Dry beans: facts, fables or fiction?

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I've been cooking a fair bit of dry beans revently, and also saw them mentioned in a couple of threads.
It made me wonder as there is a fair bit of conflicting info out there.
Like:
- I got told that beans have to soak before cooking (by my mother), but where I live, harfly anyone soaks. They just cook at high heat for longer. And it works!
- I got told that you have to cook beans vigorously for 10 minutes, otherwise they could be poisonous. Yet lots of people cook them in a slow cooker?
- you have to skim the foam! Yet, I don't as I have never seen a clear bean soup anyway ;)
- don't put salt in the cooking water (Nicko mentions this in the August challenge, but I heard it plenty times more). Yet, in the book "salt, fat, avid, heat" the writer mentiones to put salt at the beginning.
- acids to be pit only when beans are soft
- baking powder....

I'm sure there are plenty more stories. I would like tp hear them and also know what is true and what is habit?

I don't have Harold McGee's book here, but he might be a good source
 
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Soaking hydrates the beans so they cook faster. There's no NEED to soak the beans. I often cook them without soaking them first.

Some beans create a lot of foam, especially chickpeas in my experience, to the point that I feel like I have to skim. Most of the time there's very little foam and I don't bother skimming.

I always put at least a tiny amount of salt when cooking the beans. I feel like they are more flavorful that way. I also sometimes add a bay leaf, a few peppercorns and some garlic cloves in the cooking liquid.

Acids? Never heard of that.

I've personally never used baking powder.

There's no universal truth in my experience. It depends on the beans, on how you cook them, on the desired result etc.
 
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There are some dry beans, most importantly red and white kidney beans, that you should to soak before cooking because of the lectins in the beans. The lectins are toxic and a combination of soaking, rinsing, and boiling, is the safest way to get rid of the lectins in the beans. I have also read that you can just deactivate the lectins just by boiling. Lectin levels vary between beans. Some varieties can be safe without soaking/boiling. Generally speaking, it IS NOT safe to cook high lectin beans in a slow cooker. The advent of electric countertop slow cookers has actually resulted in an increase in lectin poisonings.

In terms of non-mandatory technique, soaking also helps separate the intact beans from loose skins and old beans. The old beans will fail to hydrate and will float to the top.

In terms of salting the beans, I believe in salting them to taste near the end of cooking. I've never done a direct comparison test, but sources that I trust like Thomas Keller (who has NEVER steered me wrong) claim that salting at the start will make the beans tougher. On top of that, I typically cook my dried beans using recipes that involve discarding the cooking liquid (usually a combo of stock, water, and some aromatics thrown in) and then warming the beans gently in a stock or broth based sauce using the type of animal protein being served with the beans. I find that salting at the re-warming stage makes it easier to salt to taste. Like french fries, I abhor underseasoned food. 😛
 
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There may be only one thing that Thomas Keller ever got wrong. Salting during bean cooking is not a problem; in fact it’s a benefit as it ensures proper seasoning. Seasoning at the end doesn’t seem to penetrate properly. I salt three times in thirds: during soak, during cooking, and adjust at the end. Sometimes I adjust again when reheating.

The acid thing... I heard this from family elders who only add molasses to “Boston” baked beans at the end of the bake. I’ve never tried that as molasses at the beginning never seemed to result in tough beans.

The most critical variable, and that which is most difficult to control, is the age of the dried beans. Old dried beans will be tough no matter what one does, it seems.
 
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I cook beans & chickpeas a lot, usually in a pressure cooking. I've used America's Test Kitchen, Kenji (Serious Eats) and Harold McGee for technical tips.

I always soak in salted water. It cuts down on the cooking time, and the salt tenderizes the skin (technically, it breaks down the calcium & magnesium ions but all I know is that the bean skins are always tender when done).

When cooking the beans on the stove top, I never, ever boil them because it blows out the skins - I simmer them until done. I don't get that problem so much with the pressure cooker.

Acid, whether tomatoes or molasses, are added after the beans are tender.

Finally, as @brianshaw says, old beans will be tough no matter what you do.

I haven't tried baking soda, might try it nxt time.
 

nicko

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There are conflicting views on salting beans so you have to test what works for you. I also think that it can depend on the type of beans you are working with. Another reason I don't add salt in the beginning is when when your beans start out with vegetables and spices you end up with a wonderful plain (low sodium) vegetable stock which you can make soups out of. For those on a low sodium diet this is a great thing. I feel that salting at the end gives me greater control over the finished product. Everyone has their own techniques.
 
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I just find it interesting that there are so many different opinions about aomething as simple as dry beans ;)
I'll need to research the lectin story, although personally I have never heard of food poisoning by beans
 
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As far as I'm concerned the salt in the bean ideas aren't "conflicting views," one is just a holdover (don't salt beans) from an era where people believed beans would be tough with salt, i.e. an old wives tale. It has about as much truth as the old "sear meat to lock in the juices" that I still hear chefs repeat.

One of the most common ingredients in dried bean recipes are things like bacon, salumi, sausage, salt pork, pancetta, etc. If salt affected beans so much, why is salty food (i.e. charcuterie) such a common ingredient? Wouldn't all the salt leeching out of the bacon make the beans tough?

The fact is, beans taste better when they are seasoned in the beginning. It's that way with most foods. Salting early and salting the layers while building a dish is one of the best and most surefire ways to achieve depth of flavor.

Acidic things will toughen beans--as I referenced in another thread, molasses in Boston baked beans is one of the reasons you can simmer Baked beans all day and they don't turn to mush. Tomatoes can toughen beans as well.

I only use baking soda when I want really, really soft beans for a puree. If I'm making, say, a white bean puree for a lamb dish, or refried beans, a pinch of soda in the water helps the puree get really smooth. It's a good way to eliminate the "graniness" that sometimes comes with something like that. Hummus is another example.
 
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As far as I'm concerned the salt in the bean ideas aren't "conflicting views," one is just a holdover (don't salt beans) from an era where people believed beans would be tough with salt, i.e. an old wives tale. It has about as much truth as the old "sear meat to lock in the juices" that I still hear chefs repeat.

One of the most common ingredients in dried bean recipes are things like bacon, salumi, sausage, salt pork, pancetta, etc. If salt affected beans so much, why is salty food (i.e. charcuterie) such a common ingredient? Wouldn't all the salt leeching out of the bacon make the beans tough?

The fact is, beans taste better when they are seasoned in the beginning. It's that way with most foods. Salting early and salting the layers while building a dish is one of the best and most surefire ways to achieve depth of flavor.

Acidic things will toughen beans--as I referenced in another thread, molasses in Boston baked beans is one of the reasons you can simmer Baked beans all day and they don't turn to mush. Tomatoes can toughen beans as well.

I only use baking soda when I want really, really soft beans for a puree. If I'm making, say, a white bean puree for a lamb dish, or refried beans, a pinch of soda in the water helps the puree get really smooth. It's a good way to eliminate the "graniness" that sometimes comes with something like that. Hummus is another example.
By far the best answer on the thread.
 

nicko

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@butzy good article on beans from the Bean Institute. https://beaninstitute.com/cooking-w...e-insights-and-strategies-from-dr-guy-crosby/

Dr. Guy Crosby is the food scientist from the America's Test Kitchen program. Here is actually says soaking the beans in a salty brine prior to cooking them is the key. Wow.

Brining beans involves the same process as soaking in plain water except the brine contains a low concentration of salt (sodium chloride). During brining the sodium ions slowly exchange with calcium ions that are part of a very large molecule called pectin. Pectin strengthens the cell walls in the beans, and calcium strengthens pectin. So natural pectin can produce skins on the outside of dry beans that are difficult to soften and expand, and can eventually burst when the inside of the beans become over-cooked. Exchanging sodium for calcium ions during brining weakens the pectin so the skins become more flexible and can expand without bursting as the interiors to cook to a soft creamy interior.
 
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He’s a smart guy and that’s a nice article that is consistent with my life experience. Only diff is that I use about half the baking soda. He recommended 1 tsp per cup of beans. That’s a lot and less works just as well.

It’s quite possible that he’s been responsible for the change in my bean cooking technique over the years...
 
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So, I tried.
Salt in the soaking water, sodium bicarb while cooking.
It definitely cooks them much faster, but I actually didn't like the texture much. Too soft, andvit looks like more of the beans split.
Great for making soup, bean burgers, paste maybe, but I think I'll cook them without the bicarb next time
 

nicko

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@butzy that is a very interesting discovery thanks for sharing that. I am going to try that so I can taste the difference for myself. For restaurant cooking I think that is a good thing to know so that if you are making burgers, soup etc you have a technique for cutting down the cooking time.
 
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I don't have any opinion on salt or not. You might find this interesting.
In one of my cookbooks by a chef, the chef relates a story about how he traveled to Europe (Italy I think) and had a great dish with very creamy beans in it. The chef was so impressed he got the recipe and did the dish at his restaurant in the States using the same ingredients but the beans weren't the same. The next year he went back and told the chef about his experience. The chef said of course not. You're using beans that were dried last year at the earliest. The place that dries them is right down the street from me so I get them direct from there right after they have been dried.
I had no idea that there was such a thing as fresh dried beans and older dried beans or that it mattered in any way.
 
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There should be a law that Harvest date be specified on the packaging of dried beans like is done with flower and vegetable seeds!
 
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BTW, I soak 87.9% of the time. Mexican pinto beans being the primary exception.

And I’m quickly becoming a believer in a little baking soda with the parboil.
Ottolenghi uses baking soda. I've been seeing it called for more and more in the more recent Israeli and other Middle-Eastern cookbooks.
 

nicko

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@chicagoterry great to see you in the forums (not that I should talk right?). I worked for a chef who used baking soda also.
 
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Quick note on the poisoning thing. The poisons in kidney beans and some others is essentially ricin, which is still used by the Russian assassination services and others. It's not something to fool around with. But it denatures rapidly at temperatures over 176F/80C. Do not cook beans at temperatures significantly under this, or you are taking a dangerous risk.
 
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