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Will the beans in my chili EVER soften??

Yesterday, my husband made chili while I was out. Unfortunately, he added the beans (pinto and small red) before they were thoroughly softened (he'd brought the dried beans to a boil, then let them sit for 1 hour). We cooked the chili for a few hours, but the beans are still rather hard and I'm afraid they won't ever soften on account of the acid from the tomatoes and the salt that they're cooking in. We ate something else for dinner last night, and I'm hoping to save this chili and serve it some other night this week. Anyone have any suggestions for softening the beans once they've been added to acidic ingredients? Is it as simply as cooking for many many hours?!?

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  1. The salt is not the problem. kitchen mythology aside. If the beans were *very* old nothing other than parboiling with baking soda would probably soften them enough. (Acids slow down softening; alkali like baking soda speed it up, though one has to be careful with them - and you have to discard the liquid before adding the beans to anything else).

    2 Replies
    1. re: Karl S

      So THAT's why Ma Ingalls put a spoonful of baking soda in her pot of beans... Very good to know.

      1. re: LauraGrace

        Yeah, people think acids tenderize - often, they in fact toughen. But they carry flavor well. Alkali tenderize (that's the Chinese velvetize tough bits of beef, for example), but you have to be very precise in how you do it, because alkali can leave a nasty taste and slick texture.

    2. This happened to me back in the mists of time, before I knew about beans being toughened by the acid in tomato. I pureed the whole shebang and thinned it with some canned tomatos and broth, then called it soup. I can't recall if I continued to cook the puree....But I added cooked rice and some more vegetables, which I think were frozen, so I probably did.

      1. I agree with Karl

        Salt's not the problem. The main causes of beans not softening are age and acid.

        Sorry, but if they haven't softened through hours of cooking, they probably never will.

        I would hesitate to add baking soda to chili. People simmer their beans with baking soda in the water then rinse and drain them, but IMO you can still taste the baking soda. Added directly to the chili, I'm sure it would give the chili a very weird and perhaps offputting flavor.

        1 Reply
        1. re: C. Hamster

          Not to mention an awfully slick texture...ick.

        2. Well, the beans definitely aren't old - I used them with much success just a week ago. So I guess the acid has just killed them! I'll try greygarious' method, and see how that works out...though I don't know if the beans will even puree :)

          1. Here's kind of an off the wall idea. Try freezing the chili. The freezing and thawing process might soften the beans. No idea if it would really work, but it might be worth experimenting with.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Chimayo Joe

              That's a great idea. The chili has been in my fridge since Sunday, and I was going to see if I could work with it again tonight. If they're still too hard, I will absolutely freeze it and see how it thaws. Just can't bear to toss all those good ingredients!!

              1. re: RosemaryHoney

                Definitely try it, but don't get your hopes up. I had a similar problem with a bean soup - using my fancy Rancho Gordo beans - and freezing didn't help the problem at all!

                Good luck!