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why don't my beans ever get tender?

I have been simmering split peas for two hours now. I gave them a long soak before I started. Why aren't they soft?

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  1. Maybe they were too old? Beans (and I'm guessing peas) get old, and then they won't ever get super-tender.

    1. That's weird! Split peas don't require special handling (or a soak) and should cook to soft within 20 minute or half an hour.

      Did you, by chance, use these split peas to blind bake a pie shell? Did you buy them from someone who might have had them a l-o-n-g time?

      I'd buy some new ones and try it again. Or, if it's a nothing-to-lose situation at this point, transfer them to a pressure cooker and see what happens. Just do it in short increments if you don't want to end up with a purée.

      1. I think it was the soak that did them in. I soaked some golden peas once, and the starch leeched out and when I boiled them they became wooden! :P In fact, my first split pea soup was such a disaster I had to share on the board...LOL!!


        Next time, just plan for a long simmer...


        1. Did you add salt to the cooking water? This will toughen up beans and pulses if added while cooking.


          3 Replies
          1. re: j2brady

            That's actually a myth. Acid, like tomatoes, will keep the skins of beans intact, but salt won't prevent them from getting soft. After reading about this here once, I did some research, and also tested the theory with some black beans. There wasn't an appreciable difference in cooking time between salted and unsalted!

            I think the problem must have been old beans.

            1. re: Kagey

              I didn't know that. I have read about it so many places as well. I had also read that adding kombu (seaweed) helps to soften?? I suppose that is also a falsehood?


              1. re: j2brady

                I hadn't heard about the seaweed thing.

                One thing that definitely does work is soaking with bicarb (baking soda). Actually, one of Nigella's recipes calls for soaking chickpeas overnight in water into which you've stirred a paste of 1 part bicarb to 2 parts flour and 2 parts salt. After doing that, I found that my chickpeas cooked to done in half an hour--faster than I'd ever experienced with a normal water soak by far.

                Generally, chick peas are the only dried beans that I soak, since they can take forever when you try to cook them from dry. I don't have that problem with other beans.

          2. not applicable to split peas as much, since you don't have to worry about those outside of the beans the same you do with other things, but acidity can play a big role in toughening beans. Salt, I believe, has been proven to not have an effect on beans, but I know that acidity does. the more acid, the tighter the "skin" of the beans is. the more base it is, the more those skins break down and they become mushier. So, when someone wants really soft beans that break down well, you can add a bit of baking soda. If you want to have clean unbroken skins, simmer very mildly and for a long time, but add some tomato or a touch of lemon.

            All that said, I don't think any of this had any bearing on your issue... just reminded me of all of this. I think I'd go with the first posters' thought that they were probably very old.

            1. I was just reading Herve This's book, Molecular Gastronomy. He found that lentils (and I assume peas) won't get soft if cooked in hard water. He added sodium bicarbonate to the water to negate the acid/hardness and they cooked up nice and soft.

              3 Replies
              1. re: JMF

                Cook's Illustrated and Alton Brown both say this too. Salt has no effect, pH does.

                1. re: cheryl_h

                  But doesn't salt affect pH?


              2. I have the same problem -- I can soak and cook beans for days and they will never get soft. Finally discovered the problem -- hard water. The first time I added baking soda to the water, I added about a half teaspoon to a pot. Boy oh boy did those beans soften up. They were MUSH! So, do use the baking soda but only use a tiny bit - maybe a quarter teaspoon to a pot. You might try some bottled drinking water, if you find that easier. Maybe I'll just stick with canned beans.

                1. Can one add baking soda to a cooked bean soup recipe to soften up hard beans? Or is the baking soda only effective when first soaking them overnight? I may try it since I've got nothing to lose at this point! (Except hard beans...)

                  1. pH is the measure of acidity. Low pH is high acidity. Common salt is on the Neutral to high pH side so it is basic. Adding tomatoes or any other acidic veggie too early in the cooking will prevent the beans from getting tender by lowering the pH. Beans should be cooked tender before any other ingredients in a recipe are added if you don't know how they will effect the pH of the liquid in the pot. Hard water tends to have high pH due to the dissolved minerals in it. Bicarbonate neutralized acidity. Same for table salt, so for optimum cooking of beans, you want the water rather neutral. Too much mineralization in the water or too high acidity will keep them from softening. Add salt or bicarb to make your water neutral. Here is more into on the subject. http://christopherkimball.wordpress.c...

                    1. I'm surprised nobody's mentioned soaking them in salt water before cooking. I was very skeptical since I'd always heard salt makes them tougher, but when America's test kitchen said it worked, I tried it, and got the creamiest tenderest beans I've ever made! Soak in 3/4 tbsp salt per every 4 cups of water for 8-24 hours, then rinse thoroughly and cook as usual. It has something to do with the sodium ions displacing something in the skins of the beans to allow water to penetrate more easily, but I don't remember the exact science. But then again that's beans, not sure how if it works for peas too.