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When do you add salt to your home cooked beans?

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When do you add salt to your home cooked beans? I've read that it's best to wait till they are done so that moisture uptake won't be inhibited.
Any thoughts?

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  1. After they're finished cooking. If you add salt before or during the cooking process, the beans will never soften properly.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Cristina

      again, don't listen to this...salt right away...keep any acid (tomato) away, however, until then end...and then it can be used to "lock" the softness of the beans and keep them from disintegrating if you need to simmer past done...

      1. re: jake-o

        It's great that everybody gets to have an opinion here, isn't it?

        I don't claim to be the be-all and end-all of bean cooking knowledge, but where I live, 50 generations (yes, 50...about 1000 years) of Mexican ladies would surely have said and would still say 'don't listen to this' to jake-o. Their experience is my experience as well: salt when the beans are finished cooking or the beans will be hard.

        I just cooked a pot of NEW *flor de junio* beans, adding salt as always after the cooking. The salt permeated the beans and the liquid. The beans were soft and squishy.

        It's always a great time of year when the bulk newly-dried beans come to the markets. It's actually a little like when the beaujolais nouveau hits the wine market: new beans are in great demand and command a slightly higher price than the rest. Their cooking time is shorter because, although they are still dried beans, they are fresher than the older ones. *Flor de junio* is smaller but similar in appearance to the pinto bean we commonly see in the States. It's also tastier; look for it in Mexican markets. Buy in bulk if you can; bagged beans are usually older, tougher, and take longer to cook than what comes from bulk bins.

        1. re: Cristina

          It's always been my understanding that adding acids too early toughen the beans, while adding salt too early causes the beans to break apart.

          1. re: Cristina

            Those same old mexican ladies probably still rub butter on burns, too. I have cooked two identical pots of identical black (turtle) beans right next to one another (on identical burners), one with loads of salt from the very begginning and one with none, and they soften at identical rates. The only diffference is that one bean is pleasantly seasoned and the other are bland nodules, or bland nodules in a salty broth if you add salt at the end. If you do add salt at the end, it takes about 24 hours for the unseasoned beans to pick up some salt. It's all slightly academic, as if you chew up a mouthful of unsalted beans with the saltly broth, everything will taste fine, but if you compare the two side by side (as I have) you will find that the pre-seasoned beans are a little better. I have only done this with black beans however, never with any other kind, so while it's possible that this is only true for black beans, I doubt it. Another common myth: soaking. All soaking does is shorten cooking time, which isn't even that long to begin with. and throwing out the soaking water gets rid of tons of vitamins, and, unless salt its disolved in the soaking water, the water entering your beans will be bland.

            1. re: jake-o

              C'mon down and convert the heathen, jake-o. LOL...

              1. re: jake-o

                And frankly, I got my "pinto bean" recipe from a really little really old Mexican lady, and she cooks hers in chicken broth from the getgo.

                Chicken broth that has salt in it.

        2. Yes, you heard correctly. Do not salt until they are finished cooking. A salted pork product, like a ham hock can go into the beans from the beginning, but adding too much salt will cause them to remain crunchy.

          Also wait until they are cooked to add acidic ingredients like tomatoes--acid toughens the skins and keeps the beans crunchy as well.

          2 Replies
          1. re: BarbaraF

            ...but you couldn't be more wrong. Salt has nothing to do with bean toughness...only acidity, which has everything to with it...

            1. re: jake-o

              You learn something new every day.

              Though, I still won't add salt until the beans are close to done, because I do like the liquid to reduce.

          2. This bugs me. Too many old wives tales.

            Harold McGee hasn't studied it, nor has anyone else printed a laboratory study.

            That leaves lots of opinions, but no facts.

            Personally I've cooked both ways, with both aged/soaked and fresh beans and noticed no difference, but I've never taken a bag of dry and done a test (or split shelling beans).

            Until that is done I reserve judgement.

            9 Replies
            1. re: SteveT

              IIRC, Cooks Illustrated (yet again) debunked this. As with potatoes, you need to add the salt in order for the beans to be fully flavored, though since beans cook a longer time you might want to wait a bit to avoid oversalting if the liquid reduces too much.

              1. re: Karl S.

                I made lentils last night from "The Best Recipes" by Cooks Illustrated and it said that adding salt at the beginning was good, brought out the flavor, and that it was simply an old wives tale.

                Adding any acid early is bad. Said that adding acid would make the lentils tough and take 2-3 times as long to cook.

                Skeptism aside, I added salt and the lentils were fabulous. Granted lentils cook a little differently than other legumes, but I think they applied it to all beans.

                1. re: caliston

                  I just made lentil soup last night with tomatoes and it turned out exactly the same as when I make it without.

              2. re: SteveT

                McGee has studied it, I'm pretty sure. I have a distinct recollection of reading a piece. He said salting at the beginning does NOT make them tough. Since then I've salted at the beginning and they've been fine. Slow cooking seems to make more of a difference in texture.

                I wonder (idly) if water hardness/softness could be a factor...

                1. re: Aromatherapy

                  Funny, I was also thinking McGee had studied it, but I remember that he advised not salting to the end. However, can't remember the underlying chemical mechanism that he said led to tough skins. Hmm, most go home and review McGee tonight!


                  1. re: smokey

                    I'm pretty sure it was in a magazine or newspaper article, not a book.

                    1. re: Aromatherapy

                      But quite likely it was Russ Parsons, not Harold McGee.

                2. re: SteveT

                  The LA Times did some tests for an article that was published on 1/29/03. They said:

                  "Salting: Conventional wisdom dictates that dried beans should only be salted toward the end of cooking, because the salt draws moisture from the bean, producing an unpleasantly dry texture. But exhaustive tests done by Times columnist Russ Parsons showed that beans cooked with a teaspoon of salt per pound compared to beans cooked without salt cooked to exactly the same degree of softness in almost exactly the same time. Moreover, the beans salted during cooking required half as much salt."

                  1. re: Nancy Berry
                    Marcia M.D'A. (formerly Marcia M.)

                    Thank you, Nancy. I knew someone had tested this bean cooking question and even remembered his conclusion, but I could not come up with the name. Russ Parsons, of course! You are a veritable fount of knowledge.

                3. I also wonder if this is a wive's tale but I generally hedge my bet by salting about 2/3 of the way through the cooking. This seems to allow the beans to soak up some salt. which I like.

                  1. I've tried this every which way, over more than twenty years. My experience has been that if you salt at the beginning they won't get soft, but if you salt after they are done you can't get them salty enough. Now I wait until they've been cooking an hour or so. Take a few out, blow on them, if the skins split and they are getting soft it's OK to add salt then.

                    I usually wait and add salt meat at this point too. They have at least two more hours to simmer, so that's plenty of time for them to absorb flavor from the meat.

                    I haven't noticed whether the presence or absence of tomatoes makes a difference; will have to investigate that.

                    1. When I first started cooking legumes I'd add salt and tomatoes up front and they turned out fine. Later, following the same method, I'd cook them for four hours and they'd still be half raw.

                      While watching Mario Batali one day he advised never salt or add any acid before the legumes are fully cooked because doing so will _sometimes_ result in underdone or tough beans. I've followed his advise and haven't had any more problems with tough beans.

                      Lentils seem to be an exception to the rule.

                      1. I soak the beans in salted water before cooking (as mentioned by C.I.) and then add more if needed a t the end. Great flavor and no problems with bean staying hard.

                        1. I soak them in just plain water and add salt only after they're done cooking.

                          1. melinda lee of melindalee.com says to salt after cooking or they will split. I have listened to her radio program every weekend for years and subscribe to her magazine and follow her advice.

                            1. It doesn't matter. I use a smoked ham product and it goes in at the beginning. Plenty of salt in that. But like others have mentioned, you don't want too much salt if you are reducing the liquid.

                              1. I invariably add salt early in the cooking process. Never had a problem with tough beans.

                                1. Harold McGee must have been following this thread because he DID investigate the matter, and found that beans cooked best, and required less salt, if it was added as early in the process as possible. If you pre-soak the beans (which he also says is not necessary) then you should salt the soaking water. Nowadays I always do the quick-soak thing - cover the beans with plenty of water, bring it to the boil, boil for two minutes and then soak covered for an hour or more - and salt the water first. Then when the beans are cooked I add a bit more salt if necessary. It usually isn't.

                                  1. Kenji at the Serious Eats Food Lab also did a side-by-side comparison of beans salted from the beginning and beans salted after cooking. Both batches softened at the same time and the salted beans even retained their shape better.

                                    1. I have included links to 3 articles on this subject. One is even by Chow.com.


                                      Most recent articles seem to go with salting early or soaking in salt water. Mostly for flavor. It makes sense that if you salt early the salt will flavor deeper into the bean.

                                      A lot of the articles I read, seemed to indicate a different texture of the bean when you salted early and when you didn't. At least a few of the articles I read indicated that salting early resulted in fewer exploded and disintegrated beans. I suspect this is the source of disagreement. When I cook beans, I want a good portion of them to break down and help form a creamy broth like with Ham Hocks and beans. I would be very disappointed if I got a clear broth. Some people, however want a clear broth, more like a soup. I assume these people are looking for tender individual beans in a fairly clear broth.

                                      I suspect that if you want creamy beans that do break down, you should not salt your beans until at least half way through. If you are looking for tender individual beans that hold their shape and have not exploded or disintegrated, you should soak your beans in salt water or at the very least salt early.

                                      By the way, there seems to be controversy on whether to pre-soak for 24 hours or boil for 2 minutes and then steep for an hour before cooking or to just start cooking, it will just take longer without a pre-soak. I suspect this controversy is rooted in the same basic disagreement about your individual preference in texture.

                                      So, do you want beans that have retained their individual integrity or do you want beans where a lot of them have broken down and helped formed a creamy colored broth?

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                        The standard way to address this, as in Marcella Hazan's recipe for pasta e fagiole, is to remove a ceratin amount of the cooked beans and either mash them or use an immersion blender. There's no particular difference in the flavor, and instead of a random mixture of whole and disintegrated beans, with a lot in between, you get a good lot of whole but tender beans and a soup of controlled thickness. As I prefer to do these sorts of things on purpose rather than my accident - which is why I like Harold McGee so much - this is my preferred method.

                                        I remember a recipe for the US Senate bean soup that called for the addition of mashed potato. This is the sort of travesty I think we need to avoid.

                                        1. re: Will Owen

                                          Mashed potatoes in Senate Bean Soup is heresy. Wow, that's quite a liberty to take with that noble recipe. ;)

                                          1. re: Will Owen

                                            I had Senator bean soup in the cafeteria in the Capitol building as a little kid visiting Washington wway way back in time when it was open to the public. I still remember, as served at the capital. Its an amazing soup. Worth a try on a cold winter day.
                                            The US government posts the receipe here
                                            2 gal without mashed potatoes.
                                            and a 3 gal more economical ? version with with mashed potatoes. :) . So do you salt the potatoes in senator bean soup first or last? :))

                                            1. re: dlmz06

                                              Read the senator bean soup recipes more closely.
                                              2 senators each had a version. They post both. One with, one without mashed potatoes. Both are for 5 gallons.

                                              Here on the Southern US border, pintos rule. For the spicier deep Mexican charro pintos made with salt pork and roasted, seeded chili strips or bits, pinto, epizote and chopped onion, plus minus a little olive oil, you might have to go further into the interior of Mexico. But if you ask at the excellent restaurants here, you can find this excellent bean soup often used as sauce beans to add a few to homeade style soft tacos.

                                        2. I add salt to the soaking liquid and then salt the fresh water when cooking. The soaking brine has been shown to decrease cooking time. If I ever get hard beans (rare) it's because they were old not because of the salt.

                                          1. Its important to figure out not just what works best in a laboratory setting, but what works best for you and how you use the beans. In my case, it makes sense to (pressure) cook a larger batch of beans and then season smaller portions on a daily (or more frequent) basis. Its energy efficient, the portions can be frozen, and you avoid waste because you got tired of eating beans exactly the same way before you get through a 1/2-1lb of beans. In this case I prefer not to salt the beans, regardless of how they cook, because its more flexible, and just use a small amount of bay leaf. I can easily cook the beans down as desired, I can add bacon or bacon skin to a portion, I can use the same garlic paste with salt I just prepared in the mortar/pestle for rice, or I may want the less salty with garlic, onion, marjoram, and olive oil. You could use a fairly light touch with salt, but for me that is more effort than its worth and I often do cook it down because I want enough water in the pressure cooker (and if you follow their guidelines it will be watery) particularly if its the venting type. The big exception is I do like to cook salted meats (pork hocks, tails, beef ribs) with the beans so in that case I will often make an exception but usually some of the salt is removed first. I do like to boil the beans a few minutes before putting them under pressure, although that is also sometimes dispensed with.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: itaunas

                                              I can't imagine getting tired of eating a pound or so of beans cooked the way I like them, which these days is usually just with a soffrito of onion, garlic, celery and carrot, plus dried herbs, cooked in a good bit of olive oil before the soaked beans are added. Hot, cold, as soup or under a salad, and the more they're reheated the better they get. Since I've gotten fond of cooking them in the oven, Tuscan style, it's a leisurely process that a pressure cooker would just complicate unduly. Diff'rent strokes …

                                            2. I don't usually, and I don't have a ham shank this time so this question poses a problem for me, so I looked it up and this link is what I found, with great info. I think I'm gonna salt this time and see how it goes. http://www.finecooking.com/item/9162/...

                                              1. America`s Test Kitchen adds them at the end of cooking.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: Ruthie789

                                                  Well not really. they advise soaking in salt water before cooking and have found that salt in the cooking water does not make beans stay hard.

                                                  1. re: chefj

                                                    ChefJ, the recipe for baked beans does not have salt in the soaking liquid. However once in the crockpot the recipe calls for some salted pork or bacon in the mix which is high in salt so I did not take that into consideration.

                                                    1. re: Ruthie789

                                                      I did not know anyone was talking about Baked Beans?

                                                      1. re: chefj

                                                        I was confused, the thread said beans...and I made the wrong association.

                                                2. There are people who will disagree, but IMO salt should never, ever be added to beans before they're properly cooked. They'll "sieze" on you, and you'll have a big pot of crunchy beanage.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: mamachef

                                                    If that is the case why don't the beans in things like Red beans and Rice "seize" The Ham Hock adds salt to the cooking liquid while the beans are still hard?
                                                    This has also been thoroughly debunked.

                                                    1. re: chefj

                                                      Like I said, there are those who will disagree. If I've been sailing along perpetrating an old wives' tale, so be it; if, scientifically speaking there is no reason for beans to remain hard after adding sodium too early, so be that too. :) And I'll just keep salting starting no sooner than about 2/3 of the way through, mired in my bean delusions.

                                                  2. From Christopher Kimball at ATK:

                                                    "We found that three tablespoons of salt per gallon of soaking water is enough to guarantee soft skins."

                                                    1. I figure people sometimes get beans that just don't cook because, e.g., they are old and attribute it to salt, figuring that's the only thing it can be.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. Salt early.

                                                        Acid inhibits softening. Salt does not. It's important to season early when cooking anything.

                                                        1. Before, and if necessary, after. The theories on beans with salt vary madly. I prefer to make sure they don't have that sodium- free taste. some things need salt, beans are right up there on the list.

                                                          1. It is my opinion that the reason we were taught not to salt beans is that usually a piece of salt pork or salted ham hock was added to the beans at the beginning of cooking. Therefore, waiting until the beans were cooked to determine if additional salt was needed. I usually test to see if additional salt is needed about an hour before they are done and add salt then if it is needed. Many times, it is not needed due to the cooking with salt pork or salted ham hock.

                                                            1. I forgot to add Salt at the beginning to my 13 bean soup cooked in a slow cooker. I added all seasonings except tomatoes at the beginning. When done the soup looked like the pictures you see in sunset magazine. My slow cooked bean soups always look like there's no beans in there just a broth with vegetables.

                                                              Tasted liked crap. So added salt later. Yummy. A happy mistake that resolved my "what am I doing wrong here"

                                                              Chef amaturo.