To Soak or Not to Soak?

That is the question. Or at least the most popular question. In Mexico, most cooks don’t soak. In Italy, the soak and change the water. What do you do? Does it work? Then I’d say keep on doing it, up to a degree.


I recently received this email from a cooking school instructor:

I am an instructor at [a college] where we have a Natural
Chef program and we have had two bad experiences with your beans.  We are so
excited about them since they fit our style perferctly so I wanted to follow up
on our disappointments.
The problem:  On two different occasions with two different beans (sorry
don’t remember the types) with two different cooks we did this…
Soaked the beans 28-24 hours.
Cooked the beans in filtered water with a little oil added.
Cooked and cooked and cooked for up to 4 hours.
The beans never softened to a point where they were edible.
Note:  we have successfully cooked 3-4 types with no problems and enjoyed
them immensely!
So – being a cooking school we need to know.  What is happening?  People
just assume the beans are old but I’m not going for that.

Can you spot the clue? The only time I have ever heard of a problem with the beans taking so long to cook is when someone has given them a 24 hour soak. I’m not sure why but I’ve had two or three people say the beans took forever and just a little digging will reveal they were oversoaked.You can cook fresh beans, which I’d define as within two years of harvest, maybe three under optimum storage conditions, without soaking. I used to be adamant about not soaking but I’ve done side by side comparisons and the soaked beans have a better texture. I don’t change the water. In general, I soak in the morning and cook in the afternoon. I cook beans 2-3 times a week. I believe the optimum soaking time is from four to six hours for most beans, a full six for runner beans like Scarlet Runners, Cellini, Runner Canellini and that family.

You will hear about the “Quick Soak” method. Just smile and act interested when you hear about it. You cover the beans with hot water, let them soak for an hour and then strain the water and start cooking with new water. If the beans are in hot water, you’re already cooking so why not just cook them? It doesn’t make much sense but if it’s been working for you, go for it.

It may be there are better ways to cook commercial store bought beans but with fresh, heirloom beans, you’re working too hard!

10 Comments on To Soak or Not to Soak?

  1. One benefit of soaking (even more so if you do change the water) is that I’ve noticed soaked beans cause less…ahem… flatulence.

  2. I soak, briefly, as you recommend. And I go back and forth about changing the water… when cooking for friends or family, I do change, for the reason that GFbtB mentions. When it’s just us chickens, I usually don’t bother.

  3. this is just a little love note – i love this blog and appreciate the time you put into it. i subscribed to the feed the day you announced, and since then your simple (non)recipes have increased my bean consumption from once in awhile to at least once, more often twice a week (a very good thing, as they are so healthy and delicious)

    just wanted to say – thanks. and rock on.

  4. You know, for every person who tells you soaking and changes the water helps with the gas, there’s another who will tell you the opposite. The only thing that is for sure is that the more you eat beans, the less of an issue it is. If you have a pretty low fiber diet and then have a huge bowl of runner beans in one sitting, chances are good you’ll be affected. But If you ease into the bean “lifestyle” (I can’t believe I just wrote that), you shouldn’t have any problems, soaking, changing or not. The potential negative of soaking and not changing is you could be leaching out nutrients and then throwing them down the sink. But as I always say, there aren’t many absolutes in life and if things are working for you, swell.

    Sara, thanks! Please show up with nice comments like that all you like! Obviously you are “one of us”, the bean freaks. It’s silly but I find it so romantic to be able to plant a bean, get more beans, and carry on the whole tradition season after season. The plant waste goes right back into the ground and the beans look like jewels and then taste great on top of that. What more could you want? A health food? It’s all almost too much!

  5. I love your stuff. For the ojo de cabra and posole, I generally soak them for about 8 hours and then cook them on very low heat in the soaking water and they always come out perfect.

  6. What’s the longest you’ve soaked beans? And did you have any trouble cooking them? Sounds like time for an experiment! Of course, it would have been helpful if they would have remembered which varieties they had trouble with.

  7. Grant, I think I soaked 10 hours one time and was planning on the beans cooking really fast. But they didn’t. It was a little longer than usual. I would love to have known which beans did and didn’t work.

    DM, the funny thing about the posole, if you don’t soak it and make a nice soup or stew, even though it seems done, it keeps absorbing the liquid so if you have any lefteover, the next day it could be a very dry soup!

  8. Steve, thanks for the warning, that could be really bad. I can just see being in a rush to prep for a meal cooking the posole and throwing it in the fridge to come home and have no soup left. I did that once with chick peas where there wasn’t enoughs soaking water. I came home ready to cook them and had a giant bowl of slightly moist garbonzoes.

  9. I never pre-soak bean (except garbanzoes), I cook them once for 10 to 12 minutes on the 2nd mark on my pressure cooker. Speed cool under cold running water to release pressure valve, drain in colander, rinse. Return to pressure cooker with water to cover, heat again to 2nd pressure mark, cook about 10 minutes (depends on beans), then let pressure reduce by itself. Always perfect. Then add seasonings or do whatever you want with them. I can cook beans this way in about an hour, which is perfect for me, I never know what I want to eat till I get nearer to dinner!

  10. Hi, RG!! Please don’t hit me — I still have beans and posole I got from you, um, a while ago. To be honest, I was chicken about trying to cook the posole. This has given me the courage to proceed and have a perfect posole experience! And the last of the French Horticulture are soaking at this very moment, for dinner tonight. Mmm, beans.

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