beans are wrinkled they are rehydrated enough to cook. The wrinkled skins will smooth out as the beans swell during cooking.

Many people seem to have this preconceived notion that soaking beans is hard work and takes lots of time. Not true I say! It’s not like you have to stand there and watch the beans soak.

Here's How Proceed

Step One - Spread beans out on a tray or cookie sheet and pick through them, removing any shriveled, broken, discolored or blemished beans, loose skins and other debris like sticks or gravel.

Step Two - Choose one of the three soaking methods outlined above, using the one that best meets your needs and cover the beans with cold water.

    For the long soaking method, which I recommend for best results, place the sorted beans in a non-reactive bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by 3-4 inches. Cover the bowl loosely with a towel and leave them to soak at room temperature for at least 4 hours. For longer soaks during warm or humid weather, the beans should be refrigerated to prevent fermentation or sprouting. Beans often absorb the maximum amount of water in about four hours, but some beans need more time to hydrate. If soaking your beans overnight is more convenient it will not degrade the beans.


Step Three - Which ever soaking method used, always discard the dirty soaking water. Rinse the beans in fresh water . Add more fresh cold water to cook the beans.

For directions on specific beans see the Cooking Time Charts.

Problems with Old Beans

Some beans refuse to soften, no matter what you do to them. You can soak them and cook them all day long, but they remain hard as pebbles. Believe it or not, the bean growers industry actually has a name for this problem; HTC Defect. HTC stands for "Hard To Cook." Seriously!

The main causes of HTC are improper storage and age. If beans have been stored at high temperatures (100ºF or higher) and/or there is high humidity (80%), or they been sitting on a shelf for a long time, chemical changes occur inside the bean and it essentially dies. As a consumer, we can't tell ahead of time if the beans we just bought will be affected by the dreaded HTC Defect. We can try to avoid this situation by checking the package dating, buying dry beans from a source that's likely to have fast turnover, and storing dried beans in an airtight container and a dry, dark, cool place.

As dry beans age, they lose moisture, and become increasingly harder to cook. I have been able to rehydrate and cook packaged beans that were 2 years old. However, I had to double the cooking time to get them tender enough to eat, and that probably resulted in a significant loss in nutrients. If there is any doubt about cooking old beans, do a test first. Soak 1-2 tablespoons of the beans and then pressure cook them for the recommended time. If they are not tender at that point, you'll need to decide if you want to proceed and cook them until they finally get tender, or toss them and buy fresh beans.


Beans labeled ‘‘quick-cooking’’ have been presoaked and refried before packaging. They don’t require presoaking and take considerably less time to prepare. However, after cooking, the texture of these ‘‘quick’’ beans isn’t as firm to the bite as regular dried beans.



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