HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Dried Beans - What's is the trick?

Why do they take forever? I have soaked them overnight and simmered them but they take hours! Is there a trick to speeding up the process? Is it my water? They are not exotic, just black beans or kidney types. Any tips out there?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Good question! I am having a heck of a time with them too but haven't had a chance to ask Chowhounders yet. I don't have an answer (obviously) but I'm joining this thread so I don't miss anything!

    1. It depends on what kind of beans you have -- some are tender in an hour or two, some take 3-4 hours to soften -- but it's completely normal for beans to take several hours to cook.

      It also depends on how old they are -- while they indeed are shelf-stable for a long, long time -- the older they are, the longer it will take.

      It's also EXTREMELY important to not acid of any kind to your beans until *after* they are soft. Acid reacts with beans (don't ask me how - I have read, but don't remember the technical explanation) and keeps them from ever getting soft.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sunshine842

        True! Don't add any acid until the beans are cooked to the doneness you prefer. Acid (even tomato products) halts the absorption of liquid into the beans. Baked beans in a can have the acid added at the perfect moment so they don't become any mushier in the can. The following article explains the science and has some great tips: http://www.ellenskitchen.com/recipebo...

      2. I start the soak by bringing the beans to a boil and then leaving them to soak in the cooling water overnight. It seems to help - but some still take approximately forever to cook - it varies by batch.

        1. What altitude do you live at? The higher in elevation the longer they take to fully soften. (water boils at a lower temperature) Soaking overnight normally really helps. A pressure cooker also works wonders with dried beans, it does a serious persuasion on a tough bean to cooperate. Some say don't salt until fully cooked, personally it hasn't mattered. The age of the beans might matter too. All that being said sometimes you just get a bag with a pissy attitude.

          2 Replies
          1. re: rcspott

            My home is located at 21 feet above sea level. Is that considered high?

          2. Use a pressure cooker.

            1. The older the beans are the longer they take to cook. Remember to keep the beans cooking at a steady Simmer... boiling them makes them tough and splits the skin. I have found that the method of cooking described on the package is usually the most efficient way of cooking those beans. But, while beans are simmering check to see whether or not they're cooking more quickly than the bag states. Black-eyed peas, lentils and green split peas don't have to be soaked.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Gio

                +1 on the age of the beans.

                I am surprised to find that many cooks feel there is a recipe for cooking beans, ie, "this amount of water to this amount of beans" - ime, you need to judge it as you cook and add more liquid as necessary.

                1. re: shanagain

                  Definitely, fresh beans are the answer. I've started ordering mine from Rancho Gordo. Really, really good beans.

              2. How are you cooking them? With just water? Did you add any salt or other ingredients? Like folks have said, sometimes you get a bag of old beans. I bring mine to a boil, let boil for about a half hour, then turn it of and let it sit a bit. Then I drain the water and put the beans in a pot with fresh water and simmer. Most times I use a slowcooker and let them cook for a long time on low.

                2 Replies
                1. re: wyogal

                  Just plain water. My well water is hard. Does that matter?

                  1. re: CCSPRINGS

                    hmmmm..... maybe so, here's a search result:
                    We also have hard water, but not well water, so maybe not as hard? I live over 5,000 ft. above sea level.

                2. Like others have said, the type and age of bean matter, as well as what you've put in there with them. I find that the beans I buy bulk from the Mexican market near my house tend to cook faster than the ones in the dusty packages on the bottom shelf at the grocery store (higher turnover = fresher beans, I assume). Even so, I've also had black beans that just took FOREVER. I've found that pinto beans cook relatively quickly (around an hour, even if I don't have time to soak properly) and I often stick to them if I don't have time for longer-cooking beans.

                  1. Yes, age is the single most important factor. One thing you can and should ignore is the common notion that absolutely no salt should be added until the end. Harold McGee has proven to his own satisfaction (and hence mine) that salting the soaking water can help the beans to cook faster AND require less salt down the road. He even pooh-poohs the need for soaking at all, but I don't go that far. I do the quick-soak method, cover the beans with plenty of sea-water-level salted water, bring it to a boil, give'em ten minutes at a quick simmer, then put them, covered, off the heat for an hour or so. Discard that water, put in fresh cold and maybe some salt, bring to a boil and then simmer gently until done. Pintos, Maricoba and cannelini generally cook within two hours; limas cook faster, black beans slower.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Will Owen

                      That's interesting because I was thinking about the hard/soft water question and was wondering about the salt content of softened water affecting the beans. It's the magnesium in the hard water that looks to be the culprit, salt doesn't enter into it. And of course, there is plenty of salt in a ham hock that folks usually throw into the pot with no adverse affects. Good to know!

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        If I were to cook beans from scratch in a pot on the stove, this is the method I would use. I might let them sit overnight in the soaking water though. And yes, discard the soaking water, add fresh and simmer. But the best method really is using the pressure cooker. It makes doing beans child's play. You'll do it a couple of times, then get the hang of it, and you won't do beans any other way.

                        This is one piece of equipment that anyone can benefit from. And there are many to choose from. The newer sorts, usually of European design, make this method of cooking extremely easy.

                        I do presoak for a couple of hours almost always before I use the PC, though. I am sure that age has something to do with beans not getting done, but I am convinced other factors are at play. Hardess of water is probably a culprit, and perhaps one crop of beans was grown drier than another. So far, I am most impressed with the beans I am finding at Whole Foods. I have fixed the garbanzos, 365 Everyday brand, and thought they were very good. So, the quality of the final dish is probably dependent on the quality of the dried bean.

                        1. re: sueatmo

                          I use a pressure cooker too. I start each new package at 45 minutes, no presoak or salting or soda additions. If they are still semi-hard, I'll increase this batch to 1.5 hour total time, including the cool-down. Each batch of beans is different.
                          I use a non release cool-down, to avoid any turbulence inside. (It is not well known that there is no boiling turbulence inside a pressure cooker unless the steam is released quickly.)

                      2. I find most beans take about an hour to cook after being soaked overnight. Occasionally, though, I'll get a batch that just refuses to soften no matter how long I cook them (yeah, I'm thinking of you, pintos that were supposed to go into this week's chili). As others have mentioned, age is a factor - the older the bean the longer the cook time. Supposedly it's possible to take dry beans, bring them to a boil, turn off the heat and let them sit for an hour to rehydrate them, and then cook them until done.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: tardigrade

                          if they *never* soften, the beans have probably been heat-treated.

                          Heat-treating is commonly done to kill any insects or diseases that have hitched a ride on the beans as the come into the country for all sorts of products (fruit, vege, logs etc etc) but when done on legumes renders them inedible as they won't soften.
                          If you can, contact the importer and complain so they change their method of dis-infestation. But heat-treatment is one of the easiest organic treatments - many methods involve chemicals such as methyl bromide (bye bye ozone layer) or phosphine.

                        2. It's bean..errrr...been really simple in my experience: cold fresh soaking water with several changes, "fresh" dried beans - not too old, like if you can't remember when you bought them, don't use them, and no salt at all until they are almost cooked. If you are cooking them with a salt cured meat, cook the beans for a while first before adding the meat. Heck, cooking them the day before and letting them sit in the pot overnight in a cool/cold place can make a bean dish even better.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Scary Bill

                            I do just the opposite. I hard boil my hocks for an hr, taste the water for saltiness, then add my dried, never soaked beans. ( they have been picked over and rinsed in a collander) I cook them for approx 4 hrs, then turn off the pot. I then let them sit in all that glorious hamhock and meld.

                            TDH likes large limas and my fav are red beans. We switch off, red beans, lima's, etc.. Beans, greens and cornbread is one of our fav meals during the winter.

                            Surprisingly, it seems to take the same amount of time to cook the lima's as it takes to cook the much smaller red beans. Perhaps my step of letting the beans hang out with the hocks does the trick because after I let the pot sit for a couple hrs, then bring it to a boil to serve, the beans regardless of their size, are cooked perfectly. Pasta is wonderful al dente. Beans aren't :-)

                            Take care, Robin

                          2. don't add any sugars until they are soft. Sugars Prevents their becoming softened

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Omeghan

                              True! Sugars and acids retard absorption of liquid into the bean.

                            2. I think the "trick" is to realize that they may take a long time to cook and plan accordingly. I generally soak overnight and start cooking first thing the next morning. Leave them to simmer, check periodically to see how they are doing but otherwise put them out of mind. Have never had any not be ready for dinner that evening.

                              If I had to make them in a hurry I suppose I would investigate the pressure cooker option..

                              1. Pressure cook them. Then they don't take long at all. Chickpeas are done perfectly in about 20 minutes in mine, kidney beans in about 15 minutes.

                                1. Cooking beans is like raising children: you do a wonderful job with the first one and you think you have mastered the process. Then the second one comes along and... it's a whole different story.
                                  I humbly consider myself a bean expert having a few times raised my own on our land as well as eating them as often as possible and this is what I can contribute to the thread.

                                  1) There are as we all know , many kind of beans each with their own qualities and requirements. Generally speaking darker beans are more difficult and take more time. Older beans and pre-treated beans can have problems.

                                  2) Pre-soak overnight. Change the water. No salt. Cook as slow as possible ( the water should not boil but "murmur").

                                  3 What really matters is the kind of beans, the soil they were grown on and, finally age.

                                  Just considering the most common white beans (and my favorites), there must be hundreds of different varieties.

                                  Like children, some are very easy and others will resist every attempt to become civilized.

                                  There's one restaurant in the area where they consistently make the best "cannellini" (this is Tuscany, where beans are third in line of importance only after wine and olive oil :-)). I enquired about which variety they were using and the answer was: we don't know, we just use whatever the supplier sends us in 10 kilo bags. So, technique must trump quality, there

                                  Personally I''ve had ups and downs, with the best quality ones not always performing well.
                                  One evening we even had a beans-only party where we served 5 different local varieties with good results but lots of different opinions.

                                  Then last year someone brought us a small bag of beans from Romania and it was BANG!
                                  All of the previous theories and experience were completely obliterated.
                                  You can do whatever you want to them: no pre-soaking, boiling at high temperature, putting salt ,etc. it just doesn't matter. They come out ALWAYS perfectly tender, white ( overcooking normally changes the color to a shade of light reddish), the skin so soft as to be undetectable and absolutely delicious.
                                  What can I say: we don't even know the name of the variety but we were able to secure another small bag which we're hogging.
                                  I dread the day when we'll have to go back to the other children.

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: pietro

                                    I add a couple of tablespoons of Baking soda when soaking beans overnight. Anyone else?

                                    1. re: Bipster1

                                      Yes, but I don't pre-soak so much as pre-boil. I never remember to soak, so do the quick boil, with a pinch of baking soda, then throw out that liquid and add fresh water or stock to finish/cook the beans.

                                      1. re: wyogal

                                        I used to believe that you had to presoak your beans, and that you had to discard the soaking water to reduce the f*rt factor. I'm afraid I can't find the location now, but I read somewhere that tests have shown that discarding the soaking water doesn't make any difference in gassiness. The report also said that baking soda doesn't make any difference. Nowadays, I just throw (well, dump) my beans in a pot, add water to cover and salt (which does NOT make the beans tough), perhaps some chopped onions or other seasonings, and simmer until tender. If you add the salt after the beans are cooked, you'll just be salting the water, not the beans. Oh, and I use 1 teaspoon of salt for 2 cups (1 pound) of dried beans.
                                        Sometimes I cook my beans in the oven instead. You can read here about this method: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/... It's really easy, the beans turn out just fine.. Really, about the only two ways you can have failure with beans are by using old beans and by adding anything acidic to the pot before the beans are cooked.

                                        1. re: Cilantra

                                          This is what I usually do as well (no presoak, salt and aromatics in the cooking water). You might just have old beans (it's best to buy them from a place that turns them over frequently). But if you think your water is the issue, try using bottled/distilled water (without high mineral content) or this method from an old Chowhound thread:

                                          "This soaking method from Nigella Lawson (who got it from Anna del Conte) works like a miracle for me: Put the dried chickpeas in a bowl, cover with water. In a small bowl or glass, mix one teaspoon of baking soda with a tablespoon of flour and a tablespoon of salt. Add enough water to make a thin paste, add to the beans. Cover and let soak overnight, or up to 24 or even 36 hours in the fridge.

                                          When you're ready, drain and rinse the peas. Put them in a pot with water to cover, and bring to a boil. They should be very tender after simmering for about half an hour."

                                          1. re: Cilantra

                                            I don't have a problem cooking beans. They always turn out just fine.

                                        2. re: Bipster1

                                          I cook my beans with a teaspoon of baking soda, makes either pinto or black beans melt-in-your-mouth soft. This is after soaking them overnight, and throwing away the water. I cook a couple slices of bacon or pork bellies in the bottom of the pan, and crumble them up in the beans, and cover them with chicken broth. Yum!

                                          1. re: dbarnard

                                            FWIW, I now soak my beans refrigerated for two days instead of one, after being called away suddenly last summer during the initial 24 hr. soak time. Instead of turning out mushy when I finally did cook them, they were perfectly smooth, creamy, and tender to the core...I don't mess with success!

                                      2. Typically, soaked beans still take about 3 hours of simmering to really soften.

                                        Water does make a difference, especially if you have hard water.
                                        What you can try is cook a pot of beans using bottled water (distilled) to see if that makes a difference.

                                        One trick that I remember learning, but never tried, is to add a little baking soda to the water.

                                        1. My concern about cooking beans seems to be the opposite... I have tried soaking, then cooking dried kidney beans for a bean salad and some of them burst in half during the soak period! During the cooking period, most of the remaining beans also burst in half. Needless to say, I discarded them and opened a can of beans for my salad. Does anyone know how to avoid the bursting?

                                          1. Love those legumes...I, also, have heard but not tried using baking soda during the soak. It's suppose to work like a charm.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: spm

                                              it's used when mushy peas are reconstituted.

                                              1. re: Scary Bill

                                                baking soda is also used with any other kind of dried bean -- I've heard that it softens the water somewhat, countering the hardening effect of minerals in the water...I've heard that it raises the pH of the water, countering the effects of acid on beans.

                                                And I've heard that it does nothing more than temper the, ahem, lingering effects of consuming a big bowl of beans.

                                                I've tried it both ways -- and I prefer leaving it out.

                                            2. I doubt I'll get a pressure cooker. One more thing to crowd the cabinets. I remember our neighbors next door, Mildred and Walter, always used theirs. I still can recall the hiss of the train whistle coming over the hedges.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: CCSPRINGS

                                                I was pretty hesitant when I bought mine, afraid of the space issue and whether I'd really use it.

                                                But I've surprised myself -- it's not a weekly use, but probably 2-3 times a month. It's great for getting slow food on the table on a busy night, and lets you make good use of cheap cuts of meat and beans --

                                                Good flavor, healthy, economical, and means you're having real food instead of something out of the microwave or a takeout box...it's all good.

                                                1. re: CCSPRINGS

                                                  Current pressure cookers are safe, and do not hiss; they can be released silently by turning off the heat or by placing in the sink under 10 seconds of tap water.

                                                2. I try to always soak the beans over night. Especially if using pinto beans for my 2 favorite recipes for a crowd - my Great Aunt Mamie's baked beans and a Drunken Mexican Beans recipe I found in a cookbook of mine years ago.

                                                  Drain the beans the next day, rinse them and then proceed with the recipes. Most of the time I'll do this in the afternoon - put them in the crockpot, turn on in the evening and if you have a timer, cook on high for 4 hrs and then simmer for 4 hrs. Yes, takes a long time but are very little fuss and they turn out perfectly - my family and friends absolutely love them. They're a huge hit at parties.

                                                  I've also done the short boil method, mainly for black beans. Put in pot, bring to boil and turn heat off, cover, and let sit for an hour. Rinse and proceed with recipe - turns out fine also. This is usually for black bean soup.

                                                  I don't have a pressure cooker - I still have images of my Mom's pressure cooker "exploding" when I was a child and she was cooking chicken and dumplings. There was a huge noise - the top twirling thing then flew off and hit the ceiling with gravy spurting all over the place (and on the ceiling). You could here the explosive noise all over the house and what a mess!!! She never replaced the pressure cooker!