We clean, bag, and market dry beans from around the Northeast and the country, and use these same beans in the value-added products we offer. We are working with established growers, and budding ones, to create a more robust and diversified agricultural system.
We have been hard at work expanding both our bulk and retail dry bean program. Retail-ready beans are packaged in 1# bags, 12 bags to a case. Bulk beans are bagged in 25# bags.
We also cook, package and freeze beans in 10# increments.
Rules of the Thumb for working with dry beans:
On the amount of water to use:
Most dry beans will at least double their volume (and mass) when rehydrated. So keep this in mind when adding water to your beans.
With soaking and simmering, you want to keep the beans just covered with water, but not drowned. Harold McGee tells us, “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 own weight in water. This means, then, that seeds will seem softer in a given time if cooked in a minimal amount of liquid.” Put simply, keep the water level in your pot between one-half inch and one full inch above your beans.
Trade Offs: Taste and Nutrition vs Musicality
When we boil beans we are weakening the seeds’ cell walls and gelatinizing starches. In the process starches break down into more digestible forms, antinutrients like phytic acid and lectins are disabled, and the proteins present become more bio-available for us. The compounds that make the water beans are cooked in turn into a thick broth are incredibly tasty nutritious, and largely responsible for beans’ musical reputation. If you are sensitive to beans, you can rinse away both the soaking liquid and also the subsequent cooking water when your beans are done, much like straining pasta. In his great book Cool Beans, Joe Yonan cites a 2009 study in LWT-Food Science and Technology that found that a combination of soaking beans overnight, discarding the soaking water, and then cooking in a pressure cooker resulted in a 75% reduction in oligosaccharides (those hard-to-digest, musical starches).
If you don’t have these concerns however, leaving beans in their soaking and cooking liquid results in a broth known in the South as ‘pot liquor’, which is a mother sauce in and of itself.
Acidity and Alkalinity
The pH of the water you cook your beans in, as well as the pH of any added ingredients will affect the rate at which your beans hydrate. Acids inhibit water moving across the cell membranes of the beans, so it’s imperative not to add any vinegars or tomato products until the beans are at your desired texture. A tablespoon or two won’t ruin your pot, beans purportedly cook at a similar rate between a pH of 5 and 9, but there’s no downside to waiting until the beans are fully cooked, so why risk it? If you want to halt the cooking process and firm up the beans for things like succotash or a bean salad, you can use this same principle to your advantage, dashing in a few tablespoons of vinegar as you remove beans from heat at the desired texture.
Adding alkalinity can hasten the cooking process and also render the beans more digestible, but it’s a bell curve. Baking soda can be added at a rate of 1 teaspoon per pound of dry beans to this end. Adding too much alkalinity however is purported to have adverse nutritional outcomes as it leads to a greater breaking down of cell walls which means more proteins and vitamins leach into the water.
To soak or not to soak is highly debated and I have heard compelling testimony from reputable people on both sides of this debate. Rinsing is always a good idea, even if you don’t end up pre-soaking. I can’t help but conclude that part of the divide from one food way to another has at least some of its roots in geographic happenstance such as the ready availability of fresh water relative to the ready availability of cooking fuel. Pre-soaking and rinsing can reduce the need for cooking fuel and increase digestibility to an extent, but it’s certainly not 100% necessary. There hard-to-digest compounds (for example lectins and phytates) that get ameliorated when soaking water is discarded. And pre-soaking has also been shown to bring down the amount of hard-to-digest starch stachyose by more than one-quarter the amount present in unsoaked beans. But some water-soluble nutrients can be lost if discarding the soaking liquid, so there are trade-offs in everything.
For me the question of whether to pre-soak or to rinse the cooking liquid or not comes down to the recipe at hand and whether it will be more of a stew, whether I want a starchy pot liquor (another name for bean broth), or rather something that requires a firmer intact bean. Importantly, you will get a richer, thicker stock from beans that have been cooked low and slow without a pre-soak, compared to beans that you’ve pre-soaked and then discarded the soaking water.
America’s Test Kitchen did some trials and found that “brining” beans was the best way to soften them. They recommend putting 3 tablespoons of salt in four quarts of water for every one pound of beans you’re looking to soak. Stir the salt into the water until fully dissolved. Add the beans and let them soak for 8 – 24 hours. They recommend then straining and rinsing off the beans before simmering them for an hour or until soft. It seems this method is only useful if you’re experiencing tough skins on your means which may be a result of ‘hard’ water. The salt supposedly prevents the magnesium and calcium in the water from binding to the cell walls of the beans. Our water has come from a well for a long time and so we don’t have these issues in general, so this is more a knowledge share than a recommendation.
I do often simmer my beans with kombu or other seaweeds. This old macrobiotic method adds some umami and trace minerals in addition to purportedly aiding the softening of the beans’ skins and their digestibility generally. I intend to trial the brining method against the kombu method and will report out.
For most beans, four hours of pre-soaking is sufficient. It is generally more convenient to set them soaking overnight, or when one leaves for work in the morning in anticipation of cooking them later that same evening. If you don’t get around to cooking them right away, you can keep them soaking for a couple days, covered, in the fridge without ill-effect. If you don’t care to pre-soak your beans, simply allow for up to an extra hour of simmering time and be ready to stir any floating beans back into the water to ensure even cooking.
I find there is more frothing on top of a pot of beans that hasn’t been pre-soaked. This froth can be skimmed off or kept at bay by adding a tablespoon of oil and stirring at a regular interval. Beans cook faster with a lid, however a tight lid will increase the chances of the pot frothing over. If you experience excessive frothing it likely means you need to reduce heat. If you are trying to reduce cooking time by cooking at a higher heat, keep the lid ajar. If you want to cook with the lid wholly off, I recommend keeping a tea kettle of boiled water nearby to top off your pot to keep the beans covered by that magical ½” of water column as your cooking liquid evaporates in steam throughout the cook.
Lastly, not all beans are created equal. Lentils can cook in one-half hour or less, or half the time of black beans while tepary beans can take at least twice as long. Older beans can become stale and slightly hydrophobic, and fresh beans cook quicker. Beans from the arid southwest can take more time to cook than the same beans grown in the temperate, more humid Northeast. It’s a lot of nuance, but the goal is to simmer them slow and low until they are tender, neither chalky nor mush. You got this!