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Oct 19, 2010 11:18 AM

Old beans, old beans, dem . . . OLD beans

I'm making pasta e fagiole today and it occurred to me to wonder - why did my step-mom, who bought beans by the barrel (it seemed) and kept cooking with those beans until somewhere 5 years down the road it was time for another barrel, always end up with nice, soft beans - but when *I* cooked with the SAME beans (on her stove using her bean pot yet) they came out hard and crunchy?

There must be something people do to old beans to make them cook-able. I just have no idea what it could have been.

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  1. Those are some old beans. They may take double the regular cooking time. I have heard of adding baking soda to the water to aid in softening.
    Many people report that very old beans or ones that have been stored at to high of a temp will never soften.

    2 Replies
    1. re: chefj

      Baking soda changes the flavor of the beans in a way I can't describe but don't like. If you want to try it, do a test run with a small amount.

      Before I bought pie weights, I used white beans for 2 or 3 pies, storing them in a jar, which then sat on a shelf for at least a decade and probably a generation until I decided to cook them as a science experiment. Soaking didn't help much, and it took twice as long to cook them, but they did soften and were edible, though nothing to write home about. There are two little "nostrils" - I can't recall the correct term" - on a bean that allow water to enter. In really old beans, those dry out and close up, so water can no longer enter for soaking. I don't know if they reopen in cooking or whether the water just eventually softens the entire skin enough to allow water into the heart of the bean.

      1. re: greygarious

        Ok, I'll just put some of these beans aside today and I'll get back to you in 5 years, LOL!

        I thought I cooked them longer but maybe not long enough. Hmmm, maybe she was pressure cooking them! I never thought of that!

    2. I'm guessing you're not cooking them long enough.

      3 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        I swear to god, I cooked them for like SIX HOURS! Maybe even 8! After soaking them overnight.

        Today I made pasta e fagiole, and with those old beans on my mind, I "automatically" cooked my beans as follows:

        Boiled for 10 minutes, drained (to make them non-farty).

        Put more water in, brought to the boil, then turned off the stove and let sit for 1 hour (because I forgot to soak overnight).

        Brought to a boil then simmered for 1 hour.

        They were cooked to mush.

        MUSH I tell you, MUSH!

        Yet those old beans - they haunt me so - I boiled them and boiled them and boiled them and added water and boiled them some more

        And they stayed crunchy no matter what!

        It had to be the pressure cooker! It just HAD to be!

        /looking around fearfully for the Bean Police


        1. re: ZenSojourner

          did you have any tomatoes in your first batch? High-acid food will make beans stay hard as bullets, no matter how long you cook them.

          Cook the beans...THEN add the vinegar or tomatoes or lemon juice.

          A pinch of baking soda is supposed to reduce the intestinal distress brought about by eating a big bowl of bean soup....but a pinch is all -- any more, and you have something that tastes really awful, and can't be salvaged. I tried rinsing them, cooking them longer, adding onions and garlic....and UGH...I finally ended up with soft, tender beans that still tasted really awful.

          1. re: ZenSojourner

            Must been harvested from the petrified forest ...

        2. We have POUNDS of all kinds of beans from Y2K. I tried cooking them a few times last year, and they finally did soften after about 3 days!!! Then I tried a pressure cooker, and it was wonderful! Cooked in about 30 minutes, and tasted fine.

          1. I have read that adding salt during cooking slows the cooking time dramatically; wait until after beans are cooked to salt (similar to the post re: adding tomatoes or other acidics AFTER beans are cooked).

            I have also read that while baking soda may aid in gas reduction (and apparently softening beans), it also destroys some of the nutrients. Best advice I've found so far to reduce gas-producing characteristics is soaking overnight, drain, and rinse well.

            I just cooked some beans (crock pot) that were probably 5 years old, turned out great except I sensed a bit of a bitter flavor. Not enough for the rest of the family to notice, and I wasn't going to be dumb enough to tell them I tasted it and have everyone throw their spoons down. So I'm wondering if beans that are too old turn bitter.

            6 Replies
            1. re: tanyac64

              No-- salt has no effect on cooking beans other than to add flavor.

              It's acid (tomatoes, molasses, vinegar, etc) that keeps them from softening properly.

              There are a number of articles around the web documenting this -- you can still add acidic ingredients once they're soft, but not before.

              1. re: sunshine842

                Sunshine is right.

                Salt is fine. Necessary even to season the beans.

                Acid is not.

                1. re: C. Hamster

                  I do my soak in heavily-salted water. Whatever I'm making just tastes better (and yes, I use less salt later)

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    I do the same. Though I wouldn't call my soaking water heavily salted. But I do soak in salted water and it makes a noticeable improvement in taste.

                    1. re: C. Hamster

                      heavily-salted by our house standards is pretty lightly-salted by most others...but it's then rinsed before cooking, and I rarely have to add any additional I suppose it all averages out.

              2. re: tanyac64

                To me, baking soda makes beans taste both flat and metallic - hard to describe but if you used BS that might be what you detected.

              3. Wow, who knew salting before or after was such a hot topic?


                Any thoughts on how old the beans can be and still be good to eat? I suppose forever, technically. Ever experience bitterness?

                And I came across another post that said adding cider vinegar 30 minutes before finished cooking helps reduce "inner tremors" is how I believe he put it, i.e., gas. Beyond that, vinegar really brightens the flavor.

                I checked Alton Brown's web site, as he is my hero and all-food guru, and his red beans and rice calls for salt from the get go, so I'll trust that.


                4 Replies
                1. re: tanyac64

                  They don't go bitter as they get old -- you may just be sensitive to a flavor compound that the rest of your family truly doesn't taste.

                  They are edible basically until they crumble into dust -- but the older they are, the longer it will take to get them to cook back to tender.

                  if you add vinegar before the beans are soft, you are adding acid and they'll never soften. Acid also doesn't usually reduce flatulence -- it increases it. Most things you read will say to add a pinch or two of baking soda (no more than that or you'll change the flavor) to reduce flatulence.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    Also never cook the beans in the soaking water if gas is an issue. The compounds that produce the gas dissolve in the soaking water.

                    To reduce gas, change the soaking water a few times and don't cook with it.

                    Some people add epizote but I've never found that to be much help.

                    1. re: C. Hamster

                      and epazote definitely has a flavor. I do use it if I'm making chili or something southwestern-ish, but the flavor doesn't work for other types of dishes.

                    2. re: sunshine842


                      His research seems pretty reputable on adding cider vinegar (after they've softened) close to end of cooking. In my vague memory, I recalled either baking soda, which kills off some nutrients, or vinegar helped reduce flatulence. But acids added at beginning prevent softening of the bean. Also soaking and dumping water, but as someone said, again, you are dumping nutrients.

                      I don't know what the deal is, this last batch of beans made me gassier than ever before! :) I think there is a difference in how the beans react depending on type. I used Great Northern, but will try pinto or black beans next, as they are often referenced in the articles I'm reading.

                      OK, just found Dr. David Williams on this health fraud web site:

                      Also, I guess I normally do soak and drain the beans overnight. This time I just dumped them in the crock pot dry with all the ingredients, so that could explain the increased flatulence.

                      This is scary about cooking kidney beans in a slow cooker, per

                      "There is an exception for kidney beans which MUST be boiled for 10 minutes prior to being placed in a slow cooker. There is a toxin that causes gastric distress if they are not cooked at a high enough temperature for a long enough time. This toxin is actually increased by about 5x if cooked at too low a temperature when compared to raw, soaked kidney beans. Use care and use already cooked kidney beans in slow cooker recipes. You don’t want to puke your brains up to save a few minutes."