Tips & Techniques

It's Time to Replace the Bag of Beans in Your Pantry: Here's Why

March  1, 2017

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?

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Top Comment:
“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”
— Traci B.

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 he 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.

How old are the oldest dried beans in your pantry? Fess up in the comments below.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Julia Saoirse Plafker
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    Natalie Bullion
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    Traci Barats
Sarah Jampel

Written by: Sarah Jampel

A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.


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
Author Comment
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!