How to Soak Dried Beans: Your Questions Answered

You’ve bean asking me a lot of bean questions lately. Every other day I open my email to find a fellow bean soaker looking for answers to pressing bean questions. I understand the urgency. Not soaking and cooking dried beans correctly can lead to uncomfortable office situations, especially if you sit in a room without windows. Getting gassed just fails on the fun-o-meter. No human being wants to be beaned.

I thought I covered all legume angles in my previous articles:

But evidently there’s so much more to pass wind on. So I’d like to get gastrointestinal just one more time and answer your keener beaner questions.

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Here are the answers to your soaking dried bean questions:

1. Question: Are you sure dried beans are cheaper?

Answer: Generally, buying dried beans costs far less than canned beans. The reason is dried beans expand when soaked, so you end up with more beans per dollar spent. I did a little bean experiment, and found that one can of dried chick peas more than doubled to 2.5 cans worth after soaking.

One reader really wanted the numbers crunched, so she sent me this data from her shopping receipts:

  • Canned: Value Chick Peas 19 oz (540 ml) can: $0.99
  • Dried: Value Chick Peas 19 oz (540 ml) dried $0.98

On the surface both look comparable, but when you consider the dried beans will expand to 2.5 times after soaking and cooking, then the dried beans cost about $0.40 when compared to a can. So yes, dried beans are far more frugal than canned beans. This is assuming you’re not buying some fancy dancy dried magic beans though.

2. Question: What is the shelf life of dried beans?

Answer: The recommended shelf life for dried beans is about one year. The cooking time of dried beans will slightly increase as beans age beyond one year. My nutritionist friends say dried beans may lose some nutrients in extended storage. Be sure to keep your bags of lovely dried beans in a cool dry place. If you see any signs of mold, dispose of beans immediately. I’ve kept dried beans well beyond one year and have had no cooking or soaking issues. I think the key is to keep them dry.

3. Question: How long can you leave soaked beans?

Answer: Most beans only require about 6-8 hours of soaking to fully expand and soften. I’ve been kinda lazy at times and soaked my garbanzos for two full days without issue. The key is to change the bean water frequently (at least daily). If beans are soaked longer than two days then some fermentation may begin which can change the bean’s flavor. A few readers have asked about soaking beans beyond three days – I’m of the opinion why risk getting sick to save $1, it just doesn’t make cents.

Since answering these questions I think my days blogging about dried beans are done. Do you have any soaking tips to share? Is there a method to dilute the methane?

Your two cents:

  1. Jules May 19th, 2008

    Actually, flatulence is a result of two things, mostly: the alpha-linked oligosaccharides in the beans, and the type of bacteria housed in your gut. The bacteria population can adapt to the gas production if you continue to eat beans and other fibrous stuff. But the oligosaccharides…the body can’t break up alpha-linked sugar units–think of our enzymes like a chain-cutter, very specific chain-cutters that only cut chains twisted to the right. Well, these chains are twisted to the left, so our enzymes don’t break them down, which means basically, you’re giving the bacteria in your colon, which can recognize alpha-linkages, pure surgar. Bacteria like sugar–they thrive, and grow, and one of the by-products of that growth is…you guessed it. Gas.

    Read Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” for a more detailed explanation. Or hell, just read it–it’s a fantastic read if you like food, and even if you don’t, because after you’ve learned about milk and eggs, you probably will.

  2. lazy rani May 19th, 2008

    The “quick soak method” is purported to yield slightly less gassy beans than the overnight soak. How to: Cover the dried beans with water in a cooking pan and heat till boiling. Continue boiling for two minutes, then remove from heat and cover. Let sit for an hour and a half to two hours. Rinse thoroughly and cook in fresh water.

    I usually do it on Sunday morning when I’m gonna be around the house for awhile anyway… And sometimes after soaking I cover them in cold water in the fridge for up to a day before cooking them.

    Also recommended: Cook the beans with a strip of dried kombu (a sea vegetable available in Asian markets, health food stores, or stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, New Seasons etc). Pull it out before using the bean though. Supposed to add an enzyme that breaks down the oligosaccharides or something.

    Finally, I like soak and cook a double portion and freeze half the cooked–unseasoned–beans to use later. Convenient like a can! Yup.

  3. hayden tompkins May 19th, 2008

    “I think my soaking bean days have dried up”

    Have you tried Beano?

  4. Paolo May 19th, 2008

    Fox, any difference in the quality/price of dried beans between vendors/brands. Where do you buy your dried beans?

  5. Kerry May 19th, 2008

    @Jules: Thank you for the gusty gas tips. I WILL check out that book!

    @lazy rani: I too make a double batch of my soaked and cooked beans and freeze it. The convenience of having some beans on hand is awesome :) Ohh, and I’m also huge fan of the “quick soak” method. Sunday is my bean day. :)

    @hayden tompkins: You found a poorly constructed sentence – so I fixed it! I am very much a devoted bean soaker and can never go back to canned beans. I’ve never tried Beano…I actually find less gas issues with soaking and cooking the beaners myself. Beans are such an affordable and healthy form of protein, I wish everyone would get beanerrific. :)

    @Paolo: I tend to buy my beans in bulk from the local grocery store. So the brand of my beans is unknown. I find the packaged beans (with branding and buzz words) tend to be more expensive, so I take a pass. Perhaps the readers can weight in on the prices of various brands and quality? I tend to buy mostly organic beans without branding. :)

  6. Looby May 21st, 2008

    I was always told that adding a little vinegar towards the end of the cooking process helps reduce gas- I’ve always done it and it seems effective!
    There is also a thread at chowhound about this:
    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/294423

  7. Funny about Money May 26th, 2008

    I’ve been told that adding a teaspoon of baking soda will have the same effect.

    Actually, Julia Child says that if you drain off the soaking water and rinse the beans before cooking them, you’ll reduce the gassification potential. I’ve found this to be true…but who knows, it could be the power of suggestion. :-D

  8. Value For Your Life May 29th, 2008

    I’ve been thinking about switching from canned beans to dried for a long time since we eat so many of them…your posts may have finally helped me overcome my laziness. I stock up when canned beans are on sale for $0.59 or less, but I’m always looking for ideas…maybe this will help to counter some of the grocery prices that are gradually creeping up! Amanda

  9. hidi hadia July 19th, 2008

    I K I HAVE BEEN DOING THE DRY BEAN THING FOR SEVERAL MONTHS AND LOVE IT..BUT RECENTLY ( A WEEK AND ONE DAY ago) i soaked a big bunch of beans for a friend who never ate them..northern beans…o k they have been in the fridge now for a week…wondering what to do ..read a site on natto…and wondering if i could do something like it with my beans

  10. kajn granny November 11th, 2008

    I pour boiling water over my beans to cover them by a couple of inches, let them soak for three or four hours, then pour off the soaking water. I pour fresh water over them and cook them until they’re tender–and I don’t have gas from them. I avoid canned beans as much as possible; one little can of pork and beans give me enough gas to heat a large city for two weeks (and even I can’t stand the smell!).

  11. Split bean November 17th, 2008

    I am having terrible trouble with borlotti beans splitting whilst soaking. Result is a terrible mush when I go on to cook them. Any clues?

  12. Kerry November 17th, 2008

    @Split bean I don’t have any experience with borlotti beans. But I do soak pintos with excellent results. :D I would suggest soaking them in cold water for at least 8 hours, then drain and rinse. Are you soaking them in warm or previously boiled water using a quick soak method? If so, then stick to colder water. Hope this helps!

  13. Jordan November 21st, 2008

    I think one little piece of information was forgotten when looking at the cost ratio.
    For the example you gave, 19 oz canned and 19 oz dried… You said the dried beans will expand 2 1/2 times the amount with soaking. The canned beans have already bean soaked and expanded.

    So really, the dried beans = X 2.5 = 2.5
    and the canned beans = 1 / 2.5 = 0.4

    So, if I’m doing my math correct, the dried beans are 6.25 times cheaper than the canned beans.

  14. Mary February 6th, 2009

    An economic way to cook beans in our household is to cook them on our wood stove. It is an energy source already in use, and saves on electricity costs…why pay twice when you don’t have to.

  15. Jeremy February 11th, 2009

    Great article on soaking beans. I’m a huge fan of getting the beans in bulk dried. I make a bean soup that requires about 9 cans of beans (I know… i love black beans), but when using bags of dried beans, I only need to bags which are like just over a buck a piece.

    My problem is that the beans seem to have little or no flavor. It may be the brand, but I’ve tried a couple different kinds and they seem to have the same result. It doesn’t really matter for my soup because the soup is loaded with seasoning and spices, but when it comes to salads, the beans are a little tasteless. Any suggestions on how to season beans either during or after soaking?

  16. Jerry Siegel February 10th, 2010

    America’s Test Kitchen recommends soaking beans overnight in salted water, then rinsing them before cooking. Their test shows that helps keep the skins intact and the insides creamy. They also cook the beans in a dutch oven in the oven rather than on the stove top.

  17. Adam April 6th, 2010

    I’m confused. Most instructions on how to soak beans overnight say to put them in the refridgerator. You do not mention refridgeration, so do you recommend them soaking at room temperature?

  18. Kerry April 6th, 2010

    @Adam I’ve never put my soaking beans in the fridge. If you live in a warm climate though, I can see how this would slow bacteria growth. I’ve never had a problem though, and I soak a lot of beans. :)

  19. Kathy August 10th, 2010

    I live in Charleston, SC. The last 3 attempts to overnight soak dried pinto and/or navy beans left them as hard as they were originally. The quick soak still did not soften them. What am I doing wrong? Help!

  20. Kerry August 10th, 2010

    @Kathy Did you beans expand in size, at all?

  21. Joan August 15th, 2010

    I’ve been experimenting with beans for months now, and am delighted to have found this site. For Kathy who is not having success with the beans softening, how much water are you using? You should be using about 3 x as much water as beans, and definitely do not refrigerate them.

    For Jeremy who finds the beans too bland, I’ve had success with adding a little chopped garlic to the soaking water. The beans absorb whatever flavour is in the water as they soak. I’ve also tried adding ginger, but added too much I think, the result was a little strong.

    Has anyone experimented with sprouting the soaked beans instead of cooking them? I first learned to sprout mung beans, but have also successfully sprouted chickpeas. I do the same soak, then drain, rinse, add fresh water but not as much of it – so that the beans are basically sitting on water but not in water – and leave them for another 6-12 hours. My understanding is that sprouting increases the nutrition and eating the sprouted beans raw makes the digestive enzymes more available. But I don’t know if that’s true or not, and wonder if anyone else has any experience with this.

  22. Rob September 8th, 2010

    Kerry:

    Re: storage of dried beans. Take a leaf from your “flour & weevil” experience and put your dried beans in sealed bags in the freezer. When it is “bean prep” time, just grab a bag and start soaking. It adds almost nothing to soak time, guarantees the beans will be as fresh as they day you bought them, and saves on storage space (I keep mine in my chest freezer).

  23. Maura December 1st, 2010

    I always soak in fridge and rinse to cook in fresh water. Often the cooking water is retained for recipes. What do you know about the cooking water being a safe broth the keep and use?

  24. Debbie January 7th, 2011

    I am having the same problem as Kathy my beans remain hard they increase in size a little but I have soaked them for over a week and have cooked them for 4 hours and they are still hard. This has happened before an I ended throwing them out so this time I soaked them a week and like I said have cooked them for 4 hours.

  25. Randy Claussen August 3rd, 2011

    What elevation above sea level are you?
    Higher elevations require more cook time.
    Try a pressure cooker – this geatly reduces cook time of beans or any other food product.

  26. Rena August 13th, 2011

    Now that I have all these wonderful beans; how to store them? How long do they last in the refrigerator and can they be frozen?

  27. rob August 13th, 2011

    @Rena: I freeze mine, and as far as I can tell they last forever. Of course, I use them up pretty quickly, so “forever” means “until I use them”. I’ve had beans comfortably last a year in a glass jar in my pantry.

  28. thorn January 24th, 2013

    Just one more little question about the cost of soaking one’s own vs. buying canned. How does the energy cost pan out? Canned are not only pre-soaked — they are also pre-cooked. Given how long it takes the necessary volume of water to boil — twice, since you boil then turn off for the soak, then boil again and simmer for cooking — is some of the cost saving eroded? Or is that cancelled out by the need to ship the extra weight/volume? I have no idea whether the canneries have efficiencies the home cook may lack, but would love to know. In principle I prefer unprocessed food, but if a cannery is just doing for me exactly what I was going to do anyway, but with an energy subsidy I have no access to, or using awesome, giant steam-jacketed kettles or pressure cookers… I just wonder. I don’t have a home pressure cooker. Um. Yet. That would change the equation further, I’d guess. Do you know whether the arithmetic has been done on this, and who might have done it?

  29. Kasey March 2nd, 2013

    I’m soaking beans (chickpeas) for the first time as we speak. I’m a hummus lover and wanted to try making it. As far as price comparing goes with homemade vs store bought, soaking your own beans is much cheaper. We can crunch numbers with energy costs and such, but for me, a main motivation for ditching canned beans is for health reasons. Canned beans are the highest is bpa among canned items, which is not good for you. And making it at home, I control the sodium and preservatives. Price counts, but my health is most important.

  30. Anne October 8th, 2013

    I have made ham and bean soup for years with canned Great Northern Beans. Due to BPA possibilities, I am trying to switch to dried beans, but it seems to take days of cooking to get the beans soft enough to eat. I don’t feel like the soup is done until the beans are brown (absorbing the liquid from the ham stock). With canned beans, this takes a day or so. With dry beans, soaked for a day and a half, it takes 2-3 days in the slow cooker. I’ve done this several times now with the same results. I may have to go back to canned.

  31. Sue October 9th, 2013

    Regarding the “shelf life” of dried beans . . . my husband was into food storage long before he and I married. Recently, he came upon a bucket of beans that he’s had longer than he’s had me (we celebrated 35 years this past summer, so the beans were around 40 years old!). I soaked them overnight, and then cooked them the next day, and they were just fine – nice and tender and flavorful. I guess if wheat from Egyptian tombs can be germinated, 40-year old beans can be cooked without incident.

  32. Paul Davis December 15th, 2013

    On the soaking of beans for days, people, come on. Assuming you aren’t at an elevation above 3000 feet or so, you should soak dried pinto or navy beans for about 8 hours (I put a little salt in the water myself, that’s just personal) then drain and rinse with fresh water, then put directly into the pot and boil till tender. Using a pressure cooker properly, this won’t take more than two hours. On a stove, boil covered for maybe three to four hours, then cool. Watch out for boiling dry! This notion of boiling for days – I have not a clue as to what you are doing, but it’s just not necessary. Now, true, my mother did keep a pot of beans going constantly during the winter, when I was a kid, but she was soaking and adding beans every day after we got enough out of the pot for dinner. And that was a bare simmer, like a crockpot, and she was adding beans every day. You do get an occasional batch of beans that won’t soften up, toss em’ and buy from someone else next time, most likely they’ve been wet and dried again at some point after they were dried the first time, and that pretty much ruins beans. And for heavens sakes, before you start soaking your beans, pick out the withered and nasty looking ones, those will taste like crap and you don’t need them in the pot. Clean and rinse beans, THEN start soaking.

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