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Jan 13, 2004 10:39 PM

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.