Beans & Legumes, Dried

Velvety smooth, well-cooked beans are both delicious and digestible. Hard beans are neither. Here are my secrets—plus a recipe—for cooking up a satisfying pot of soft beans. With these basics there’s bowls of pleasure ahead.

If beans are relatively new to your diet or if you have trouble digesting them, start by eating small amounts frequently; this allows your digestive system time to adjust to them.

Bean Cooking Secrets

1. Soak beans in water until fully hydrated. Soaking time varies, depending upon the bean variety and freshness, from 2 to 24 hours. When fully hydrated, rinse, add water to cover and cook.

2. Cook at a slow simmer. Boiling toughens beans, so simmer them slowly. (Or, conversely, cook in a pressure cooker, as the addition of pressure makes them velvety soft; pressure cooking is especially useful at high elevations.) At the beginning of cooking, skim off and discard any foam that rises to the top of the pot.

3. Add seasonings to aid digestibility. Cook beans until softened and then add 1 teaspoon salt per cup of dry beans. The herbs asafetida, cumin, epazote, fennel, ginger, and winter savory enhance bean digestion. I also add a 2-inch strip of the seaweed kombu per cup of dry beans; a natural source of glutamic acid, kombu tenderizes, enhances flavor and adds invaluable vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals.

4. When cooked, discard the soaking water and quickly rinse to remove hard-to-digest galactans.

5. Add fat to reduce flatulence. There’s something about the combination of fat and beans that helps quell wind. That’s why classic bean recipes such as refried beans, falafel, pork and beans, marinated beans, and hummus contain added fat.

6. If using an acid ingredient (like citrus, vinegar, tomatoes, or wine) add it to fully cooked beans. This is because if an acidic food were added to beans that are still hard, they would never soften.

7. Try taking bean-digestive enzymes. Various dietary supplements contain alpha-galactosidase enzymes that reduce intestinal gas by helping digest the otherwise hard-to-digest sugars in beans. These supplements are available in supermarkets in both tablet and liquid form.

Bean Recipe

Makes 2 to 3 cups cooked beans.

1 cup of beans, picked over and rinsed
1 2-inch strip kombu (optional)
1 teaspoon unrefined salt

Place the beans in a bowl. Add water to cover by a few inches and soak for 2 to 24 hours, until fully hydrated. Drain and rinse thoroughly.

Place the beans in a large saucepan, add fresh water to cover and the kombu, if using. Place over high heat and bring to a simmer. Skim off and discard any foam that rises to the top. Reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are softened (cooking time varies greatly among different varieties), adding salt during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Drain and discard the cooking water and quickly rinse.

Season and serve as a side dish or use beans in a recipe of choice.

May you be well nourished,

Rebecca Wood

10 Responses to Beans & Legumes, Dried

  1. “(and unless you’re making a soy product, I hope you’re not cooking and serving soy beans).”

    Why would you say this? I have an excellent veggie burger recipe that uses soy beans in it. I am cooking up a whole bunch of soy beans now with kombu for just that purpose. I am curious as to your reasoning.

    • Because soy has antinutrients it, historically, was only used in fermented products (where the antinutrients are neutralized). Using rehydrated soy beans is a 1960s idea that, thankfully, has almost been forgotten. Please substitute any other bean for the soy.

  2. Hi, thanks for your great website! I have a question: I’ve heard not to add salt to beans until the later part of cooking them, because they can get hard and not absorb water well. But if you pre-soak them with Kombu, what about all the sea salt on the Kombu? Should you try to wash it off?
    I appreciate your help.

    • The salt in kombu is negligible. Plus you want to toss the soaking water. So I soak beans, rinse them well, then add fresh water and kombu and cook for a while and then add salt.

  3. I’m wondering if your thoughts on soy has changed with the increasing rate of GMO soy? currently, 93% of the soy crops in the USA are GMO which is only second to Argentina, where the % jumps to 98%.

    It’s virtually impossible to find GMO free soy in 13 countries now. GMO and BT contaminated foods are directly linked to numerous forms of cancer and several other illnesses and diseases.

    Have you previously addressed this issue and I missed it?

  4. Hi ms. Wood.

    I have your new whole foods encyclopedia and it’s my food buying guide. I now cook with virgin coconut oil, instead of canola.
    My question is- I read about food pairing and how you should eat grains with veggies but not with meats; but its ok to combine meats with greens; and how fruits must be consumed first to get the most benefits.
    I was wondering if you abide or believe in this eating philosophy?

    Also, are you a proponent of slow juicing?

    Thank you.

    Your fan from the Philippines

    • Yes! to coconut oil versus canola.
      Re. food combining or paring, I’d look to the traditional Philippines diet you grew up with. Historically people have enjoyed (and easily digested) cooked grains, meats and veggies in a meal with fruit typically being a snack or dessert. Food combining is a contemporary idea and seems to serve people who eat a lot of raw foods. For recipes and menu plans of a healthy and predominately cooked foods diet, consider my ebook, Clean and Free.
      Re. the slow juicer, read what I say about juices in the Encyclopedia or on my web pages.

  5. regarding using a pressure cooker for beans. I have read that is it not recommended to use the pressure cooker for any food that foams—- beans, rhubarb to name a couple, as the pressure cooker could explode. One might want to research this before using a pressure cooker.

    • It’s importnat to not pressure cook soy beans because their skin can clog up the vent (and unless you’re making a soy product, I hope you’re not cooking and serving soy beans). Any other bean is fine to pressure cook, just be sure to leave adequate room in the pot for the beans to expand.