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Should You Soak Dried Beans?

Adding beans to your meal is a great way to boost nutrition.

We’ve all been taught to soak dried beans before cooking them. After all, the digestibility of them improves, or at least that’s what we’ve been taught. More recently, people have jumped on the don’t-soak-your-beans bandwagon. To soak or not to soak? That’s the fundamental question of cooking legumes. What’s a cook to do? I thought I’d add my two cents to the pulse predicament.

“Why not just buy canned beans and avoid the whole dilemma altogether?” you may be wondering. After all, they’re convenient and you can just toss them in your meal. Considering that dried beans are roughly one-third the cost of canned beans and are not exposed to can liners that usually contain bisphenol-A, dried beans are certainly more cost-effective and a healthier option. So, while I’m all for adding a BPA-free can of chick peas to your meal in a pinch to boost its fiber and protein, cooking them yourself can save you money and offer health benefits.

Traditionally, most cooks have been taught the 4-step cooking method which involves: 1) picking out any rocks, twigs, or other unwanted material; 2) rinsing the beans; 3) soaking beans; and 4) cooking beans. But, let’s face it: most of us don’t have the time for the 4-step cooking method for dried beans.

By some estimates, soaking legumes prior to cooking them reduces the cooking time by about 45 minutes off a typical 2-hour cook time for beans like chickpeas, black beans, or kidney beans. In other words, the soaked beans may only require 1 hour and 15 minutes of cook time. Obviously, the reduced energy consumption may not keep a lot of money in your pocket even if you cook and eat beans daily, but it may still save you a bit.

Many people compare the resulting texture and structure of soaked and unsoaked beans that have been cooked for two hours and claim that the unsoaked beans retain their shape better. Well, of course they do. If soaking beans reduces their cook time and you cook them the same amount as unsoaked beans, the soaked beans will lose their shape because they don’t require that much cook time and are actually overcooked.

It is my personal observation as a bean cooker and eater for decades that soaked beans tend to cook more evenly. This means you can avoid the occasional chewy, undercooked beans that often result when beans are cooked without advance soaking.

Having said that, I regularly cook beans without soaking them. It’s rare that I’ve thought about the often-dreaded “what’s for dinner?” question more than an hour or so prior to dinner time, so I really don’t have time to start soaking beans and then cooking them unless I’d like a late-night dinner. So, when I’m in a pinch I skip the soaking and start cooking legumes right away.

I’ve also heard some people say that the taste is better in beans that have not been soaked, which I disagree with. As a long-time professional recipe developer, I’d like to say that my palette is fairly good but the taste difference between soaked and unsoaked beans is negligible.

However, on days when I’m organized and planning the next day’s meals, I soak beans. And, here’s why: Legumes like any type of seed contain enzyme inhibitors. That’s Nature’s way of preventing seeds from sprouting until they are in appropriate growing conditions. Soaking beans breaks down these enzyme inhibitors, making the legumes easier to digest, contrary to what some cooks and bloggers may be saying. Yes, you will lose some of the water-soluble nutrients like B-complex vitamins in the soak water, but you were going to lose some of these nutrients in the cook water as well.

While these same cooks and bloggers may claim that soaking beans offers no digestive advantage, the reality is quite the opposite. The outer coating of legumes contains compounds known as oligosaccharides, which are basically starches that need to be broken down into sugars before the body can use the natural sugars as energy. Without soaking beans, these oligosaccharides may not be fully broken down by the time they reach your intestines. When bacteria in your intestines digest them, they release gases that can cause bloating and flatulence. In other words, soaking beans ahead of cooking them can help reduce the amount of bloating and flatulence they may cause when you eat them. Soaking beans ahead of time improves their digestibility.

But, here’s what I have told my nutritional clients for years, “use the beans that you will actually eat.” In other words, if you’ll eat more beans by cooking them without soaking them first, then do that. If you need to occasionally dump a can of beans into your favorite soup, stew, or curry, then do that. Eating more beans offers plentiful health benefits because they regulate the release of sugars into the bloodstream, which results in better weight management, balanced moods, and consistent energy. So, soak beans when you can. If you don’t have time then cook beans whenever you can. And, if you are in a pinch open a BPA-free can of beans to add to your meal.

DR. MICHELLE SCHOFFRO COOK, PhD, DNM is a celebrity nutritionist and international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include:  THE CULTURED COOK: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight, and Extend Your Life60 Seconds to SlimThe Probiotic Promiseand Boost Your Brain Power in 60 Seconds. Her work has been featured in Woman's World, First for Women, Reader's Digest Best Health, Health, Huffington Post, Reviews.com, WebMD, ThriveGlobal, and Care2.com. Learn more about her work at CulturedCook.com and DrMichelleCook.com.

 

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