How Long Do Dried Beans Last? (Not Forever, Sorry)

It might be time to replace that old bag of beans in your pantry.

July 24, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham

Dried beans: When the world ends, they will still be in your pantry, ready to become soup at a moment's notice. Right?

Sadly, it is not so. Just because you can keep dried beans forever does not necessarily mean it will be helpful. Old beans will take longer to cook, and the oldest beans will stay tough and chewy no matter how long (within reason), they simmer. If you find yourself cooking soaked beans for more than two hours, and they just will not soften, it may be your beans...not you.

"Dried beans were fresh beans that were dried," Peter Miller, author of Lunch at the Shop, reminds us. And that is easy to forget, considering that fresh beans are a sight to behold during only a couple of summer weeks.

Those fleeting fresh beans are dried to extend their shelf-life—but not to immortalize them. Peter says that dried beans are best in year one, not as good or creamy in year two, and "stiff" from then on. "They were never meant to be timeless."

But since packages of dried beans today do not come with expiration dates, how can you know their age?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“This is an end to my story of March 30, 2020. I had Pinto and Little red beans dry.. a lb each above but just could not throw them away when I read all this. I soaked all night or maybe 16 hours. Dumped water added fresh and started cooking. First a quick boil and then simmered for hours as an all day slow chili like I always make with fresh dry beans. Added Chili seasoning and pepper and an onion in the big pot and simmered. Later I cooked up the meats and more onions and more chili seasonings and mushrooms and when beans were soft later in the day, I added the rest of the chili. It was SO good. Could not tell the beans were from 2007”
— Judith T.

First, you can ensure you are buying from trusted suppliers. Chef Sara Jenkins seeks out "boutique importers or local producers to get the freshest dried beans available." Small farmers, Sara writes, sell their dried beans the same year they grow them—"and the differences in flavor and texture are impossible to miss."

If that is just not possible, date your beans so that you at least have a sense of when you bought them.

You will also be able to tell post-soak if your beans will not soften up during the cooking process. In the method that Molly Wizenberg (via John Thorne) outlines for oven-cooking beans, she instructs that any "wrinkled and ornery-looking" beans (the ones that have failed to rehydrate) should be removed.

It should be said that some people out there have had success softening very, very old beans. One Chowhound commenter said they had "successfully cooked beans that are YEARS old, and once you know the tricks, the results are good."

First soak the beans. The quickie soak isn't very useful for OLD beans, so soak them overnight, 12 hours at least. Then, if you have reason to think they are going to be tough, bring them to a boil, turn off the heat, [and add] 3/8 teaspoon of baking soda per 3 cups of water (and 3 cups of water per cup of beans). [Pour out the water, rinse the beans repeatedly, and cover with new water.] Then boil them as usual. IF they are still too much al dente, then pull them out, and pressure-cook them (put some of the spices, except salt) [...] Could be 15 minutes more, 30 minutes, or even an hour. Eventually you get soft, even tasty, beans. Honest!

But if it were me, I would use those ancient beans for pie weights—or for a mosaic rooster.

A Few Ideas for Your Dried Beans

Rich & Creamy Beans From Rachel Roddy

These Genius beans are all about creamy, brothy comfort—without the babysitting that normally comes with cooking dried ones from scratch.

Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi's Basic Hummus

It's probably the best hummus you'll ever make, and yes, taking all that extra time to prep the dried chickpeas is absolutely worth it.

Congrí (Cuban Black Beans & Rice)

In this "quintessentially Cuban take on beans and rice," black beans and rice get cooked together along with chorizo, cumin, adobo, green bell peppers, and onion.

Madhur Jaffrey's Instant Pot Buttery Dal

"This dal is made with a mixture of red kidney beans—an early import from the Americas—and an ancient Indian bean known as whole urad or ma," writes Madhur Jaffrey of this recipe from her cookbook, Madhur Jaffrey's Instantly Indian Cookbook.

Smoky Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili

This hearty, one-pot chili is smoky, flavorful, and just so happens to be totally vegan.

How old are the oldest dried beans in your pantry? Fess up in the comments below.
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Uncurly A. November 3, 2023
Just finished cooking 2 cups of pinto beans that I knew were old. I didn't realize how old until after they turned out...perfectly. When I checked the container I saw that they were packed in 1996 -- 27 years ago. I didn't soak them but used an electric pressure cooker, water about 3" above the beans, and about 1 t of baking soda, some leftover broth from a potato boiling project which contained Minor's chicken base, marjoram, and the flavors of chopped onion and celery. ("t" is how I learned to abbreviate teaspoon in Home Ec in the 1970s.) I cooked them at high pressure for 45 min and let the pressure drop by itself. They were FANTASTIC. I was certain they would fail but wanted to test them before tossing the lot. Glad I did. I'm on a use-it-up thrift kick.
G November 2, 2020
I think I’ve got most commenters beat with how old my beans are. I stored buckets of several different types of beans back in 1997, so they are apx 27 years old (maybe older depending on how long they’d been in a warehouse before I got them!). The only way to soften these babies up is to either use an alkaline like baking soda (which means a loss of thiamine and other nutrients) or to cook, freeze, and recook the beans -maybe even doing this twice. I can also grind them and use them as refried beans, use in breads, brownies, stews, sounds, or to make a white bean hummus. Now that I’m actually loving beans, I will probably use them despite the extra work involved. If not, perhaps I’ll chip them up and offer them to my neighbor for her chickens... not sure if that’s a safe food for them, but if it is, I won’t have wasted them!
Jay S. April 10, 2020
We have beans packed away about 30 years ago. Last week I pulled out a pound and cooked them per FOOD52 suggestions. They did not soften, even cooking overnight. They were still palatable so we ate them, but --- MEH! So I tested a softening method people did before we became so sissified. I took a scoop of ashes from our fireplace and put them in a jar. I added water and let them soak a while. I shook the jar to make sure all the ash was wetted. After most of the particles settled out, I poured the liquid through a paper towel filter held in a colander. I repeated soaking the ash and added the liquid to the first. This gave me a strongly alkaline solution. Then I transferred the liquid to a pot and added 1/4 lb of beans. I didn't use much since this was a test. I allowed the beans to soak about 4 hours, then poured off the liquid and rinsed in the pot another 4- 5 times. I didn't have any litmus paper and didn't have the patience to make up a pH indicator using red cabbage, but I knew that after even 3 rinses, the amount of any residual heavy metal ions (if any) would be 0.001% of whatever the starting amount was. After 5 rinses, it would be 0.00001%. Then, I soaked the beans for another 6 hrs in water and cooked overnight on the lowest possible flame. In the moring, I tested them: Soft almost to a mush! Tasty. So the next time I do this, I will merely shorten the cooking time. The alkali did a great job of breaking down the cellulose. (If you don't have a fireplace, use a little lye (drain opener) or grill cleaner (i.e. - Eazy-off) ) Be sure to rinse several times after soaking the old beans.
G November 2, 2020
I personally would never use Easy-Off or lye on my food, no matter if it’s considered “safe” by some or not. Better to use baking soda if I’m that desperate. At least I’m sure I won’t injure myself.
Jay S. November 3, 2023
Really a shame that you feel that way. Easy-Off is completely water soluble and a great source of strong alkali. Baking soda might have a pH of about 8, whereas a hydroxyl ion will give a pH of about 11. Since the pH scale is logarithmic, that means the alkalinity is 1,000 times greater. By the way, corn tortillas are made from corn processed in lye solution. When I taught high school chemistry, I attempted to teach my students about chemistry in day-to-day living. Too bad you weren't one of my students....
Dupper December 14, 2023
Jay your are awesome. Many high school teachers are closet bad asses.
Judith T. March 29, 2020
Oh my, I idid not realize I would find so many asking the same question at the same time. It is my birthday tomorrow and I will be 76 and hubby even older so not wanting to go out since February I have been emptying my pantry of items I've stored for so many years. The thing is every time I am going to make a big pot of chili with dry beans, I always get NEW beans and save these old ones for an emergency. Making my pot of chili for just two of us instead of 20, I noticed that the dry beans are from 2007! That means they are 13 years past their date. Yikes. They are already soaking, pinto and little reds. Okay after reading this, I guess I will go dump it and go to plan B. I already have hamburger thawed (no pork sausage found) and fresh mushrooms so I guess we will have spaghetti and homemade sauce instead.
Judith T. April 11, 2020
This is an end to my story of March 30, 2020. I had Pinto and Little red beans dry.. a lb each above but just could not throw them away when I read all this. I soaked all night or maybe 16 hours. Dumped water added fresh and started cooking. First a quick boil and then simmered for hours as an all day slow chili like I always make with fresh dry beans. Added Chili seasoning and pepper and an onion in the big pot and simmered. Later I cooked up the meats and more onions and more chili seasonings and mushrooms and when beans were soft later in the day, I added the rest of the chili. It was SO good. Could not tell the beans were from 2007
Kris M. March 22, 2020
I see Covid-19 is not just bringing out old stockpiles of beans but articles and comments as well. I may have everyone beat, one of my grandma's friends was well prepared for the last apocalypse. Year 2000. She's a conspiracy and astrology fan. She stockpiled, at least 100 lbs of beans, probably more. Red, white, pinto. I like beans so I took a few of the 3 gallon buckets. Ate them all through the '00's. Made a dent but but not a big one. By 2010 they were almost inedible. I'm not rich but I can afford to buy fresher stock. I've realized there's about 8 lbs left, wondering what to do with them.

I'm thinking about dumping them in the garden, let them break down and feed a new generation. Maybe some will sprout but I doubt it. Also considering mixing them with straw as mulch type top dressing to prevent weeds. Although I'm not sure if they'd absorb moisture, rot and cause problems. I'm guessing they're so dry they'd break down in the summer sun along with the straw.
G November 2, 2020
Grind them dry in a high speed blender or wheat grinder and make refried beans, add to bread doughs or use for some texture to stews or soups!
Lonnie S. March 22, 2020
10yr old beans! ... With the Covid-19 sheltering in place order I used some of my time at home to spring clean my pantry cabinet. Had some pinto beans packed in a food bin with O2 absorber from 2010 and thought it would be interesting to cook some. I soaked them overnight as usual, simmered them in a pot with seasonings and some broth for about 6 hours. They were a little aldente` but actually still enjoyable. I plan to cook some more in the pressure cooker for comparison.
Chris G. March 19, 2020
I have one for you! I love bean soup, often just start throwing things in to see how it will taste!
I bought a large quantity of their store brand, canned beans from my Local Fred Meyer on a really good sale price! I like my bean soup with a variety of beans, I think I had at least 5
different kinds of beans. Made a really big pot and ate my soup for about a week and a half! The really weird part was that there were some of those beans in those cans that were
"old" and hard! Not a lot, but enough that I was wondering how that happened!? :-(
(All I can figure is that someone must have finally gotten around to cleanning out the bottom of the bin & cooking some dried beans that had been hiding in nooks and cranies!)
Eugene K. March 18, 2020
We packed a bunch of beans and rice in storage containers in 2011 and recently opened one. The 9 year old beans have been very challenging to soften. Sadly, we have 5 more buckets from the same time frame.
Susan S. January 21, 2020
I just threw away beans that were packaged from the grocery store where I lived 17 years ago.
Julia S. October 29, 2019
Found some beans in the pantry with a 2004 expiration date; they expired when I was seven years old and now I'm 22.
Susan March 18, 2019
I guess this explains why my 25 yr old beans are still almost crunchy after cooking in tomato juice (chili) all day, lol! Wish I'd have seen this post this morning.
Chris G. October 29, 2017
I guess it's time to hunt down those old packets of "dried" (i.e. DEAD Beans) and commit them to the landfill! Some of them have been hiding in various places for a very long time! Thanks for this article! It answers the questions/results I've been noticing for a long time and gives me reinforcement to the suspicions I've had for a long time! I hate it when I cook something and spend a lot of effort and costly ingredients and it does not turn out as expected! Again, THANKS for sharing.
Natalie B. March 8, 2017
Rancho Gordo beans are the best! I joined their bean club so I never run out.
Patricia T. April 27, 2019
Oh I just love beans I just absolutely love beans! After my father retired he got back to his roots as a farmer and I swear he kept the neighbors and family suppled with the best potatoes, vegetables, some fruits, especially berries and melons and .. Yes beans of all kinds.
He called it a garden but I asure you his pride and joy that he shared with his loved ones and anyone around him was a farm which between his acrage and farm it was nothing for him to spend 8 hours outside ... even when everyone said it was not good for him. . He did that for 20 years; nto his mid 80's.
They threw shucking or canning parties often in the summer so everything was visiting and helping often and everyone came and left with stuff you could not get from the store plus we left with our hearts full.I loved the homemade bean soups so much; I think I could have lived on that alone! LOL
We sure miss them both!
How did I end up here? Because I have 2 bags of beans that I know are more than 6 years old but not sure how much older. I had heard that they will not soften when you cook them when old so I goodled; what can you do with old beans? (besides art)
Ya never know but I know my beans arw headed for the trash!
Traci B. March 6, 2017
I have beans in my pantry that have made several moves with me. I would guess I have some that are 4-5 yrs old 🤔 Maybe it's time to retire them. Lol
Sarah J. March 6, 2017
Pie weights!
witloof February 27, 2017
I just bought and cooked a batch of Rancho Gordo gigante beans. They are stupendously delicious!
j. April 6, 2021
Hi there - I hope you see this, after writing your comment above a few years’ back. Did you find any of the Gigantes still floating after soaking overnight/12+ hours? If so, did the batch contain any grainy beans after cooking?