People say beans take too long to cook. The good news is that – if you are inclined to cook instead of using canned (and no judgment either way, I do both!) – there are tricks to shorten bean cooking time. Some of these are easier to do than others, but here is what the scientific literature has to say! Plus, at the bottom of this post, I included a link to a handout on how to reduce bean cooking time AND a video on how to cook dry beans.
How Can You Speed Bean Cooking Time?
- Soak – soaking beans and other pulses (like chickpeas) can shorten their cooking time. Generally, you do not need to soak lentils.
- Note: If you have hard water (with lots of minerals in it), this can actually make beans take a very long time to cook. More to follow on the why in a future post. If your beans are never cooking, it may be worth testing your water, and there are cheap water hardness test strips available.
- Soak in salts – common salts you likely already have around the house can shorten bean cooking time. For example, adding a little salt (here meaning sodium chloride in the form of sea salt, table salt, kosher salt, etc.) or baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) to the soaking water has been shown to reduce cooking time, and sometimes dramatically! It depends on the type of pulse, but baking soda can reduce cooking time by up to about 50% more than just soaking in water. Sea salt reduces cooking time as well, but not as much as baking soda. However, the sea salt can result in a better flavor. So play around with it and see what works best for you!
- We’re not talking a lot of baking soda or salt, either. Maybe like 1.5 Tbs of salt in about 8 cups of water for soaking 1 lb of beans. And you will then discard the soaking water and rinse the beans before cooking, so you are not eating all of that salt.
- Note that there is a myth that salting beans prevents them from softening – this is not true!! Unless you have a salt-restricted diet, do no wait to salt. Your beans will cook faster and taste more delicious.
- Avoid acids – adding acid to beans can lengthen cooking time and prevent them from softening. A little acid is not going to kill you (or the beans), but you may want to wait until the beans have softened, especially if you are using a lot of acidic ingredients, like tomatoes and lemon.
- Store your beans well – beans are known for their long shelf-life, but it is still important to store them properly. For example, storing in hot and/or humid conditions can lengthen the cooking time of beans. Storing in cool places away from humid or moist conditions is ideal.
- Get fresh(er) beans – as beans age, they become harder to cook. Now, getting fresher beans is easier said than done because often the age of the beans is not labeled. However, if you do have the opportunity to get beans that were more recently harvested, they tend to absorb the water better and cook up more quickly.
I would truly love to hear your thoughts about cooking beans and other pulses (pulses are lentils, dry beans, chickpeas, dry peas, etc.)! I am doing my PhD on pulses, so if that doesn’t convince you that I am truly interested, I’m not sure what will.
Basically: Wondering anything about cooking pulses? Let me know – I’m here to help!