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 how to prepare dried beans to cook them. So here’s 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 so you can see how the different methods affect the cooked beans.
The Two Soaking Methods used for Brining Beans Traditional or Instant Pot Methods:
There are two basic ways to soak beans to prepare them for cooking. The most traditional is the cold method, then there are several ways to quick-soak beans. That’s sometimes referred to as a hot soak.
- The Cold Method is a long soak (usually overnight) which is always going to give you the best, creamy tender bean. That requires no cooking; just cover the beans with water and let them sit 6 hours (depending on the type of bean) to overnight.
- The Quick Soak works well if you haven’t planned ahead. The most well-known method is to bring beans to a boil, cover them and let them sit for an hour. This method is mimicked in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot by bringing to pressure then releasing. Less often a quick soak will be done by bringing beans to a boil and letting them soak for 4 hours.
There is a twist, though, to both long soaking cold or quick soaking hot methods: brining the beans, which is soaking, but in salty water.
Soaking (and consequentially brining) Beans is Controversial:
Bean soaking is controversial. Seriously, people make a big deal about to soak or not to soak. Some people think soaking is hooey and prefer to forge ahead and just cook beans on the stove for hours or just toss them as in in the Instant Pot. Others are worried about losing flavor and or nutrients from the beans as they soak.
And then there are those like me that like to soak them. It is a very rare occasion that I won’t soak my beans and as long as I’m soaking, brine them at the same time. Let’s talk about how soaking and/or brining affects the flavors, texture, cooking time and nutritional aspects of the humble bean.
Soaking, either a long soak or the hot quick soak:
- Soaking helps remove impurities and field dust.
- Soaking beans knocks off cooking time.
- Soaking can improve nutritional value, although there are different thoughts on this.
- Soaking removes up to 90 percent of the oligosaccharides (the sugars) that are often blamed for flatulence.
- Soaking improves the quality & texture of dried beans once they’re cooked, especially those cooked in the Instant Pot.
In addition to soaking if the beans are brined at the same time, expect that:
- Brining improves the quality & texture even more than soaking in plain water.
- Brining helps keep beans intact and helps them hold up during cooking.
- Brining improves flavor.
Impurities & Contaminants:
Although all beans will go through some kind of processing to clean them before they’re off to wherever they’ll end up, they aren’t rinsed. Any moisture added could cause beans to sprout and/or encourage mold, mildew, and rot.
When they get to you, they’re going to have a layer, visible or not, of field dust which can have residues from pesticides or other contaminants. Thoroughly rinsing will remove some of that but for a thorough job, soaking/brining works best. Rinse beans before soaking or brining and afterward, drain, discard the water and rinse again.
It is important to sort through the beans first (see below) to remove any rocks, gravel, debris, and other substances before soaking or brining.
Cooking Time When Soaking or Brining Beans:
The amount of time saved by soaking can vary with the type of bean and the age of the bean. In areas where beans are often used and there is a high turnover, the cooking time for some beans may not be as long in the first place as in other areas of the country.
A good rule of thumb is that soaking/brining will speed up cooking time by up to 75 percent. It can knock off 45 minutes to an hour off simmering on the stovetop and a good 20 minutes off Instant Pot cooking.
Nutritional Value and How Soaking/Brining Affects It:
There are two schools of thought on how soaking can affect the nutritional value of beans and numerous studies done over the years that seem to support both soaking and not soaking. While soaking can have a very positive effect on the texture, quality and sometimes flavor of the beans, remove the field dust and contaminants and remove some of the gas-producing enzymes and sugars, the nutritional value of soaking is under some debate.
Benefits of Soaking and/or Brining:
The benefits below can depend on the type of bean, how thick or thin the skin is and how long the soak is. You can read more about anti-nutrients and how they work at Healthline. In a nutshell, all beans and legumes have various substances known as anti-nutrients.
What they do is reduce the available amount of some minerals and nutrients in our foods. Soaking can help reduce these anti-nutrients, especially if after the soak, the water is discarded and the beans are rinsed. Many of these antinutrients are found in beans, legumes, seeds and grains although they are found in other foods.
- Phytic acid is reduced with soaking. It can inhibit the absorption of some minerals, mainly zinc, iron and calcium. It binds to them and once bound, reduces the amount of these minerals that can be absorbed by our digestive system.
- Polyphenols are found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts, in addition to some beverages like red wine and coffee. Tannins are a subclass of polyphenols and can obstruct the absorption of iron.
- Lectins are found in all food plants, especially in seeds, legumes. and grains. Some lectins may be harmful in high amounts.
- Protease inhibitors are common in all plants, especially in seeds, grains. and legumes. They interfere with protein digestion by inhibiting digestive enzymes.
- Calcium oxalate is in many vegetables including legumes; you’ll hear about it often if you’re paying attention to the nutritional value of some greens like spinach and kale. The oxalate acid can bind to calcium and once bound is poorly absorbed. In some cases oxalates are blamed for kidney stones; consult your doctor if you feel this may be an issue.
As much as the benefits of soaking are extolled, there are those who feel that soaking removes some of the critical nutrients as well.
- Tannins, for instance, have many good qualities that need to be considered.
- Beans and legumes are rich with folate and soaking, particularly the hot soaking methods, do cause some loss.
A special note on Red Beans:
This is an excerpt from the FDA’s Bad Bug Book (I also reference it on my post on Food Safety & Expirations Dates) pertaining to Red Beans. The toxin referred to is one of the lectins, phytohaemagglutinin, present in all beans but present at a MUCH higher rate in red beans. In some cases, as few as four to five beans that haven’t reached a high enough temperature for a long enough amount of time can cause severe vomiting within a few hours, followed by diarrhea. The toxin is destroyed by soaking for five hours, rinsing and then boiling for 10 minutes at 212 degrees F. or 100 degrees C. Due to variations such as altitude and to make sure all the beans are exposed to the right temperature, the recommended boiling time is 30 minutes.
“Beans are a great deal, nutrition‐wise and cost‐wise – but be sure to cook your kidney beans well. If you eat them raw or under‐cooked, they can cause you to have extreme nausea, severe vomiting, and diarrhea. They contain a protein that’s found naturally in many plants (and animals, including humans), where it performs important functions. But when it reaches high levels in some plants, particularly kidney beans, the protein can act as a toxin. Cooking the beans properly destroys the toxin.
Don’t use slow cookers (the kinds of pots that you plug in and that cook food at low temperatures for several hours) to cook these beans or dishes that contain them. Slow cookers don’t get hot enough to destroy the toxin in kidney beans. Studies done by British scientists suggest that (red) beans should be soaked water for at least 5 hours, the water poured away, and the beans boiled in fresh water for at least 30 minutes.”
My note: It should be fine to use a slow cooker after the beans have been soaked, rinsed and boiled. That will obviously affect the cooking time in the slow cooker. (Some slow cookers on low reach a temperature of 167 degrees F.)
As far as flavor, unsoaked beans, once they are cooked, can sometimes have an edge. That edge is dependent on what kind of bean, how they’re cooked and may or may not be discernable without a side by side taste test or at the very least, enough experience in the particular bean and cooking method and a sensitive enough palette to identify any difference.
- Some beans are slowly cooked and served on their own, relying on little more than the flavor in the bean itself. In these dishes, it could be that there is a slight reduction in flavor that’s more noticeable than in dishes that have additional flavors added.
- An example might be the classic Frijoles de Olla, classically cooked for hours from an unsoaked state, often with nothing else added for flavor. It has become more common to cook this dish with lard, bacon, onion, spices and/or epazote, all of which will add additional flavor. Personally, I brine my beans when making this dish. There is one dish on my site, the Classic Red Beans and Rice that I make on the stovetop with unsoaked beans. It does reach temperatures that destroy the toxin. For the most part, it is very rare that I will use a bean that hasn’t been soaked/brined.
Types of Beans:
- Different beans can react slightly differently to soaking. Beans that have thinner skins may react differently than others.
- For instance, Black beans are a bit softer and have thinner skins than many beans (and do not have to be soaked as long as some of the other beans; about six hours does the trick) and some of the dark color can leach out with soaking. Whether taste is affected by any noticeable level depends on how they’re made and served.
Brining Beans & Flavor:
- Brining while soaking affects the flavor of beans in several ways. Surprisingly, brined beans don’t taste “salty” although they do taste better seasoned. Because the beans are better seasoned, even allowing for the salt in the brining process, most dishes will require less salt overall. The flavorful bean doesn’t need a salty sauce or broth to compensate for the duller flavor of beans that aren’t brined.
- Brining softens the skin of the bean and the beans seem to absorb more of the flavors added as the beans are cooking. they’re cooked with.
Let’s Talk Digestibility:
There are two factors that can cause issues with the digestibility of beans. One is the amount of fiber in beans and the other is the sugars in the bean called oligosaccharides.
- Soaking/brining can remove up to 90 percent of the sugars, the oligosaccharides, which are often blamed for flatulence, although if that goal is in mind, the method, below, is slightly different than the standard ones. In many cases, despite soaking or brining, sometimes issues persist.
- It is likely fiber is to blame. The typical American does not eat enough fiber, despite the attempts of many to increase their intake. When encountering a higher fiber food item, the body can initially rebel resulting in the unwanted side effect. The solution is to eat beans regularly and if you’re sensitive start out small, 1/4 to 1/2 a cup at a time. Don’t give up on the nutritional powerhouse that is the bean based on a few tries. Give it a little time and your body will adjust.
According to the CDC: to remove the To remove gas-producing starches, boil the beans for two to three minutes, cover the pot and allow beans to soak overnight. This method removes 75 to 90 percent of the beans’ indigestible starches
Quality of the Beans When Soaked & The Instant Pot:
Soaking helps beans to cook quickly and evenly, no matter how they’re cooked and brining works even better. 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 a prime factor to consider.
While soaking is important for even cooking and that’s true with all methods, it is especially true in the Instant Pot where the beans can’t be stirred. Oddly enough, recipes using the Instant Pot as a cooking method often recommend using unsoaked beans. You may or may not get unsoaked beans that are edible from the Instant Pot or any pressure cooker. You will never get a dish with beautifully cooked beans if you start out with unsoaked beans, whether making beans, baked beans, bean soup, soup with beans, chili or any other bean dish.
You will always have a mixture of broken beans, undercooked and overcooked beans if using the Instant Pot and unsoaked beans. Period.
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.
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 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.
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