For many centuries, dried beans have played a key role in sustaining human life. It always boils down to one reason: preserving and storing dried beans is easy and hassle-free. All you need to do is keep them dry and away from pests or rodents.
Talking of nutrition, beans are jam-packed with best-for-you nutrients, including minerals, vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, good carbs, and plant protein. But that isn’t all. A diet rich in beans can help keep your ticker in good shape, curb your raging appetite, reduce cancer risks, and maintain a healthy gut. And if that’s not good enough for you, remember dried beans are sinfully cheap and readily available.
The Struggle of Cooking Dried Beans
Well, let’s face it; cooking dried beans is no easy walk in the park. It is customary in many parts of the world to soak the beans overnight before cooking them. That can be time-consuming, and inconvenient for most people. That’s where baking soda comes into the picture.
Soaking or cooking dried beans using baking soda is an age-old tale. But is there some truth to this old wives tale? Call it the holy grail of home remedy world, baking soda has been touted as the answer to almost anything, from teeth-cleaning to skincare and everything in between. When it comes to dried beans, baking soda is claimed to offer all sorts of benefits. Some say it helps the beans become soft and cook faster as well as retain their beautiful color. Others say it get rids of excess gas associated with eating beans. Which begs the question: is baking soda and dried beans a match made in heaven?
There’s no direct answer to this question. While most people have experienced reduced gas after adding baking soda, there is little or no scientific evidence to that effect. Let’s take a closer look at the enigma of baking soda and dried beans, shall we?
Does Baking Soda Soften and Speed Up Cooking of Dried Beans?
The simple answer is, yes – soaking dried beans with a little baking soda can indeed tenderize them. The end game here is to make the beans tender or soft enough to cook in the shortest time possible. How does the tenderizing process work?
You see, dried beans typically have a moisture content of around 15-16 percent, but this could be lower depending on the storage conditions. As the beans age, however, the moisture tends to dissipate, allowing aging chemicals (like pectin) to react and harden the skin. That’s where baking soda come in handy.
Baking soda is a natural tenderizer. It acts by increasing the pH and the alkalinity of soaking water, as well as removing elements like magnesium and calcium from hard water. Also, baking soda speeds up the disintegration of pectin, allowing the beans to soften faster. The upside of this is that the beans will cook quicker and more evenly.
Using Baking Soda has a Huge Downside
Modern cooking methods of cooking dried beans stay away from using baking soda altogether, and with good reason. For starters, soaking and cooking dried beans with baking soda leaves an unsavory, soapy aftertaste and a little slimy mouth-feel. That’s no good way to eat your otherwise tasty beans.
Poor paste aside, using baking soda to tenderize dried beans can also come with a nutrition cost. It destroys a number of nutrients that make beans so rich and nutritious. Perhaps the most important one is Vitamin B1, otherwise known as Thiamin, a B complex vitamin that prevents complications in the heart, gut, muscles, brain, and cognitive system. Severe lack of thiamin can cause beriberi, a cardiovascular condition that’s characterized by shortness of breath, leg swelling, and fast heartbeat.
Baking soda is also bad news for your gut health. It not only interferes with the natural pH of the stomach but also harms vital enzymes like pepsin. It is a crucial digestive enzyme that helps chunk down proteins into peptides, which then can be easily absorbed into the bloodstream. If you add a bit too much baking soda to your beans, you’ll definitely have stomach issues. In fact, you’ll probably experience much worse gas.
What’s the Best Alternative for Baking Soda?
Start off by avoiding the use of hard water. If you don’t seem to get the dried beans to soak and soften enough in time for cooking, the chances are good that you are using hard water. This is water that comprises plenty of minerals like magnesium and calcium (remember this is what the baking soda removes). When you bring hard water to a boil, these minerals precipitate into gray spots or chalky white deposits, making it hard for beans to soak and tenderize. The harder your water, the more difficult it will be to soften or cook your dried beans. That’s why you should avoid adding calcium-heavy ingredients like molasses to your beans.
With that being said, the trick is to use purified bottled water that has been stripped of minerals like calcium and magnesium. Don’t get this wrong; purified water is not the same as distilled water. Use the soft water to both soak and cook the dried beans, and the whole process will become effortlessly easy.
This is another technique that promises to work like a charm when it comes to soaking and cooking dried beans without the use of baking soda. The entire procedure is easy:
- Combine water and dried beans in the ratio of 10 cups of water per 1 lb of beans
- You can either soak them overnight or use the quick soak technique. Boil the dried beans and water for about 2min, cover, and then soak for about 1hr.
- Cook/simmer the soaked beans between 45mins and 2 hours depending on the variety and extent of soaking.
- Let the beans cool off before freezing. You can speed up the cooling by pouring over or rinsing the hot beans with cold water.
- Thaw the frozen beans whenever you want to cook.
The science behind this method is straightforward. Freezing the slightly soaked/cooked beans breaks down the cells structure and walls.