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What am I doing wrong? Dried beans / garbanzo / chick peas / lentils

I have been trying to switch from canned to dry beans, but have yet to be successful re-hydrating any of them, specifically: lentil, azuki, garbanzo. No matter whether I put them in a slow cooker for hours, boil first or not, etc., they are always too hard - nowhere near the texture and consistency of the canned ones. What am I doing wrong? It is my methods? My expectation?


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  1. Conventional wisdom is that you must never add either salt nor acid (i.e. tomatoes) in the early phases of cooking, as this will prevent them from ever softening. Some sources say this is nonsense. Also, your water may be too hard.

    Of course, without knowing either your methods or your expectations, we can't know if either are right or wrong.

    6 Replies
    1. re: acgold7

      My expectation is that they have a similar consistency to canned beans.

      1. re: acgold7

        I use salt all the time. In the soaking water and the cooking water. Never a problem. Acid is the big No No.

        Lentils need no presoak. Cook up quickly with no issues. Again no acid but definetly salt

        1. re: acgold7

          I do subscribe to conventional wisdom when it comes to rehydrating and then cooking dried beans after we did a side by side comparison cook of dried navy beans (navy bean soup is a winter favorite here).

          Soaked the beans in cold water overnight (12 hours) then placed equal volumes in two identical 8 qt stockpots. Both were covered with fresh water (Brita-filtered) and heat turned up to medium high until they began to boil then lowered to a simmer. Once they hit a boil, one pot remained water only, the second got 1 tblspn of kosher salt and one cup of chopped tomatoes. Lids went on to partially cover the pots and after about 90 minutes we tasted from each pot and kept doing that for almost another 2 hours.

          The results were unmistakable. The unsalted version were softer and more cooked thru each time we tasted and the difference seemed to get bigger as time progressed. The unsalted versions were really "done" after about 2hours. At the end of 3 hours they were getting mushy and starting to fall apart. In contrast the salted and acidified beans were a sort of 'al dente' in an unpleasant way and never seemed to break down even after 3 1/2 hours of simmering.

          I've never tried to replicate the test and I admit we did this because we found the bag of dried beans buried in our cupboard which must have been at least a couple years old and so really didn't expect much to come of them other than the experiment itself. Would the results occur again if we used fresher beans or a larger bean or smaller bean?

          Unsure but since then a couple things.

          We've begun soaking our beans overnight in (Brita-filtered) cold water mixed with 1 tblspn of baking soda to create a slight alkali environment. We keep them refrigerated for that overnight soak. Rinse and wash upon emerging. They go into the stockpot with either water or a mild broth to which we add about 1 to 1.5 Tspn of baking soda.

          No salt, no acids until the beans are noticeably softened like after 60 to 90 minutes. Even the Harrington smoked ham hocks are held off until the beans have begun to yield. At that point the other spices, acids, flavors etc can get mixed in without disrupting the rehydrating and cooking process. Supposedly the baking soda (alkali environment) allows the beans to absorb and hold more moisture and do so sooner than even the unadulterated water only cook process.

          I don't profess to understand the chemistry of why salts or acids interfere with the rehydration process other than to confirm that it did, in our kitchen once (well actually twice when I couldn't get a batch of beans to soften.....which I had salted, covered with tomatoes and a couple diced jalapeños).

          Since then we go the conventional wisdom approach with the addition of a little baking soda. We've also discovered that using a high quality bean source that sells 'fresh' dried beans: like rancho gordo beans makes a big difference as well.

          1. re: ThanksVille

            You had two variables in your experiment, salt and tomatoes (acid). It is thus impossible to determine if the differences were due to one or the other, or both in combination.

            1. re: kmcarr

              Exactly. ThanksVille states, "the second got 1 tblspn of kosher salt and one cup of chopped tomatoes" then goes on comparing the two as if it was just salt or no-salt. It's the acid in the tomatoes, not the salt...

        2. Are you just using the slow cooker, or have you tried a stove top method? Get the stove top working first.

          1. Are you giving them enough time time to pre-soak, like overnight?

            1. Here is what I have tried: 1. Yes, I have added salt. That could indeed be the problem. Bad instructions. 2. I have soaked overnight, then boiled, and then put in the slow cooker for a few hours, and they are still hard. 3. I do use filtered water.

              Does anyone have a surefire method they've used and that seems to work every time?

              thanks again!!

              5 Replies
              1. re: MyKitchen

                Skip the slow cooker - bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Any bean should be done in a couple of hours this way. Lentils don't need presoaking, and will be tender in 30-60 minutes.

                My guess is that your slow cooker is not hot enough.

                1. re: paulj

                  Thanks! How long do you pre-soak? Overnight?

                  1. re: MyKitchen

                    Here's the "recipe" for the soaking step from Cook's Illustrated: 1 lb dried beans, 3 Tbsp table salt, 4 qt water. Soak 8-24 hours (Cook's Illustrated says at room temperature, but I refrigerate). Drain and rinse well before cooking.

                    Be wary about using slow cooker for beans -- see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phaseolu... . To quote a relevant part: "If the beans are cooked at a temperature below boiling (without a preliminary boil), as in a slow cooker, the toxic effect of haemagglutinin is increased: beans cooked at 80 °C (176 °F) are reported to be up five times as toxic as raw beans. Outbreaks of poisoning have been associated with cooking kidney beans in slow cookers."

                    1. re: drongo

                      I too have had great success with the Cook's Illustrated method. Perfect beans every time. Never used a slow cooker for beans.

                    2. re: MyKitchen

                      I've actually had the best results by soaking refrigerated for 48 hours, never any problems since I started doing it that way--tender and creamy every time....

                2. I find the biggest problem is just not cooking them long enough..nothing worse than al dente beans so they should be soft.. I have had no luck with any cooking in a slow cooker so I just do them on the stove. To make sure they are done Anne Burrell says you need to try 5 beans. Until they are all soft, assume none are. (The reading I've done does not support the idea that adding salt to the cooking water means the beans won't get soft.)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: escondido123

                    I find overnight in a slow cooker on low gives amazingly soft beans - so a lot longer than a few hours.

                  2. Not a clue whether you are in an area that moves a lot of dried beans or not. ~~~ Those that have sat around a grocer's shelf for a long time want cook up right/soft/etc. ~~ Make sure your product is fresh....From a store that sells a lot of dried beans etc.


                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Uncle Bob

                      yes - this was my first thought too. Try a few different stores (particularly from Indian or Mexican neighbourhoods) to find a store with a high turn-over. Old beans take *forever*

                      1. re: piwakawaka

                        How old is an 'old bean'? 6 mths, 1yr, 2? How old are the beans on the shelf in your typical grocery?

                        Yes, every one claims old bean take much longer to cook, but they all seem to be repeating the same conventional wisdom. Few add any confirmation or substance to the claim.

                        While I haven't tested this carefully, my own experience does not suggest a connection between age and cooking time. I've cooked beans that languished in the back of my pantry for several (unknown actually) years, and not had a 'take for ever' problem. I can buy beans in bulk from a multi-ethnic market, and not see any difference in cooking times compared to the same variety from the shelves of my neighborhood grocery.

                        The OP didn't give any hints as to location. Since beans are quite sensitive to cooking temperature, cooking in Denver could be quite different from NY.

                        while vague about what they consider high altitude, this site claims black beans can take 20 hrs in a slow cooker.

                        1. re: paulj

                          I've noticed that new crop beans could much faster than what's left over from the previous year's crop (using beans grown by a single farm and sold from the same store one year apart)

                          1. re: caganer

                            The same with Rice and other Grains. The newer the Crop the less Water needed and the shorter the cooking

                          2. re: paulj

                            I can't imagine how first the Aztecs then the Mexiaans on the high Close to 5000 feet in altitude survived low those many centuries without a pressure cooker for their black (or any other type ) of dried beans.

                      2. With chickpeas the cooking time can vary from less than an hour to way over an hour. I test by tasting and if I think they are soft enough, I cut one in half. If done it should be yellow coloured the whole way through. If there are any white patches, they need more cooking.

                        1. All beans including the ones that you listed have different cooking times. Average sized beans like Pintos, Black Turtles and White Navy need 2 to 3 hours cooking if unsoaked depending in how old/dry they are. Larger beans longer and smaller beans shorter. Peeled beans(dals) cook the quickest. Soaking over night in salted water and then cooking in fresh water will cut down the cooking time by about a third.
                          It is more than likely that you are not cooking them long enough. If the beans you are buying are super old it is possible that they will never get soft. Salt in the cooking water does not make beans stay hard.
                          As stated above forget the slow cooker for now. Cover your beans by 2" for soaked beans and 3" for unsoaked. Bring your beans to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and be patient. make sure that the water level stays above the beans and that they keep at a simmer.

                          1. I've only cooked lentils and azuki beans. First, add no salt until beans are just tender and then cook a little longer. Adding salt at the beginning will result in never-cooked beans, without fail. Gently simmer in a saucepan, don't cook in a pressure cooker or slow cooker. Add plenty of water and you may still need to add water occasionally. With 'zuki beans, I also add a piece of kombu (dried seaweed) because it's supposed to aid with digestion. Lentils cook pretty fast, 30 minutes or less, usually. Saute a little diced carrot and onion and add to them. Azuki beans take about 45 minutes.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: mommystar

                              "First, add no salt until beans are just tender and then cook a little longer. Adding salt at the beginning will result in never-cooked beans, without fail. "
                              Not True
                              And many other sources.

                              1. re: chefj

                                I hear you, but I'm 70 years old and that's been my experience.

                                1. re: mommystar

                                  Oops, I'm 60!! But, it's still been my experience...

                                  1. re: mommystar

                                    Have you ever tried adding salt at the start?

                            2. I've never had a problem cooking any dried beans. And have never done anything special.

                              Rinse & pick through to remove any deformed beans, little stones, etc. Those are just the product of the harvesting method, not a sign of bad beans. Then place in a large pot with cold water to cover by a couple of inches & leave to soak overnight. Next day drain, rinse, put back in the pot & follow package directions for cooking (usually between 1-2 hours of simmering). And that's it. No slow-cooker, no salt, no angst.

                              Oh, & by the way, lentils do NOT require any sort of pre-soaking, etc., etc. Just rinse, sort through them, & cook them. They cook very quickly.

                              1. Thanks, everyone! Just used my last can of garbanzos today, so next time I make my yummy quinoa garbanzo salad, I will definitely try some of these suggestions!

                                1. I just did a pound of garbanzo beans. Soaked over night in salted water. Tossed the soaking liquid and put into a pressure cooker with salted water. Eight min at pressure with a natural cool down. Slightly over cooked

                                  1. I don't know about lentils but for beans this is what I do for beans. I haven't used cans in years.
                                    Soak in plain water overnight in fridge, covered
                                    Bring to a boil on stovetop, then simmer, partly covered
                                    Cook till you reach desired consistency
                                    Works great for every kind of bean I've cooked
                                    Usually takes 45 minutes or more, depending on the type of bean

                                    1. Don't use a slow cooker; stove top or pressure cooker (especially for the garbanzos). You'll have no problem. (Your slow cooker may get them done if you set it to "high." You'll have to experiment.)

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: alc

                                        Pressure cookers scare me a little, but I will definitely try stove top next time.

                                      2. Two months I had a garbanzo failure. I blamed it on old beans. They were a total failure.

                                        I had a second bag of the same beans. I found a recipe that was different and it required a soaking overnight (That was easy). Then change of water. Then into a big pot with assorted seasonings (including an orange peal). Bring to a simmer and place in a barely heated oven for six hours. Barely was about 250F. I checked after four hours....the chick peas were definitely still hard. After six hours, they were perfect. They'd taken on the spices and the hint of orange. They taste most excellent both heated, luke and cold.

                                        The recipe I used was from "Mediterranean Hot and Spicy" by Aglaia Kremezi. I had borrowed the book from our library and the recipes were so interesting that I bought it, recipes untested. So far, I'd recommend it for adding flavors to my must have recipe colleciton.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: shallots

                                          I've actually contacted the two places I got different batches of "failure" beans from, and they all said they weren't old. Of course, I had to take their word for it...

                                          Thanks again everyone for all the tips.

                                          1. re: shallots

                                            Old beans can be a huge issue impacting their cooking time/tenderness. I've found it's best to purchase then from a store where you know they'll have a fairly quick turnover. I'm fortunate to have access to a year round rice/bean vendor at a local market. As a result, I tend to buy what I need vs keep a stock of beans in my pantry. Nevertheless, when I bring them home, I date the package just to be sure.

                                          2. After watching Jacques Pepin, I started ignoring all the advice about beans. Now I toss them in water with salt and boil them. I cook at slow boil or high simmer once they begin to soften. Only then do I add whatever (rosemary, pancetta, onion). I always had problems before when I followed all the cautions. Now I get great, flavorful tender beans. Simple.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Helene Goldberg

                                              I do believe that with some beans - Red Kidney Beans in particular - you HAVE to soak them first because of the toxins in the skin. You throw out the soaking water & start again with fresh water for the actual cooking.

                                            2. If you want to learn to use a pressure cooker, your local Master Food Preservers (through one of your local colleges extension service) give super fun lessons for a few dollars

                                              I've been using one for years. They are really safe & use so much less time/ energy/ fuel its a great way to go. As someone pointed out in many cases, after soaking it takes about 8 minutes too cook, which is awsome !!!! ;)

                                              1. As when cooking dried pasta make certain to use adequate amount of water. Should be a minimum of 3 x the amount of soaked beans.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: letsindulge

                                                  You don't need that much water to cook pasta.

                                                2. I live in a predominantly hispanic area, which means lots of dried bean turnover (easy to get fresh dried beans), and I only cook pinto and black beans.

                                                  The last two batches I did, I didn't soak the beans at all. I did a batch of black beans on the stove top - came out great in about 3 hours. I did a batch of pinto beans in the crockpot. Came out great at under 4 hours (4.5 hrs and they were getting a bit too soft). In both cases I had some roasted lard, herbs, garlic and onion in with the beans from the beginning and only added salt in the last hour of cooking when the beans were starting to get soft.

                                                  I use pretty heavily filtered water.

                                                  No more soaking beans for me! And I think I'll keep using a slow cooker because you don't have to worry about adding water like you do on the stovetop.

                                                  I learned Mexican cooks don't soak their beans, so I decided I should try without soaking and I'm so glad I did!

                                                  Garbanzos may be a different story - they may require soaking.

                                                  1. I do a fast soak: bring the beans to a boil in some water, turn off heat, let sit for 30 minutes. Then I drain them, add fresh water, and yes, put them in a slowcooker.
                                                    I use salt in the water.
                                                    I don't filter the water.
                                                    I use a slowcooker (which is modern, which keeps food at a higher temp than the old ones).
                                                    The only time I have problems with hardness is when I've added acid (via tomato or vinegar or mustard) or sugar (molasses, brown sugar, white sugar) too soon. In fact, I have gotten mushy canned beans to firm up some with the addition of acid and sugar. I'm using sugar in my "baked beans," not in stuff like ham and bean soup.

                                                    1. I found citations of HTC, hard-to-cook, beans. While the mechanism is not fully understood, it is not simply a matter of over drying to a long time on a grocery shelf. Storage at high heat and high humidity is the cited cause. Some sort of change in the pectin of the hull is a possible mechanism.

                                                      So a package of beans that has sat on the shelf of a modern climate controlled grocery for year probably is not affected by this.

                                                      Another tidbit. 50% of beans grown in the USA come from North Dakota and Minnesota. Since they are harvested once a year, what you cook in the late summer could well be a year old, regardless of the source. Hopefully they have been properly stored, but I don't see how that could be judged from the store or estimated turn over rate. I would stay away from the beans where the packaging shows signs of age (sticky, dusty plastic). The beans should also look smooth.

                                                      1. Herve This, in an essay in Molecular Gastronomy, cites conventional French wisdom that fresh water is fine for lentils, but well water gives problems. He goes on to explain that acidic cooking water, and hard water (with calcium) inhibit the softening of the pectin in the lentils hull.

                                                        He suggests some home tests. Start with distilled water. Use a bit of vinegar to make slow down the softening. Calcium carbonate can simulate hard water. Baking soda can counter either, and speed up the cooking.

                                                        I'd suggest trying to cook your beans in distilled water. If that works, then your tap water is the problem.

                                                        1. When using dry, I soak them for at least 10 hours (overnight) and then cook them with whatever other ingredients I want in a pressure cooker (about 45 minutes). They always come out super soft!

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: whilehewasout

                                                            When I soak garbanzos overnight they are completely cooked in the PC after 8 min.

                                                          2. I cooked dried black beans last night. I put them in a large pot with plenty of water, added salt, seasonings and garlic. Brought it up to a boil on the stove then put the lid on and put the whole thing in a pre-heated 170 degree oven. Left them overnight (about 12 hours). This morning I had perfectly cooked, seasoned black beans. I have also brought them to temperature in the slow cooker on high for about 1 hour then turned it to low for 12 hours (but my crockpot is only 1.5 quarts so I can only cook 1/2 pound of beans this way).

                                                            1. Okay, I had to pop in here to check. It sounds like you ARE cooking them. A coworker was asking for help with garbanzos a while back. They just weren't soft. Turns out she never read the directions past the soaking step. *lol*

                                                              1. I have followed instructions on pkgs-with success
                                                                for garbanzo and other dried beans.

                                                                i use dried goya beans and rancho gordo beans.

                                                                i usually purchase french lentils and beluga black lentils from other sources.

                                                                They are easier to prepare -

                                                                1. I think our water here is too hard. I can always smell the chlorine, and my water filter has a lot of calcium deposit on it. So now I use filtered water and a pressure cooker. That pressure cooker is a miracle worker. Love it!

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: MyKitchen

                                                                    Yes, calcium and other minerals will be a problem. The chlorine shouldn't matter. It's a gas that readily dissipates. It's there to kill bacteria, not to do anything with the calcium.

                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                      True, but my point is that our water is full of crap.

                                                                  2. Salt does not toughen bean skins. Acidic water toughens bean skins. RO water is acidic. Baking soda fixes it.

                                                                    A quick soak - boil in plain water for five minutes, drain, then put in fresh water with salt and baking soda - beans and skins should be tender.

                                                                    1. Dry beans will never have the consistency of can beans. Can beans all taste the same and are mushy. If you use dry beans you can soak them overnight or not. I never do. When I cook chick peas (my absolute favorite bean) I rinse them off well. I add cold water enough to cover about 3 inches. Bring to a rolling boil then cover and simmer until soft. Sometimes 2 hours sometimes more. Depending on how fresh they are. Even when they are done they are not like canned chick peas. They are a little firm with a nutty taste to them. I never use a crock pot. I feel like it just doesnt get hot enough to cook dry beans. And I never add anything to the water I cook them in except a little salt. If I use ham hock I cook it separate then add the hamhock water n meat after beans are done