Beans and High Elevation – 5 Things to Know

Have you ever tried to make your favorite baked good recipe at a higher elevation than you’re used to, and it comes out… wrong? We often think about how high elevation affects cookies, cakes, breads, and all those goodies. But we may not often think about beans and high elevation! And yet, the cooking of beans – and pretty much all foods – is also very much impacted by being way above sea level.

I spent the last week plus in Leadville, Colorado – which is at over 10,000 feet elevation – with a fantastic colleague and friend. What was I doing, you ask? Cooking beans! Much of my PhD research centers on outreach, and cooking beans at higher elevations presents challenges for many consumers in Colorado and across the world.

So, without further ado, here are 5 fun tips and tidbits to know about beans and elevation!

What to Know About Beans and High Elevation:

  • Cooking beans at elevation takes longer! Sometimes a lot longer. The boiling point of water is lower at higher elevations. For example, at sea level, the boiling point of water is 212 degrees F, whereas it is only 194 degrees F at 10,000 feet. That is a big difference!
Beans in Mattson cooker - testing of beans and high elevation effects
Testing bean cooking time in a Mattson cooker
  • Yes, it can take longer even in a pressure cooker. If you look at the manuals for electric pressure cookers like Instant Pot, they recommend increasing the cooking time for dried beans by 5% for every 1,000 feet above 2,000 feet. So some quick bean math: being at 10,000 feet means increasing the cooking time by an additional 40% even in electric pressure cookers, based on this recommendation.
  • Storage is important. I brought my moisture meter up to Leadville, because I am cool like that. Beans that had been stored in a glass jar (that was only partly full, which could allow for more exposure to air) for a long time actually gave me a reading of ‘moisture below limit,’ which I had never seen before. It is really dry up in Leadville, so especially in places like that, it is beneficial to store beans well and eat them often to keep replenishing your supply of newer beans. When you purchase beans in a grocery store, you likely won’t know exactly when they were harvested or how they have been stored, so your best bet is probably to enjoy them relatively soon. At the same time, no judgment – I definitely have beans that are a couple years old in my home, too. Because sometimes new beans are just too exciting to turn down and I have to try them first!
Low moisture reading on beans
  • Soaking helps. This is true pretty much anywhere – soaking will reduce the cooking time of beans. But it definitely shortened cooking time up in Leadville, and it helped the beans absorb water more evenly and have less skin ‘blowout.’ So, better texture and appearance. Also, especially if you don’t know how your beans have been stored and/or for how long, soaking helps rehydrate them.
  • Beans like to climb trees. This is… potentially not true. But I brought beans on a hike with me, as you do, and I may or may not have put them in a tree to take a photo. Actually, to take a couple photos. Can you find the bag of beans in this forest picture??
Beans in a tree
Beans, in their element. Also, this is not just a zoomed in version of the photo below.
Beans in a tree - scavenger hunt
Find the bag of beans in this photo!

Bean questions?! Send them my way!!

And if you are looking for tips and tricks based in the science, check out this quick read on 5 ways to shorten bean cooking time.

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