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Jan 15, 2007 07:08 PM

Dried Beans – to soak or not to soak, that is the question

I’ve decided 2007 is the year of the bean where I get to know different types. I’m starting with yellow canary beans ... some Mexican, some Peruvian.

Anyway, should dried beans be soaked? This site doesn’t seem to think so saying ...

“Some say soak your beans, don't do it, cook them hard and fast, you get better taste”

Do you just use enough water to cover the beans if you cook without soaking?

If you do soak beans, is there such a thing as over-soaking? I found this chart for the minimum times of soaking various beans, but no maximum times.

Found an old Chowhound thread with a little about over-soaking ... leads to fermentation. It also suggests beans don’t need to be soaked at all.

I was thinking of either cooking up the beans right now or (as of noon) soaking the beans to cook about 1 day from now.

There are suggestions for quick soaking ... bring beans in water to a boil for 3 minutes. Remove from stove (I assume). Leave in water for 2-3 hours then cook until tender. So if I do this does that mean when I cook later on that I bring the beans back to a boil and simmer until tender?

Also, does the soaking pot matter? Does it matter if I just put them in a mason jar or do I need a larger bowl for more exposure to water?

The Mexican beans I have came in bulk ... so no instructions. The Puruvian beans just have a recipe for Frijoles Criollos which says basically after cooking some onions & garlic in 2 oz of oil, add beans oregano, salt, pepper & tomato paste and cook for 45 minutes. Doesn’t have measurements other than the oil. Doesn’t say anything anywhere on the package for cooking the beans.

That being said, with all my beans this year I just want to cook them plain first to get the basic flavor/texture.

So ... to soak or not? Maybe this should also be the year of the cooking class for me too.

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  1. I say soak overnight and rinse....know that most legumes will expand 3X so make sure you leave room in the container...rumor has it that an overnight soak will also help release the gaseous enzymes...

    Also, cooking dried beans is certainly doable but much care/attention is needed to make sure they don't burn as they'll absorb much more water than soaked beans...

    1. I'm a fan of the quick soak - boil, turn off heat and let them sit with the lid on for an hour. Drain, cover with fresh water, boil hard for 10 min, skim off any scum, then add aromatics and simmer till done.

      According to Deborah Madison, soaking shortens cooking time, allows beans that are dry or immature to float to the surface where they can be skimmed off, and removes some of the complex sugar that causes indigestion. She goes on to say that while beneficial, soaking CAN be skipped - particularly if you are using a pressure cooker.

      As far as a "overnight" soak, most beans absorb all the water they will within 4 hours.

      Make sure to cover your beans with lots of water when soaking (at least 4 times the volume of your beans).

      And of course, lentils don't need to soak at all.

      1. I used to soak, but not anymore. When we were doing Bayless for Cookbook of the Month I was reading a lot about Mexican cooking, not only because I knew nothing about it but because I thought the directions and explanations in his Everyday cookbook just weren't as good as in his previous books and in other books on Mexican and Southwest cooking. Anyway, can't quote the source, but one of the authorities I was reading said, essentially, why soak the beans and throw out all the flavor that's leached into the soaking water. Made sense to me. Haven't soaked since. I rinse them, cover with about 2 inches of water, keep the water at that level throughout the cooking, and cook at the barest simmer (so the beans don't burst)for about 3 hours. I've done this with both pintos and black beans and have been very pleased with the results.

        3 Replies
        1. re: JoanN

          This makes total sense. Thanks for this, I will heed your advice. I also use a pressure cooker many times for beans, especially ones with ham hocks.

          1. re: personalcheffie

            I think that the soak to some extent is needed, with some beans. Black beans are tough to get soft, for example. But, soaking with or without a boil, and for long or shot times (long without a boil will lead to fermentation), is not a big deal. I prefer a cold soak with a bean that softens easily, like a lentil, and a boil with a harder bean like the black.

            Throwing out the water is throwing of flavor. So, I wash them well, before I soak, then soak and keep the water for when I cook the beans.

            1. re: Captain

              I have never soaked lentils. I have always thrown out the soaking water, so I won't do that anymore. Have always washed well and picked over.

        2. I can't detect any difference between soaked and unsoaked beans. So I soak, to save money on fuel. And I don't throw out the soaking water, I cook the beans in it.

          1. I have been told that the soaking water contains most of the indigestible "gas-causing" elements of the beans, and should be discarded.

            1 Reply
            1. re: wayne keyser

              It is true, according to Harold McGee, that the soaking water contains the gaseous elements in the beans. But if you throw it out, you're also throwing out significant vitamins and minerals. Long, slow cooking will break down those elements and make them digistable.