Why Don’t Some Beans Soften When You Cook Them? Excessive Soaking

Last November I wrote this post where I shared my thoughts about why some beans never soften no matter how long you cook them:

I think when beans begin to germinate, they produce enzymes that protect the budding bean, that make it less likely to leak the starch that the bean will need to grow. So, anything that could initiate the germination process – exposure to warmth and humidity, soaking (yes, soaking!) – may produce hard-to-cook defect. That’s my hunch.

This morning, I read the following by Steve Sando, the all-around bean expert and founder of Rancho Gordo, a company that grows and sells beans. He confirmed my hunch:

I was looking through our customer reviews on ranchogordo.com and in general, the feedback is the kind of thing most companies dream of. We have about 95% five-star reviews and the occasional clunker. Most of the bad reviews state something like this: “I’ve been cooking the beans in a bean pot for six to eight hours now and they still aren’t soft. They were soaked for twelve hours and have been simmering in a ceramic bean pot all afternoon and evening.” Or “I soaked them at least 24 hours and used them in my recipe and no matter how long I cooked them they were still crunchy.”

What do they have in common? Excessive soaking.

As I’ve said many times before, most of us here don’t soak our beans. We know how fresh they are and it’s easier to just cook them. Sometimes I’ll get up early on a Sunday morning and soak the beans for cooking later in the day but I really think between four and six hours is more than enough. It’s not science, but a suspicion I have is that the beans are starting to sprout.

I first read about dried beans not having to be soaked back in 2003, from an authority on Mexican cooking, Diana Kennedy, in her book From My Mexican Kitchen. But did I listen?

One more thing … Should you salt your beans while cooking? Serious Eats says yes:

As the beans cook, sodium ions in salted water will gradually replace some calcium and magnesium ions, which in turn allows for greater water penetration into bean cells. When unsalted beans cook, their interiors can end up swelling faster than their skins can keep up with, resulting in skins that rupture instead of enlarging along with the rest of the bean. Salted beans will grow proportionally, resulting in fully tender, creamy, intact beans that are well seasoned throughout.

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