I know I’ve been posting a few “basic” recipes lately (hiya hard-boiled eggs) but I’m fixin’ (sorry) to cook up a big old pot of my Cheer’s Boston Baked Beans & thought this would be the perfect time to talk about Brining Beans Traditional or Instant Pot Methods. You’ll see I’ve been hoarding pics of beans soaked using different methods from the last few times I’ve made beans.
There are two basic ways to soak beans to prepare them for cooking. The first is a long soak (usually overnight) which is always going to give you the best, creamy tender bean. The second is the quick soak, which works well, especially if you haven’t planned ahead. A quick soak can be done on the stovetop or in the Instant Pot if you have one. There is a twist, though, brining the beans, which is soaking, but in a salty water. Let’s talk about how soaking/brining affects the flavors, texture, cooking time and nutritional aspects of the humble bean.
Flavor in Brining Beans Traditional or Instant Pot:
Bean soaking is controversial. Seriously, people make a big deal about to soak or not to soak. Some people think soaking is hooey and others are worried about losing flavor. I’ve cooked a lot of beans, from my younger years as a vegetarian (late teens & early 20’s) to my decades as a Soup lover (have you seen all my Soup Recipes on here?) and during my lifelong love affair with Mexican food.
I vote hands down for soaking and in particular, brining beans. Plain old soaking improves the texture of dried beans but brining improves both flavor and texture. A big plus is brined beans are creamier and taste less “mealy”. The brining softens the skin of the beans and they seem (imho) to absorb more flavor.
As far as flavor, unsoaked beans can have an edge, but I think that edge is dependent on what kind of beans and how they’re cooked. I’ve noticed it mostly with black beans, especially those that are being cooked to serve as a side as opposed to those in a soup. The color of the soaked beans after they’re cooked isn’t as rich and the resulting sauce is just a bit less flavorful, but not so much that it matters to me. And maybe some of that lost visual appeal of the deep black color of the unsoaked black beans transfers a bit to the taste bud, too.
Advantages of Soaking or Brining Beans Traditional or Instant Pot Methods:
Despite reports to the contrary, there is actual food science behind the soaking of beans and how soaking improves digestibility. I try to eat a diet high in fiber, which includes beans and don’t have any issues – unless I haven’t soaked my beans. Soaking, for me, makes a big difference. The other thing that makes a big difference is eating beans regularly. It is one of the best defenses against unwanted side effects. Don’t give up on the nutritional powerhouse that is the bean if you’ve only tried them a couple times and had undesired side effects, and especially don’t give up if you aren’t used to eating a lot of fiber. Just give it a little time and your body will adjust.
Soaking doesn’t adversely affect the nutritional value of the beans – it improves it, reducing Phytic acid which can inhibit the absorption of some of the minerals. Soaking also removes the coating of field dust and most contaminants on the beans. Make sure to drain and rinse the beans before soaking and again after soaking before you use them.
Soaking helps beans to cook quickly and evenly, no matter how they’re cooked. It can knock off 45 minutes to an hour or so stovetop or oven and a good 20 minutes off Instant Pot cooking. That time saved is helpful, but the evenness of the cooking you get with soaking, with all the beans tender and cooked through perfectly, is the most important factor, to me. This is true with all methods, but especially true in the Instant Pot where the beans can’t be stirred. (You can make beans w/o soaking easily in the Instant Pot and there are many recipes. Every single one I’ve tried came out with a mix of crunchy and too soft beans, even with additional cooking.)
I live in the Midwest, and beans are common but not a regular part of most people’s diet. In areas where beans are eaten daily, especially in warm climates with longer growing seasons, beans may be fresher and that might make a difference in how fast they cook and make soaking less important.
Let’s talk about the Brining part of Brining Beans Traditional or Instant Pot Methods:
Brining beans is just what it sounds like. Soaking beans in a brine, a solution of water and salt. I’ve been brining my beans since I read an article in Cook’s Illustrated. If you know CI, you know you need a membership to read them online, but that clever J. Kenzi Lopez-Alt from Serious Eats has a write-up and comparison between soaked, unsoaked, brined and unbrined beans. That, and we have the video, below from Cook’s Illustrated.
There are a lot of myths about beans and salt. I place my trust in both Cook’s & Serious Eats & my own experience. My beans taste better and hold their shape better after brining. Most of all, I don’t need to use nearly the salt (well duh, you’re probably thinking, you’ve soaked the beans in salt) to get to the same level saltiness. Hear me out though: I think that because some of the salt in the brine actually flavors the beans, you end up using less salt, total, in your final dish.
I’ve especially noticed how much better the beans hold up after brining when I cook them, and this is particularly true in the Instant Pot. The Instant Pot is a rougher environment for cooking than other methods and that bit of salt in the brine does help the beans retain their shape. You’ll see the difference between the different soaking methods (long soak brine, quick soak brine, and quick Instant Pot soak brine) in the three photos. As you can see, the quick soak does have a few more broken beans and loosened skins, and the quick soak IP beans have a few more. Not so many, though, that I think it’s an issue when compared to the convenience of two minute (plus time to bring up to and release pressure) time for the IP beans.
When making Brining Beans Traditional or Instant Pot Methods, you need to sort:
All legumes need to be “sorted.” Go through the beans to make sure there is no unsavory debris of any kind. Over the years, I’ve found many small, hard clods of dirt and bits of chaff or tiny sticks, but
twice three times I’ve found small rocks. Only twice three times in 45 years is pretty good, but there’s a potentially expensive trip or two three to the dentist saved. In August 2018, about 2 months after this post was written, I found my third rock while sorting beans, photo at the bottom of the page.
The easiest way to sort is to toss the beans out on a large, dark, rimmed sheet pan and push them around a bit while giving them a good look over. Remove any debris along with any misshapen or deformed beans.
After that, you’re ready to go, using any of the three methods of Brining Beans Traditional or Instant Pot Methods. The long soaking brine, the quick soak brine or the Instant Pot quick soak brine. Of course, if you don’t wish to brine, but just want to soak in plain old water, just follow the methods in the recipe, but omit the salt.Print
Brining Beans Traditional or Instant Pot Methods
Just a little cheat sheet on bean soaking.
- 1 pound dried beans, sorted and rinsed
- 1 gallon (four quarts) water, except in Instant Pot, in which case cover beans by two inches of water
- 3 tablespoons table salt
- 1 tablespoon oil (Instant Pot only)
Long Soak Method (overnight)
Dissolve salt in water, add beans and cover. Let sit overnight on counter or if worried about fermentation, in the refrigerator.
Quick Soak Method, Stovetop:
Dissolve salt in water in a large pan or Dutch oven. Add beans. Bring to a boil, boil one minute, then turn off the heat and cover the beans. Let sit for one hour.
Quick Soak Method, Instant Pot:
Add beans to Instant Pot. Add water to cover by two inches. Add salt and oil and stir. Seal Instant Pot and set to High Pressure, 2 minutes. When finished let the steam out carefully in short bursts. If anything other than steam comes out or if there is foam or sputtering, stop and wait for 30 seconds, then restart.
Drain and rinse beans before proceeding with recipe.