how to cook beans

How to cook beans

A staple in Latin, African and Asian diets, dried beans, lentils and peas (all members of the legumes family) are a virtually fat-free, gluten-free source of protein, dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, and essential vitamins and minerals.

Including more beans in our diet may not only help America's battle the ongoing obesity trend (because beans digest slowly and provide sustainable energy, they help suppress appetite for hours. In addition, they're a good source of roughage so we feel fuller, faster.) Eating beans may even help reduce one's risk of heart disease and certain forms of cancer.

Note: By themselves, beans do not provide complete protein. Fortunately, grains provide the missing amino acids so pairing beans with grain create complete protein.

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Cooking beans 101

While beans are affordable, nutritious and delicious, preparing them takes a little preplanning (with lentils and split peas being somewhat of the exception). But if you can plan ahead -- like the night before -- legumes require very little actual work time.

  1. Measure out desired amount of beans (2 cups of dried beans will yield 5-6 cups of cooked, drained beans.)
  2. Sort (looking for shriveled or discolored beans, pebbles, twigs, etc.) and rinse well.
  3. Soak beans to remove a lot of their gas-causing sugars, increase digestibility and reduce cooking time. (Lentils and split peas cook so fast that soaking is not required.) Two bean soaking methods are suggested, with the "slow soak" method retaining more nutrients but the quick-soak option removing more of the gas-causing, indigestible carbohydrates.
    • Slow or Overnight: Add beans to a stockpot with along with salt and enough water to keep beans submerged as they rehydrate. Cover and refrigerate over night (a minimum of 5hours). The next day, drain and discard liquid.
    • Quick Soak: Bring salted water (enough to cover beans) to a boil. Add beans and boil for 2-3 minutes. Cover and set aside for at least 1 hour (4-8 hours is even better if you want to greatly diminish "gas-iness").
  4. Drain and discard salted soaking water. Rinse beans once again.
  5. Add 3 cups of water for every 1 cup of dried beans. (Don't like measuring ingredients? Just add enough water so it rises 1" above the soaked and rinsed beans.) At this time, you can also add a pinch of salt, seasoning, ham, salted pork or bouillon, if desired. Some Latin American recipes call for epazote and Asian recipes suggest kombu seaweed to enhance digestibility of beans. Do not add vinegar, lemon or tomato juice, however, until beans are nearly done cooking. If added too early, sugar or acidic ingredients can toughen beans and extend the cooking process.
  6. Cover pot and bring to a boil.
  7. After boiling for 10 minutes, lower temperature to prevent skins from breaking -- which results in mushy beans -- and simmer for appropriate length of time (see Bean Cooking Chart below). If foaming becomes a problem, skim off foam with a large spoon and cook beans without a lid.
  8. Check pot and stir occasionally. Add water if beans become uncovered. To test if beans are done, they should mash easily between fingers or with a fork.
How to reduce flatulence associated with beans

Many of us associate beans with flatulence. "Gas" is a result of the high fiber content (roughage) and fairly uncommon, complex sugars that beans contain. Fortunately, the old saying is partially true: "Beans are a magical fruit. The more you eat, the less you toot!" Beans are not a fruit. But as a body gets used to digesting beans on a regular basis, gas becomes less common.

Tips for minimizing flatulence include:

  • Start slowly and gradually introduce beans more often into your diet.
  • Soak beans well, drain and replace water before cooking. Many of the hard-to-digest complex sugars will dissolve into the water and are removed when you discard the soak water. While slow soaking beans results in less nutrient loss, the quick soak method tends to make beans less gaseous.
  • Consider Beano®, a natural enzyme product you can add to foods to help breaks down complex carbohydrates.

cooking beans in pressure cookerCooking beans in a pressure cooker can save you a lot of time. And modern stovetop and electric units are far safer than older models where bean skins could block the release valve and result in an explosion. Important tips to remember when pressure cooking beans are: (1) 1/2 Full Rule: The soaked beans, other ingredients and enough water to cover plus 2 inches should never exceed 1/2 the capacity of the cooker. This allows for beans to expand yet stay covered in water. Plus it leaves room for foam and froth. (2) Add Oil: One tablespoon of canola oil per cup of beans will help cut down on foaming. When cooking time is up, stove top pressure cookers can be cooled quickly by running cold water over the edge of the lid to release pressure. However, never place an electric pressure cooker in water! And be sure to clean and check the lid and vent for bean skins. An alternative, though slower (6-8 hours), method is to cook dried beans in a crock pot.

how to store dried beansStoring uncooked, dry beans

If unopened, it is best to keep beans in the plastic bag in which they were purchased. Once opened, dried beans can be stored in an air-tight glass container (canning jars work well) for up to one year or longer in a cool, dry place (but not in the freezer or refrigerator). The older beans are, the longer cooking time they may require and the tougher the shells will be (no matter how long they are cooked).

Bean cooking chart

Just as the age of beans can effect cooking time, so can altitude, water hardness (if hard water is a problem in your area, you may want to use bottled water) and personal preference.

Below are the approximate cooking times for soaked beans, under normal stovetop cooking conditions. Cooking times at high elevations will be longer. Times for cooking beans in a pressure cooker or a slow cooker will be dramatically different.

Name Cooking time Popular uses
Black Beans: 2 hours Caribbean and South American dishes, soups, salads
Chick peas
1 - 1.5 hours Middle Eastern and Indian dishes, humus, salads. The most widely consumed legume worldwide
Cranberry: 1.5 - 2 hours Italian cuisine
Great Northern
(Large white):
1 - 1.5 hours soups, baked dishes
Kidney: 2 hours New Orleans dishes, Southwest chili, in salads, with rice
Lima (Butter): 45 minutes - 1 hour soups, with grains, puree into a spread like humus
Navy: 1.5 hours Boston and English baked beans, soups
Pink: 1 hour barbecue dishes
Pinto: 1.5 - 2 hours Mexican and South American dishes, refried beans

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Showing comment(s)
August 9, 2012
You could mention that lentils and split peas are exceptions to the rule when it comes to cooking legumes, since they don't need presoaking and they cook so quickly. I just 1) rinse them, 2) add them to a pot with 1 1/2 cup of water or stock per cup of lentils or split peas, 3) bring them to a boil and 4) turn them down to a simmer for 30-45 minutes with a lid on the pot. You'll know they're done when they're tender and easy to smoosh with a fork.
Frank at
August 11, 2012
Thanks for sharing your info on split peas and lentils, Billy. You are correct - lentils and split peas are faster to cook than other beans. Here's a link to lots of pea and lentil recipes:
Matt's Dad
May 9, 2016
most popular topic I've heard that soaking and rinsing ANY beans to remove the gas-causing sugars has been disproven.
Van at
May 11, 2016
According to this in the LA Times, you may be correct: The article is an interesting read; the author tests not only the impact of soaking, but also when to add salt, different cooking temperatures and more. From reading through the comments posted below the article, however, it appears that not everyone is convinced that soaking beans is unimportant.

Cooks Illustrated magazine is a much respected authority on topics like this and they feel strongly that soaking beans over night in salted water (for at least 5 hours but not to exceed 24 hours may be better) helps to rehydrate the beans and soften skins, resulting in creamier, more consistent beans. Plus, it reduces the cooking time. And, regarding the gas issue that you specifically mentioned, they measured the amount of problematic stachyose carbohydrate that results in gas. The results showed that slow soaking beans and discarding the soak water reduced this gas-causing carb by nearly 30% but the quick-soak method removed over 40% of it!

However, Cooks Illustrated did offer a twist that may make soaking unnecessary. Simply adding a strip of kombu seaweed to the cooking pot resulted in beans that were nearly as delicious as those that they soaked over night.

So, I think the jury is still out on whether or not soaking is advised. Please let us know what you decide if you test this yourself.

most popular topic When is the best time to add salt and how much should be added?
Cooks Illustrated recommends 3 tablespoons per gallon in the soaking water. Then, after draining that soaking water, add another tablespoon or so to the final cooking water (you may want to cut this down to 1/2 tablespoon if you're adding other salty ingredients like bacon, ham or parmesan).

most popular topic Why do my beans come out tough some of the time?
Four things that can cause beans not to soften are:
1. Is your tap water extremely hard?
2. Are you soaking the beans in salted water long enough?
3. Are you possibly adding acidic ingredients like wine, tomatoes, citrus juice, or vinegar too early in the cooking process? (It is best to wait until after the beans are cooked.)
4. Is it possible that you're using old and stale beans? (If so, they are never going to soften.)

most popular topic What about adding a pinch of baking soda to the cooking water? Won't that help soften beans?
Alkalines, like baking soda, work exactly the opposite of acids so; yes... they will help soften beans. However, baking soda has been found to rob nutrients so it is no longer recommended.

most popular topic Does adding kombu seaweed to the cooking pot make dried beans more digestible?
Yes, according to (once again) Cook's Illustrated magazine. In addition to adding a nice flavor, beans that were soaked and cooked in plain water with one 3-5" strip of kombu seaweed cooked up with soft skins and smooth texture... just as good as beans that were soaked and cooked with salt. But even more interesting was that their test showed that beans that skipped the soak completely -- and were simply cooked with the strip of kombu turned out to be nearly as good! So, if you don't have time for presoaking or don't care to mess with that extra step, simply cooking with kombu may be a good alternative.
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