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Is the water in my new town preventing my beans from softening?

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Dried beans are one of my comfort foods. I've cooked them all my life, all different kinds, all levels of freshness and in different regions of the country. I would have said I'm as much a bean expert as anyone. I've always had consistent results until I moved from California to New Jersey and now i can't get my beans to soften! I know all of the issues and tricks with salt, acid, age so I'm wondering if the water has a different mineral component here that is affecting the cooking process. Anyone else have this problem? Any ideas?

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  1. Hard water will do that. Add a t or so of baking soda to a big pot of beans (as much as 1T if the water's really hard) and you'll take care of the issue.

    3 Replies
    1. re: sweetbasil

      Thanks- I have heard of using baking soda before but never in association with hard water. Do you know if there is any at home way to test or determine if the water is hard?

      1. re: WCchopper

        http://www.indigo.com/test-strips/wat...

        1. re: WCchopper

          The easiest and cheapest way to tell how hard your water is would be to take a bottle of it to Sears hardware department (where they sell water softeners) and ask them to test it. Of course, you'll have to endure the sales pitch when they tell you that the water is so hard it's actually chunky-style.

      2. Just to add to this discussion, calcium is present in hard water, and adding baking soda will soften your water and your beans. An 1/8 teaspoon per cup of beans is all you need; alternatively, you can use distilled water to cook your beans.

        "For maximum tenderness, do not add sweet or salty foods or sauces, or acid foods like tomatoes until the beans are almost or fully cooked. Calcium or acid causes the outside of the bean to stay tough. When fruits and vegetables are cooked, heat causes the insoluble pectic substances (the "glue" between the cells) to convert to water-soluble pectins, which dissolve, allowing cells to separate and soften. Both calcium and sugar, however, hinder this conversion to pectin. Cook beans with an ingredient containing these substances,such as molasses, which is acidic, and the beans won't get overly soft. That's why Boston baked beans can be cooked for hours and still retain their shape. If you cooked the same beans without the molasses, you would have "refried" beans (bean mush). Cooking beans in "hard" water, which contains calcium, also prevents softening." -Ellen's Kitchen.

        I seem to remember that when I lived in central NJ as a kid we had very hard water in our area.

        2 Replies
        1. re: bushwickgirl

          I live in Hoboken. Anecdotally, friends I have asked here have confirmed that "their beans never get soft" or said that their cooking friends/relatives use pressure cookers for beans, so it seems to confirm my suspicion about hard water. I think I'll try the baking soda first, since distilled water would have to be carried up 3 flights of stairs.

          1. re: WCchopper

            Ah, Hoboken. I was in Flemington, not very close, but it might be just the water in central NJ. I now live in Brooklyn, where the water seems to be fairly soft. I'm sure the baking soda will solve your bean issue.

        2. Wow, so that's why my beans never get tender any more!
          I thought I was just doing something bizarrely wrong.
          Thanks, everyone!