The Basics of Beans
Store & Soak
How To Store Dried Beans
Dry beans should be stored at room temperature in covered containers. They will keep almost indefinitely. Do not keep dry beans in the refrigerator, the beans may absorb water and spoil before you use them. The plastic bags beans are packaged in are good for storage, if they are airtight. Once opened, the bag may be reclosed with a twist tie. For the longest storage life, keep beans in a glass or plastic container with a tight fitting lid.
Sorting beans means picking over the beans before cooking them. Remove small rocks, pieces of dirt, beans with holes or cavities, badly misshapen or wrinkled beans and those greatly undersized or discolored.
Washing is not part of the packing process because water would rehydrate the beans. Do not rinse beans until you are ready to soak or cook them.
The purpose of soaking is to begin rehydration before cooking, thereby reducing cooking time. During soaking, beans make up their lost water, increasing up to twice their dried size. Enough water must be used to keep the beans covered while soaking. Once rehydrated, beans cook in 1 to 3 hours, depending on the type of bean. There are basically two methods for soaking: long-soak and quick-soak. Both work equally well.
Long-soaking takes time and some advance planning, but needs very little effort. First, cover the beans with water at room temperature. Soak them overnight or for 8 to 10 hours. Keep the beans covered by water while soaking. Be sure the soak water is at room temperature. Hot water may cause the beans to sour. Cold water slows rehydration and the beans will take longer to cook. Cooking time will also be longer if beans are not soaked long enough – at least 8 hours. Beans soaked longer than 12 hours can absorb too much water and lose their characteristic texture and flavor.
Quick-soaking rehydrates dried beans in little more than 1 hour. Bring the beans and water for soaking to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Remove the beans from the heat and cover the pot. Let the beans stand in the soak water for 1 hour. At the end of the hour beans are ready to cook.
Note: The longer soaking time is recommended to allow a greater amount of sugar to dissolve, thus helping the beans to be more easily digested.
To Discard Soak Water or Not
Some people are more susceptible than others to the discomforts of the gas, or flatulence, sometimes caused by eating beans. Flatulence occurs when bacteria normally found in the digestive tract reacts on certain chemical compounds in beans. Some are water-soluble and will be partially removed when the bean soak water is discarded. Current research shows that only small amounts of nutrients are lost when soaking. For many people, the discomfort avoided by discarding the soak water is more important than the small amount of nutritional benefits from using it.
Some cooks suggest adding a small amount of baking soda to the cooking water to soften it. Amounts of baking soda over 1/8 teaspoon per cup of beans may destroy the thiamine (Vitamin B1) in beans. Thiamine is a valuable nutrient and one reason why beans have a reputation for being nutritious. If you have hard water and are in doubt as to whether or not to use baking soda, buy purified bottled drinking water – not distilled water – for soaking and cooking beans.