Dry beans should be stored at room temperature in covered containers. They will keep almost indefinitely. Do not keep dry beans in the refrigerator. If stored incorrectly, the beans may absorb water and spoil before you have a chance to use them.
The plastic bags beans are packaged in are good for storage if they are airtight. Once opened, the bag may be reclosed with a twist tie. For the longest storage life, keep beans in a glass or plastic container with a tight fitting lid.
Sorting means picking over the beans before cooking them. Remove small rocks, pieces of dirt, beans with holes or cavities, badly misshapen or wrinkled beans and those greatly undersized or discolored.
Washing is not part of the packing process because water would rehydrate the beans. Do not rinse beans until you are ready to soak or cook them. Even then you do not have to rinse beans if you’re going to soak them. Any field dust will be removed and discarded with the soak water. If you cook the beans without soaking, rinse them after sorting.
Soaking is not an essential step in bean preparation. The purpose of soaking is to begin rehydration before cooking, thereby reducing cooking time. Unsoaked beans take longer to cook and require more attention so they won’t cook dry.
During soaking, beans make up their lost water, increasing up to twice their dried size. Enough water must be used to keep the beans covered while soaking. Once rehydrated, beans cook in 1 to 3 hours, depending on the type of bean.
There are basically two methods for soaking: long-soak and quick-soak. Both work equally well and differ only in the amount of time required to rehydrate the beans. Choose the one which best suits your time and schedule.
Long-soaking takes time and some advance planning, but needs very little effort. First, cover the beans with water at room temperature. Soak them overnight or for 8 to 10 hours. Keep the beans covered by water while soaking. Be sure the soak water is at room temperature. Hot water may cause the beans to sour. Cold water slows rehydration and the beans will take longer to cook.
Cooking time will also be longer if beans are not soaked long enough – at least 8 hours. Beans soaked longer than 12 hours can absorb too much water and lose their characteristic texture and flavor. If you plan to cook beans for dinner and you want to use the long-soak method, start soaking in the morning. To cook beans for lunch, you’ll have to soak them overnight.
Quick-soaking rehydrates dried beans in little more than 1 hour. For most cooks, this is the most convenient method. Bring the beans and water for soaking to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Remove the beans from the heat and cover the pot. Let the beans stand in the soak water for 1 hour. At the end of the hour, discard the soak water and cook the beans.
Hot-soak. The Preferred Hot Soak is the newest method for soaking beans. Instructions for the Preferred Hot Soak are as follows:
After sorting and rinsing the beans, in a large pot add 10 cups of water for each pound (2 cups) of dry beans. Bring to a boil. Boil for 2 or 3 minutes, remove from heat, cover and stand at least 1 hour (quick-soak method), but preferably 4 hours or more; maximum 24 hours. (The longer soaking time is recommended to allow a greater amount of sugar to dissolve, thus helping the beans to be more easily digested.) Whether you soak the beans for one hour or several, discard soak water; rinse beans and pan. Return beans to pan, add fresh cold water to fully cover the beans, 1-2 teaspoons oil or shortening and 2 teaspoons salt, if desired. Simmer the beans gently with the lid tilted until they are tender, to avoid breaking the skins. If you wish to further season your cooked beans, adding vegetables and spices to the cooking water will enhance their flavor.
Beans don’t have to be soaked before they are cooked. Soaking merely shortens cooking time. Because unsoaked beans have to cook longer, they require more energy from your stove.
To cook beans without soaking, use twice the amount of cooking water specified in the recipe. Combine the water and rinsed beans in the pot and bring to a boil. Some cooks like to bring the water to a boil first, then drop in the beans a few at a time so the boiling doesn’t stop. Either method will cook the beans satisfactorily. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. The beans rehydrate while cooking so you will have to watch them carefully and add more water whenever necessary to keep them covered.
Cooking time for unsoaked beans can vary up to 2 hours. Most beans will be tender in 2 to 3 hours.
Some people are more susceptible than others to the discomforts of the gas, or flatulence, sometimes caused by eating beans. Flatulence occurs when bacteria normally found in the digestive tract reacts on certain chemical compounds in beans. Some are water-soluble and will be partially removed when the bean soak water is discarded.
Small amounts of water-soluble vitamins and minerals are also removed by discarding the soak water. Therefore, many cooks believe it is nutritionally important to use the soak water for cooking the beans. Current research shows that only small amounts of nutrients are lost. For many people, the discomfort avoided by discarding the soak water is more important than the small amount of nutritional benefits from using it.
If you consistently have problems cooking beans to the desired tenderness within the specified cooking times, it is possible you have hard water. Another sign of hard water is the appearance of a thick white or gray residue on the inside of your teakettle every time you boil water. This is caused by the presence of excessive amounts of certain minerals. High concentrations of these minerals interfere with chemical and physical changes that are supposed to occur in beans during soaking and cooking.
Some cooks suggest adding a small amount of baking soda to the cooking water to soften it. We don’t recommend this because baking soda may give the beans a soapy flavor and its ability to improve the bean cooking process has not been proved. Amounts of baking soda over 1⁄8 teaspoon per cup of beans may destroy the thiamine (Vitamin B1) in beans. Thiamine is a valuable nutrient and one reason why beans have a reputation for being nutritious. If you have hard water and are in doubt as to whether or not to use baking soda, buy purified bottled drinking water – not distilled water – for soaking and cooking beans.