Cooking beans requires lots of patience. You have to wait for hours on end for them to cook through, and sometimes, no matter how long you cook them, they will still be hard.
If you’ve cooked beans for the recommended time but they are still not soft, you may wonder: “why are my beans still hard after cooking?”
There are several possible reasons why beans fail to soften even after several hours of continuous cooking. Some of them are; using poor quality beans, not adhering to the cooking time, failure to soak the beans, using chlorinated or hard water, and adding acid to the beans too soon.
This article will discuss in detail the factors that cause beans to remain hard and what you can do to soften them.
We will also share a few tips for cooking beans to help you master the art of cooking soft beans.
Reasons why your beans don’t soften
Below are the reasons why your beans don’t soften even if you cook them for several hours.
- The beans are of poor quality.
The quality of beans you use will determine how they turn out. Generally, old beans are more likely to remain hard after cooking compared to new beans.
Unfortunately, it is a bit difficult to tell how old beans are when you buy them from your vendor. Sometimes, vendors mix the old beans with new ones to deceive buyers.
While buying beans, go for the ones that are lighter in color. There is a high chance that beans darker in color are old. Therefore, they may remain hard after cooking.
- You did not pay attention to the cooking time.
If your beans are of good quality but still don’t soften up after cooking, the problem might be the cooking time. Note that you should pay close attention to the cooking time because if you don’t the beans may either remain hard or become too soft.
Generally, beans take a long time to cook through. However, different bean varieties have different cooking times.
For instance, soybeans take four hours to cook while red beans, kidney beans, black-eyed beans, pinto beans, navy beans, black beans, and Great Northern beans cook in 1-2 hours. Likewise, green beans cook in 5 minutes and canned beans cook in 15 minutes.
Use the recommended time for the variety of beans you are cooking.
- You didn’t soak the beans and if you did, you didn’t soak them for long enough.
You must soak dried beans before cooking. Although you can cook beans without soaking, they will take much longer to cook, and the chances of them remaining hard after cooking are much higher.
You should soak beans for at least 12 hours before cooking. Soaking the beans in water rehydrates them and consequently makes them cook faster.
Therefore, I recommend that you soak them for the recommended time.
- You used chlorinated or hard water to soak them.
If you used hard or chlorinated water to soak your beans, it could be the reason why your beans don’t soften even after cooking.
Hard water contains calcium which prevents the beans from softening. Note that before you cook beans, their cells remain glued together thanks to pectin. During cooking, the pectin converts to soluble substances consequently causing the cells to loosen and swell. Eventually, the beans become soft.
If you soaked the beans in hard water, the pectin does not easily convert to soluble substances.
Therefore, the beans will remain hard no matter how long you cook them. Likewise, chlorinated water makes beans remain hard after cooking. If your water is chlorinated, boil it before soaking the beans in it.
- You added acid to the beans too early on.
Like calcium, acids make beans remain hard after cooking. When you add acids to beans, the acid reacts with starch inside the beans’ cells preventing them from swelling. Consequently, the beans remain hard even after you cook them for several hours.
Therefore, you should only add acidic ingredients to your beans once they soften. Adding them early on will make the beans remain hard.
The acidic ingredients we are referring to are onions, vinegar, wine, lemon juice, tomatoes, and any sauce variety.
What to do for beans to soften
Now that you know what may have caused your beans to remain hard even after several hours of cooking, you should know how to fix the problem. Here is what to do for beans to soften.
- If you didn’t soak the beans, cook them for extra hours.
If by chance you forget to soak your beans but still want to cook them for lunch or dinner, cook them for an extra four hours in addition to the hours the recipe requires you to cook them for. This will ensure that the beans soften as they should.
- Use baking soda.
Adding baking soda to beans softens them up. However, this solution is only ideal if you are making a dish that calls for acidic ingredients.
The scientific explanation on why baking soda softens beans is that the baking soda neutralizes the acid in beans thus making them soften at a faster rate.
For every pound of beans, you are cooking, add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. If the beans you are cooking are old, add a little more baking soda for it to be effective.
If this method does not work for you, use any of the other methods below.
- Use bay leaves.
Just like baking soda, bay leaves can soften hard beans. Note that the bay leaves will slightly alter the flavor of your beans, but they will still be yummy.
Chop up 4 bay leaves then add them to the cooking point where your beans are cooking. If necessary, add a little bit of water and let the beans simmer for 15 minutes or until they soften.
This method is ideal if you don’t want to use baking soda.
- Extend the cooking time.
Extending the cooking time is the oldest trick in the book, but it works. Cooking the beans for longer allows them to soften.
If you choose to extend the cooking time, add more water to the beans then simmer on low heat until they soften. You can use a fork to check whether the beans have softened every few minutes.
- Use salted water during cooking.
If you soaked your beans in chlorinated or hard water, cooking them in salted water will help soften them up.
The salt gets rid of the minerals in hard water that keep beans hard.
To use this method, add one tablespoon of salt to every quart of water you add to the beans. Let the beans boil for 2-4 minutes and check whether they have softened. If not, boil them for much longer until they are tender.
- Cook the beans in a pressure cooker.
Pressure cookers work magic when it comes to softening hard beans. I love softening my beans in the pressure cooker because they soften in a short time.
For every cup of beans, you want to soften, add 2 ½ cups of water. Cook the beans in your pressure cooker for about ½ an hour and check whether they have softened.
If they haven’t, cook them for a bit longer.
- Cook the beans all over again.
If none of the above methods work for you, you will have to recook the beans.
Start by draining all the water in the cooking pot, then wash the beans. After that, soak the beans in warm water for two hours.
After two hours, drain the water you used to soak the beans and add fresh water. Season the beans with your seasonings of choice and cook the beans until they are soft.
Tips on getting soft beans every time
Cooking beans should be easy, but it sometimes proves difficult, especially if the beans don’t soften after you have cooked them for a long time.
Here are a few tips that will make your cooking experience better and your beans super delicious.
- Always soak the beans in warm water for at least 12 hours before cooking. I prefer soaking mine overnight.
- If the water you use has chlorine in it, boil the water before soaking the beans in it.
- Be patient. Generally, beans take a long time to cook, so you should not be in a hurry to remove them from heat. Let them cook for the recommended time, or longer.
- Add acidic ingredients like tomatoes and onions only after the beans have softened. Adding them beforehand will prevent the beans from softening.
- Buy beans of high quality, preferably new beans. Old beans don’t soften easily.
If your beans always remain hard after cooking, you now know why. Try to avoid the mistakes we discussed above for them to turn out soft.
In the unfortunate circumstance that they still don’t soften, use any of the methods we discussed to soften them up. Most of them are efficient, and won’t take up too much of your time.