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Cooking Dried Beans


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#31 Jaymes

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Posted 31 January 2004 - 07:51 PM

In January, 2003, the LA Times did an exploration of the big "bean cooking" conundrum.

Regarding salting:

"Salting: Conventional wisdom dictates that dried beans should only be salted toward the end of cooking, because the salt draws moisture from the bean, producing an unpleasantly dry texture. But exhaustive tests done by Times columnist Russ Parsons showed that beans cooked with a teaspoon of salt per pound compared to beans cooked without salt cooked to exactly the same degree of softness in almost exactly the same time. Moreover, the beans salted during cooking required half as much salt."

My personal preferences: Usually pintos which I don't soak (learned my "bean techniques" from Mexicans that never soak and find it silly because "no reason & no time"); do cook them in chicken or beef boullion, which does have salt; fry up tomatoes & "seasonings" (chiles, onions, garlic, pork, etc., in the Mexican manner) and add them for the last half-hour, after the beans are soft.

Edited by Jaymes, 01 February 2004 - 06:47 PM.

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#32 rancho_gordo

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Posted 31 January 2004 - 08:23 PM

Actually, what I've found is that if the beans are old, and you soak them, some of them will not plump up, but will remain rock-hard, and the skins will wrinkle but remain firmly attached. If they are large beans, you can pick them out at this point, but you might just want to pitch them.

Sounds good to me- just be careful with a bean like Runner Cannellini. It looks as nasty and has a shriveled attached skin while it's soaking. Even when "fresh".
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#33 fifi

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Posted 31 January 2004 - 08:32 PM

Sounds good to me- just be careful with a bean like Runner Cannellini. It looks as nasty and has a shriveled attached skin while it's soaking. Even when "fresh".

That is what I was afraid of. I'll bet that there is enough difference in tissue structure of different varieties of beans that you can't really make sweeping generalizations.

Damn. Something as simple as a bean can get really complicated. Mother Nature is a bitch. :biggrin:
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#34 rancho_gordo

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Posted 31 January 2004 - 08:47 PM

I'd like to know regional differences with beans.

What do you eat in TX, Fifi? Mostly pintos? any regional favorites. In Santa Maria CALIF, they eat a nice pinquito bean that's kind of dense and "fudgy" with their BBQ. IN SF, there are so many Salvadoreans, you see a lot of their red beans now. They are small and dense.

To generalize and offend, I find there are some constants. If a customer gets the concept of "pot beans", they tend to be from the west or southwest. The red beans and rice seems to be from the south and baked beans and Italian moxie seem to from the east. People from the midwest tend to be the most intimidated and want "recipes" and ideas on what to do with them. I try to tell them that a pot of heirloom beans by themselves is a glorious thing, maybe with some tortillas or rice but this is too much. Eventually they come around.

And there are plenty of exceptions to the above!
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#35 fifi

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Posted 31 January 2004 - 09:02 PM

In Texas, pintos rule. They are usually cooked with some kind of cured pork product. The addition of chile powder, peppers, onions and garlic is not unheard of.

Especially in the SE portion of the state, late summer peas are always popular. sometimes these are allowed to dry but are a favorite fresh in late summer. I still remember sitting on the porch shelling peas until my fingers were sore. Favorites are purple hulls, crowders, cream crowders (getting hard to find) and something called lady peas (also getting hard to find).

Then there is the ubiquitous black eyed pea. These are a necessity on New Year's Day. They also form the base for a bean salsa known as Texas Caviar. There are many versions.

In my family, navy beans are a favorite. My dad was in the navy during WWII and from then on, a pot of navy beans was the typical fate of the monthly ham leavings.

Houston has an incredibly diverse population so all kinds of interesting things are becoming more popular. As our Latin American/Caribbean population continues to diversify, black beans are becoming particularly common.

You ask a very good question. I would like to hear of some other regional favorites.
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#36 ExtraMSG

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Posted 31 January 2004 - 09:45 PM

Then there is "the Problem" with beans. This from McGee:

"for extended space flights, it may prove advantageous to select astronauts who produce minimal amounts of methane and hydrogen and who do not normally produce very large quantities of flatus; and... selection criteria for astronauts might be established to eliminate those candidates who demonstrate marked or excessive gastroenterologic responses to stress..." What a way to wash out!

Well, it does seem that there may be some science behind some folk wisdom. It seems that phenolics that are present in certain herbs and such may suppress some of the bacterial action in the lower gut. (The situation is that the oligosaccharides in beans are not digested in the upper GI tract and arrive in the lower as ample fodder for the bacteria there to do their thing.) So, addition of epizote by the Mexicans may have some merit if epizote has a lot of phenolics. I don't know. There is a gathering opinion that if you eat a lot of beans, your bacterial population will adjust and all will be well. What has me intensely curious is the test protocol and equipment used to test those astronauts. Enquiring minds want to know.

Well, one more dream crushed. Thanks, fifi. :raz:

I like baking beans. Start them on the stovetop with whatever tastes good in the ol' Le Creuset -- bacon, spices, aromatics. Cover with water and toss in the oven for a few hours. Salting is unimportant in my experiments except for flavor. Soaking is just a pain in the butt that adds nothing -- rather cook them a little longer in the same pot.

#37 hjshorter

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 04:36 AM

Damn. Why don't you sell mail order?

I was gonna say that! Maybe you could start? I bet lots of folks on egullet would be interested.
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#38 Andrew Fenton

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 06:02 AM

Damn. Why don't you sell mail order?

I was gonna say that! Maybe you could start? I bet lots of folks on egullet would be interested.

I'll second that. Lots of great stuff there, that as far as I know isn't available in my area. I'd love to experiment with heirloom beans...

#39 Katherine

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 06:42 AM

rancho_gordo, I am just totally impressed with how you have your popup images open on mouseover and close on clickoff. What a great idea!

#40 fifi

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 09:20 AM

Yeah. The whole site is really nifty. I am trying to justify a little trippy-poo to Napa just to buy some beans. Does that sound nuts or what? :biggrin:
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

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#41 mnebergall

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 09:37 AM


Then there is "the Problem" with beans. This from McGee:

"for extended space flights, it may prove advantageous to select astronauts who produce minimal amounts of methane and hydrogen and who do not normally produce very large quantities of flatus; and... selection criteria for astronauts might be established to eliminate those candidates who demonstrate marked or excessive gastroenterologic responses to stress..." What a way to wash out!

Well, it does seem that there may be some science behind some folk wisdom. It seems that phenolics that are present in certain herbs and such may suppress some of the bacterial action in the lower gut. (The situation is that the oligosaccharides in beans are not digested in the upper GI tract and arrive in the lower as ample fodder for the bacteria there to do their thing.) So, addition of epizote by the Mexicans may have some merit if epizote has a lot of phenolics. I don't know. There is a gathering opinion that if you eat a lot of beans, your bacterial population will adjust and all will be well. What has me intensely curious is the test protocol and equipment used to test those astronauts. Enquiring minds want to know.

Well, one more dream crushed. Thanks, fifi. :raz:

I like baking beans. Start them on the stovetop with whatever tastes good in the ol' Le Creuset -- bacon, spices, aromatics. Cover with water and toss in the oven for a few hours. Salting is unimportant in my experiments except for flavor. Soaking is just a pain in the butt that adds nothing -- rather cook them a little longer in the same pot.

So am I to take from this that Julia Child is, well, full of gas with regard to her "antiflatulence" method of cooking beans?

#42 fifi

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 09:51 AM

In January, 2003, the LA Times did an exploration of the big "bean cooking" conundrum.

Regarding salting:

"Salting: Conventional wisdom dictates that dried beans should only be salted toward the end of cooking, because the salt draws moisture from the bean, producing an unpleasantly dry texture. But exhaustive tests done by Times columnist Russ Parsons showed that beans cooked with a teaspoon of salt per pound compared to beans cooked without salt cooked to exactly the same degree of softness in almost exactly the same time. Moreover, the beans salted during cooking required half as much salt."

My personal preferences: I don't soak; do cook my pinto beans in chicken or beef boullion, which does have salt; fry up tomatoes & "seasonings" (chiles, onions, garlic, pork, etc., in the Mexican manner) and add them for the last half-hour.

Thank you, Jaymes. You may have saved my sanity. I am beginning to suspect that our local newspaper, The Houston Chronicle, had the great good sense to pick up a Parsons column. They do that from time to time. Maybe that is why I am remembering "respected SSB" regarding salt in beans but I am not finding it in my library. Russ's book is on my "to buy" list but I am still working my way through my last stack of Paula Wolfert.

Maybe Russ will chime in here and share some more details.
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

#43 Wolfert

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 12:11 PM

If you don't soak the beans first I doubt you'll have much success following Harold McGee's comments above..
“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

#44 edsel

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 06:21 PM

i have nothing to add except that i made some channa dal yesterday (is that a bean?). the dal turned out spectacular but has also increased the production of natural gas in our home by a couple of orders of magnitude. this has never happened before. as far as i can tell i cooked them the same way i always have. possibilities: i got a mutant batch of beans/split peas (they were from a new bag; i usually eat them with something else that counteracts this effect and this time didn't.

Mongo,

Did you rinse the dal really, really well? The reason I ask is that it is common for dal to be coated with mineral oil (or some such) and you have to take care to scrub it clean. Soak the dal in water and rub it between your hands. Rinse it multiple times. The oil is non-toxic, but it's hardly something you want to ingest. Not sure if that would lead to gas production....

p.s., dal may noyt be a "bean", but any legume is on-topic in my book. :smile:

#45 ExtraMSG

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 09:27 PM

Isn't mineral oil a laxative?

#46 mongo_jones

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 09:33 PM

Mongo,

Did you rinse the dal really, really well? The reason I ask is that it is common for dal to be coated with mineral oil (or some such) and you have to take care to scrub it clean. Soak the dal in water and rub it between your hands. Rinse it multiple times. The oil is non-toxic, but it's hardly something you want to ingest. Not sure if that would lead to gas production....

p.s., dal may noyt be a "bean", but any legume is on-topic in my book. :smile:

yes, the dal was washed exhaustively--over and over again till the water ran clear. i should add i cook dal of one kind or the other every other day. never had this reaction before. wonder why it happened this time--as far as i can tell i did everything the same way. the only variable is that this was the first time i cooked this particular dal after our move to boulder. perhaps this is the way the bacteria in my gut respond to altitude. will have to see if it happens again.

#47 Dave the Cook

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 09:57 PM

If you don't soak the beans first I doubt you'll have much success following Harold McGee's comments above..

Maybe I'm dense. Would you explain your caveat, please, Paula?

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#48 Wolfert

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Posted 02 February 2004 - 12:50 AM

[quote name='fifi' date='Jan 31 2004, 11:34 AM']

This one is new to me. Paula Wolfert, in discussing cassoulet, has espoused the importance of cooking beans in "just enough liquid" and not too much in order to attain the optimum texture. It turns out that McGee has also addressed this issue. Another quote from McGee:
[quote]And it turns out, contrary to what we would expect, that seeds will actually absorb more water in a smaller volume of water: the less cooking water, the fewer carbohydrates are leached out, and the carbohydrates will take up about 10 times their weight in water. This means, then, that seeds will seem softer in a given time if cooked in a minimal amount of liquid.[/quote] [/quote]
does this help?[QUOTE]
“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

#49 nessa

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Posted 02 February 2004 - 06:48 AM

I'm in Texas and I have several favorite beans. Black, red, pinto, garbanzo, adzuki, most varieties of lentils, limas and fava beans. Oh. But wait, there's more! :wub: I made pintos with ham hocks this weekend.

#50 fifi

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Posted 02 February 2004 - 07:09 AM

If you don't soak the beans first  I doubt you'll have much success following Harold McGee's comments above..

Maybe I'm dense. Would you explain your caveat, please, Paula?

I was scratching my head about that one, too. Then Paula posted the "just enough water" quote. I am guessing, but I think that Paula is referring to the fact that if you don't "pre-swell" the beans, you aren't going to know the ultimate volume of beans and therefore won't know how much liquid to add. Makes sense to me and I will keep that in mind when dealing with unknown beans. I will especially keep it in mind when I finally tackle cassoulet... unknown beans and a lot of work to screw up. That one, I will probably plan ahead. Others, much less chance. I tend to cook beans on a whim.

In my crockpot, I don't worry about it. Over the years I have come to know how most of the beans I cook will swell. For example, I know that my red beans need about 3/4 inch of water over the beans to start and Camellia red beans are very consistent. If I am in "unknown bean" territory, I start with about 3/4 inch of water over, then check as it goes for the first couple of hours (I start on high.) and add water as needed. Usually after two hours on high they have done their thing, I can switch to low and go about my business.
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#51 rancho_gordo

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Posted 02 February 2004 - 12:09 PM

I am really flattered and thank you for all the nice comments on the website. I hope you can visit me at a market in the bay area soon!
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#52 Dave the Cook

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Posted 02 February 2004 - 12:18 PM

OK, but then it relates back to just two things, I think: the type of bean, and the age of the bean. Is that right? With experience, we can handle the first. As for the second, we are at the mercy of processors and packagers.

Weathering the curious glances of fellow shoppers, I spent some time (an amount, I suspect, that only an eGull would find reasonable) examining bean packages. Most of them did have expiration dates -- including quite a few outdated specimens at Whole Foods -- though they're not easy to find.

The smallest (read: boutique) packagers had no dates. The imported brands had straightforward, "Best if used by - - - " nomenclature. The largest brands, meaning Goya and the store labels, used a simple code that employed the day of the year (1 through 365); then a character or two that might be the plant where they were packed, or might be a letter designation for a year; and finally, what was apparently the expiration year. (I have a real example, but I left it at home.) Actually, it's very similar to the code used on fresh eggs.

It would be nice if we could simply buy the beans with the most distant expiry, but that depends on the policy of the packer. Beans that expire in January '05 sound good, unless the packer thinks that 18 months is a reasonable shelf life -- they would have been packed in June or July of '03. In that case, a bag of December 04's from a more perspicacious 12-month packer might be more pleasing.

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#53 Wolfert

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Posted 02 February 2004 - 12:35 PM

I really believe that the two step (soak then simmer) method for garbanzos and cannelini provides the best chance of obtaining a beauitful succulent result no matter what the date on the package. Also, what about the water?
“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

#54 jawbone

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Posted 02 February 2004 - 02:38 PM

and what about soaking chick peas with baking soda? has this been discredited?

#55 russ parsons

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Posted 02 February 2004 - 03:16 PM

for a while, i was afraid that my tombstone would read "did not soak beans". here's what i believe about beans:
1) you do not NEED to soak them. soaking does speed up the cooking process and, i think, result in slightly more uniform cooking among the beans. not soaking, of course, means you don't need to plan the night before about what you're going to fix for dinner. also, and maybe more important, not soaking the beans results in a very, very flavorful broth. this is much more like mexican-style beans than, perhaps, french.
2) salt them right away. try them unsalted and salted side-by-side and you won't believe the difference. salted beans are seasoned all the way through. salting at the end you just get a very salty broth and bland beans.
3) acid is somewhat problematic. it does delay cooking. add tomatoes, etc., only after the beans have begun to soften.
4) alkaline substances are VERY problematic. they'll stop cooking cold. this is why boston baked beans you add the molasses at the very end. it's also why in certain cities at certain times of year, beans will never soften (alkaline salts in the water).
5) i do believe that beans need to be started slowly and cooked slowly. the starches soften and dissolve in order rather than all at once. cook them too quickly and you'll find that more beans break up.
6) there is almost nothing you can do about the "digestive unpleasantness" issue. certainly, soaking has absolutely no effect. i talked to a scientist who had measured the sugars left in beans after soaking. cold soaking removed only a very negligible amount (the sugars are the stored energy the beans will need in their role as seeds--growing new plants; soaking is the first stage of germination, it would make no sense to purge sugars at that point). hot soaking removed about 10-15%, if i remember correctly. and, he said, if you repeated the hot soaking three times, you actually reached a decent level. of course, beans that were hot-soaked three times in a row lacked something gustatorily. beano, the product, is an enzyme that dissolves the specific sugars that beans contain. it does work. on the other hand, part of the musical nature of beans is that they are very high in fiber, which the american diet is very low in. beano does nothing for this. the only thing that works is eating beans frequently; your system will adjust. note that in mexico and central america, where beans have always been eaten in abundance, 1) they never soak beans and 2) rarely experience digestive distress.
cook more beans.
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#56 mongo_jones

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Posted 02 February 2004 - 07:01 PM

russ,

i wonder if your experiments have included cooking beans in a pressure-cooker. this is the way most indian homes cook red-beans (rajma) and (despite what i posted about my recent gaseous production) rajma-chawal (indian style red beans and rice) doesn't cause me much distress. then again i probably eat more red beans than the average american. or perhaps all that chilli powder and garam masala does something too.

mongo

#57 Wolfert

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Posted 03 February 2004 - 09:47 AM

[quote name='russ parsons' date='Feb 2 2004, 03:16 PM']
1) you do not NEED to soak them. soaking does speed up the cooking process and, i think, result in slightly more uniform cooking among the beans. not soaking, of course, means you don't need to plan the night before about what you're going to fix for dinner. also, and maybe more important, not soaking the beans results in a very, very flavorful broth. this is much more like mexican-style beans than, perhaps, french.
2 [/quote]
[QUOTE]
I think beans from the "old world" such as fava beans and garbanzo beans really need soaking, otherwise, theyu need cooking all day long. You don't need to change their soaking water unless you've added baking soda.
“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

#58 Callipygos

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Posted 03 February 2004 - 10:31 AM

Hmm. By the "hot soak" method, are you referring to bringing them to a boil for a couple minutes, setting them aside for a couple hours, then draining them and cooking as usual? Because that seems to work for me in cutting down the digestive distress factor.

#59 russ parsons

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Posted 03 February 2004 - 11:24 AM

paula is right (of course), that i should have specified new world beans rather than implying the same was true for chickpeas and dried favas. i don't have enough experience cooking with them to make any judgement on those, certainly not compared to her.

i should also have pointed out that you do need to adjust the amount of water in the recipe when you don't soak. the beans take up a lot more water during the cooking.

i have not done any work comparing beans cooked in the pressure cooker. offhand, i can't think of a reason why it would make a difference, but it is possible that the increased heat could have an effect on the sugars.

Because i'm sure the statute of limitations has run out, here is the piece i wrote in 1994:


Almost every recipe in every cookbook you've ever read says you must soak dried beans before you cook them. In almost every case that advice is wrong.

Letting dried beans sit overnight in a bowl of cold water does nothing to improve their flavor or their texture. In fact, it does quite the opposite. While soaking shortens the unattended cooking time of beans somewhat, the time saved is marginal and there are no other labor-saving benefits. Finally, soaking does absolutely nothing to reduce the gas-producing properties of beans.

These may be difficult ideas to get used to, flying as they do in the face of everything most of us have been taught about cooking beans. One friend, an Arizonan, dismissed the idea out-of-hand, attributing it to my New Mexican background. "What do they know about beans?" she said.


But cooking unsoaked beans is not new. No less an authority than noted Mexican cookbook writer Diana Kennedy has advocated it for years. "If you want the best-flavored beans, don't soak them overnight, but start cooking in hot water," she says in "The Cuisines of Mexico" (Harper & Row: 1972).

In fact, the more I asked around, the more people I found who cooked beans this way--mostly, it seemed, people from Mexican or Central American families--although at least one prominent New American chef and another well-known French chef agreed.

What's more, few commercial canners soak dried beans before cooking. In fact, in a way they don't cook the beans at all. The heat and pressure of the canning process (called the retort) is enough to cook--perhaps even overcook--the beans right in the can.

*

Still, I wanted to see for myself. Call it trial by frijoles.

First, I cooked three pots of beans: one soaked overnight, one quick-soaked (brought to a boil and left to sit, covered for one hour), and one simply covered with boiling water. To each pot I added a hunk of salt pork, some sliced onion and a bit of garlic. I simmered them slowly on top of the stove, covered.

The two soaked beans did cook more quickly than the unsoaked--they were finished in about 1 hour and 15 minutes, as opposed to two hours. But when I sampled them, the extra 45 minutes paid off. The two pots of soaked beans were pallid compared to the unsoaked (though the long-soaked were better than the quick-soaked). The unsoaked beans had a noticeably deeper flavor; they were firmer to the bite, and they did not break up as much in cooking.

Then came the ultimate test. I sat down with a big bowl of the cooked unsoaked beans (after a little refrying with bacon and a handful of grated Monterey Jack cheese) and ate lunch. I waited, half expecting to blow up like a balloon (as a precaution, I did this test at home, alone). Nothing untoward happened.

That experiment was far from scientific, but after talking to a couple of researchers who confirmed my results, I moved on to more phone calls and other tests.

*

All of us, it seems, have our own set of folk tales about cooking beans. And most rules are followed simply because that's the way someone told us to do it, rather than as a result of any kind of testing.

* Some people told me quite firmly that beans should never be salted before cooking--that this keeps them from softening during cooking. In fact, Kennedy herself makes this claim.

So I cooked beans with salt added (1 teaspoon per pound of beans turns out to be about the right ratio) and without. They cooked to exactly the same degree of softness in almost exactly the same time.

Interestingly, though, to get the same level of saltiness in the unsalted batch of beans, I had to add more than twice as much salt. And even then, it was more a case of the broth being salty than the beans.

* Other people said that the type of pot in which beans are cooked is the most important thing--only earthenware will do.

I cooked beans in three different pots--earthenware, stainless-steel and unlined aluminum. There was some difference in the rate at which the beans soaked up water (or, probably more accurately, the pans soaked up water). The earthenware needed more water early but then seemed to maintain a steady level a little better. I could find little difference in flavor between the earthenware and the stainless-steel, but the unlined aluminum lent a distinctly metallic flavor to the beans.

* One chef told me he never allowed his beans to be cooked on top of the stove. Only by cooking them in the oven is it possible to get the slow, steady pace they need, he claimed.

*

I cooked beans both on top of the stove and in the oven. With constant attention and a ready flame-tamer, I could manipulate the temperature well enough to keep the beans at a sufficiently slow simmer. But, covered, in a 250-degree oven, the cooking was almost effortless. All I had to do was check every half-hour or so to make sure there was sufficient water.

The effect of the cover was particularly amazing. Cooking beans in one test without a cover took six hours. The same quantity of beans, cooked at the same temperature with a lid, was done in about 1 hour, 15 minutes ( without pre-soaking).

All of these tests were done with commonly available varieties--pinto and white northern--that had been purchased from stores that seem to sell a lot of beans. In fact, the age of the bean may be the most important factor.

Dried beans continue to lose moisture as they sit. With very recently picked beans--say, the Scarlet Runners I pick and shell in the summer in my back yard--a quick simmer is all that is necessary. (Actually they are quite good even raw when doused with a little olive oil, mint or basil and salt).

On the other hand, those dried flageolet beans you bought on a whim a couple of years ago that have been sitting in the back of the pantry ever since may be quite dry. In fact, with these beans, soaking may be necessary to bring the cooking time down to a matter of hours, rather than days.

*

Finally, it was time to put the beans to the final test--cooking them in recipes. What good is science, after all, if it is not in the service of mankind? So test we did, adapting old favorite bean recipes to this "new" way of cooking. The results were gratifying: In every case, the dishes were done in almost the same amount of time as the originals. And the textures and flavors of the beans were much improved.

Progress is great when it tastes so good.

AND THIS IS A SIDEBAR ON THE CHEMISTRY:
There is no getting around it--beans cause flatulence. The degree to which different beans affect different people varies, but the truth is inescapable. And there seems to be little a cook can do about it.

"Whether to soak beans prior to cooking or not is simply a culinary question," says Gregory Gray, who has been studying beans for 10 years at the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Western Regional Research lab in Albany, Calif. "It may shorten the cooking time, but other than that, there's no effect (on flatulence)."

Louis B. Rockland, who has been studying beans even longer--first at Albany and now with his own research firm, Food Tech Research in Placentia, concurs. "There are lots of old wives' tales (about reducing flatulence)--people use bicarbonate of soda, ginger, sulfur, castor oil--a whole series of them. But there's no evidence that any of them--including soaking--work effectively."


The problem with beans is well documented. At its root are two factors. First, beans are high in fiber, which most Americans don't eat much of and which can cause flatulence. Second, beans contain complex sugars called alpha-galactosides. The human body does not produce enzymes to digest these sugars. Mainly raffinose and stachyose, they pass through the stomach undigested until they reach the large intestine. There they ferment, producing gases--hydrogen, carbon dioxide and--in some people--methane. The rest is faux pas.

*

It was thought that soaking beans in cold water leached these sugars out of the bean. Throw away the water and you throw away the gas--it has a simple appeal. Unfortunately, it isn't true. These sugars are part of what the bean uses for nourishment as it grows into a plant, and the bean does not part with them gladly.

"When you soak beans in cold water, the beans are actually still alive and their cell walls are still functional," explains Gray. "Those walls are designed to be a very good barrier--to take water in, but not to let the seed nutrients out."

Gray and his colleagues developed a method for extracting most of the alpha-galactosides from beans. The beans are boiled for three minutes (effectively killing the bean and allowing the sugars to pass through the cell walls), then allowed to stand for two hours. That water is poured off and the beans are covered and soaked for another two hours. Then they're drained, covered and soaked another two hours before being drained and rinsed a final time.

*

This method succeeded in ridding the beans of 90% of the troublesome sugars, but as you might expect, there was a side effect. "I used to do this blanch-soak method all the time at home and it works very nicely," Gray says. "The one thing people who ate dinner with us have noted is that you do lose some flavor."

What's more--without going into details of what they measured and how--suffice it to say that even with almost all of the alpha-galactosides gone, there wasn't a consistent marked decrease in human flatulence.

"We reduced the alpha-galactoside content by 90% but we haven't done anything to dietary fiber," says Gray, "and dietary fiber produces similar effects."

This casts doubt not only on this particular pre-soaking method but also on the effectiveness of enzyme additions, such as Beano, which supposedly supply the chemicals necessary to break down the problem sugars.

*

In fact, it seems, the surest cure for flatulence caused by beans is eating more beans.

"Apparently, if you eat beans regularly, the microflora (which ferment the sugars causing gas) adjust somewhat," says Gray. "If you eat bean-and-cheese burritos every day, unless you have some kind of specific problem, you probably won't notice it at all. In cultures that routinely eat beans, you don't hear a lot of complaining about flatulence."

#60 slkinsey

slkinsey
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Posted 03 February 2004 - 12:29 PM

I always thought that the prohibition against salting beans had to do with toughening the skin of the beans rather than the actual flesh. Anyone else heard this, or am I making it up?
Samuel Lloyd Kinsey