Cooking dried beans and salt

Do you agree adding salt while cooking makes beans tough? Do you prefer cooking stovetop, pressure cooking or slow cooker?

  • Posted by: Dona
  • May 22, 2012


ChefOno May 28, 2012

Kenji Alt explains bean blow-out:

"Soaking beans in salted water overnight [results in] skins that soften at the same rate as the beans' interiors." "Unsalted beans end up absorbing too much water and blowing out long before their skins properly soften, while…salted beans remain fully intact."

Photo here:

Full article here:

cookingProf May 28, 2012
On the topic of indigestibility of beans, I place a strip of kombu (sea kelp) in a cheesecloth and add to pot of beans. It eliminates stomach gas production completely.
boulangere May 28, 2012
Very good to know, thank you.
Linn May 28, 2012
Tried my own experiment with a batch of Ranch Gordo cannellini beans yesterday. Salted the soaking water as per MdGee to 5 grams per liter. Brought the beans to a boil. Left them to swell up and soften. Dumped the soaking water, added fresh, and finished the cooking process. I got to say, the beans tasted better and the salt enhanced the flavor all the way through the bean. Put my vote in the salt at the beginning of the cooking column.
dymnyno May 26, 2012
I always season everything at the end, even beans. That way I can control the amount of salt that I am ingesting. I always buy Rancho Gordo beans which are very fresh and I don't have to soak them.
Dona May 25, 2012
ChefOno May 25, 2012

Mad French Chef: Jamais Sel! You must never add salt to the water until the beans are almost cooked. Salt will crack the bean.

Alton Brown: If you wait until they're finished to add the salt they're going to taste like papier-mâché.

Mad French Chef: Papier-mâché? How dare you speak French to me, you fuzzy-headed, ninnyhammer.

Alton Brown: You know, I've just about all the tradition I'm going to take out of you…

Dona May 25, 2012
I will have to go back to salting during cooking. This batch is the first time I've added salt at the end and the first pot of beans i have thrown out. So for me, it's salt at the beginning.
This has been interesting and informative!
mensaque May 25, 2012
"10 entre 10 brasileiros preferem feijão..."The verse comes from a song by"As Freneticas"...look it up,it's a fun song and it talks of the brazilians love for black beans.We eat it everyday with white rice,vegetables and meat,chicken or take it from a brazilian:season it at the end.First of all:soak it in fresh water over night,the next day change the water and cook it on the stove top for about one hour and a half(this time will depend on the quality of the beans) adding water little by little and stirring with a wooden spoon every now and then to end up with a thicker sauce.Break some beans before they're cooked with the spoon and scrape the edges of the pan to get the starch into the sauce.When it's soft and thick turn off the heat,and for the love of God don't drain them!The sauce is the best part.Take some chopped garlic cloves(enough to season the full pan),fry them on olive oil till golden on a separate pan.Add to the garlic some salt and bay(leaves or powder) and then a ladle of the beans with some sauce.Mix it up and pour the hot mixture on the rest of the beans.Sometimes my mom adds some instant broth cubes or powder to the mixture and I swear:it's even better that way.I like to add some cummin now and then to. Promisse you:best beans you will ever have!We're 150 million people in Brazil,and we all do it the same way.We can't all be wrong at the same time!Oh:If you wanna turn it into a "Feijoada",just soake some porc the day before.Feet,tail,nose,ears,belly,loin...all salted.Smoked porc ribbs,jerky beaf,smoked bacon in large chunks...all soked for at least 12 hours.Boil the meats on a separate pot for about an hour,than drain the water and add the meats to the beans to cook another half hour together and season it the same way.
mensaque May 25, 2012
Forgot an ingredient to the Feijoada:smoked portuguese porc sausage called "paio" or "calabresa".No need to soak it.Jus add at the last 30 min.
ChefOno May 25, 2012

Sounds good to me -- black beans, rice, pork and a caipirinha!

mensaque May 25, 2012
You got the idea,ChefOno.To complete our traditional brazilian feast we would need some orange slices;kale,finely sliced and sauté with garlic;"farofa":a mix of yuka meal,scrambled eggs,onions and bacon;and lots of tabasco sauce.I'm hungry!!!
mensaque May 25, 2012
Should we invite Dona?Afterall, she did not like her beans seasoned at the I guess she would decline anyway!
ChefOno May 25, 2012

Oh you *must* include Dona -- she still has her sense of humor after wrecking dinner! Most valuable guest!
creamtea May 25, 2012
coincidentally, after years of "salting at the end", I've begun salting during soaking (not an overnight soak, but a few hours as time allows) and adding salt at the beginning of cooking. This week's batch of bean chili (salted at the beginning) was among the best. Not blown out and really tasty (by the way I also used Pomi tomatoes in the box this time instead of canned). They had that "better the next day" taste on the same day they were cooked.
Kristen W. May 24, 2012
I've heard this about the indigestible sugars, etc. Interestingly, Rick Bayless says that while beans are a staple in the Mexican diet, he's never known a single Mexican cook to pre-soak their beams, yet those alleged digestive problems are absent in that population. He suggests that the best way to make beans more digestible is simply to eat more beans. I eat beans regularly, and after reading this I stopped pre-soaking them and have had no problems with digestion.

I don't know the science, so I can't argue that one or the other method is "correct", but it was interesting to me anyway. Slightly off-topic, I know, as the query was about salt...
Slow C. May 24, 2012
The other part of that equation must be fiber--if you're not used to eating very much of it then it can send your system into fits, but the more you eat the more efficient (and less uncomfortable) the digestive process. I'm also guessing that Mexican beans, even if dried, are relatively fresh which also negates or diminishes the need for soaking (afterall, all we're really trying to do is hydrate the things).

And just so I'm not totally off topic either, I'm not a huge salt person but I'm always pretty amazed by the quantitiy of salt required to truly season beans.
Linn May 28, 2012
In order to digest beans and other legumes, the stomach needs to produce enzymes. In a population that eat them frequently, these enzymes are produced on a regular basis. In other populations, there may never have been a need for the enzymes so there are none there at the crucial time. The result = gas.
Slow C. May 24, 2012
OK, so here's another angle...beans contain some undigestable sugars, these are the sugars of lore, the songs of our childhood...beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you...OK, you get what I'm saying. I'm with MaGee full force, here's how I do it: soak beans just in salted water overnight then rinse well. This helps remove the offending undigestable sugars. Cook in plain water. Salt heavily as they are approaching done, otherwise you risk bean blowout, too much salt early in the process makes the skin too permeable and soft to retain their shape while cooking. All this is mute if your dried beans are old, in which case they will be very difficult to cook properly (in other words, unless you are fortunate to know how old the beans are in some ways you have little control so don't beat yourself up if whatever method you use doesn't work perfectly).
boulangere May 25, 2012
I'm trying an experiment on salted vs. unsalted beans in 4 different combinations, and it was very interesting to confirm what you say about "bean blowout." The beans that I soaked with salt overnight had that blown-up, disintegrated look, whereas those soaked with none were generally intact. Film at eleven.
Kristen W. May 24, 2012
Got it, thanks.
ChefOno May 23, 2012

Without getting too far down onto a molecular level, salt slows the hydration process per se but improves permeability of the skin.

Cook's Illustrated: Why does soaking dried beans in salted water make them cook up with softer skins? It has to do with how the sodium ions in salt interact with the cells of the bean skins. As the beans soak, the sodium ions replace some of the calcium and magnesium ions in the skins. Because sodium ions are weaker than mineral ions, they allow more water to penetrate into the skins, leading to a softer texture.

Droplet May 26, 2012
Good explanation, thank you. This brings the question of how much salt to add to the soaking water, which also determines if that will make it possible to later boil the beans in it. Since salt does leach minerals out, it would be beneficial to not discard that water.
Kristen W. May 23, 2012
Chef Ono, any idea why salt in the soaking liquid speeds cooking, while salt in the cooking liquid slows it?
susan G. May 22, 2012
I had cooked dried beans, both stove top and slow cooker, for years, with inconsistent results. Now I use a pressure cooker and get much better results -- fully cooked beans.
Iris9 May 22, 2012
My mom is the bean queen. Her beans always have the perfect texture. Her secret: add one teaspoon of baking soda to the water when you're pre-soaking them the night before. She also only adds salt towards the end of the cooking process because she says it toughens the beans if added early on. I've tried the baking soda method and it works as a tenderizer.
ChefOno May 22, 2012

You can save that batch of beans by salting the water now and allowing them to sit for a couple of hours.

Also, see McGee's comment above.

Dona May 22, 2012
Thanks all, I'll try the oven method next time. I just cooked white beans stovetop with no salt. I will use Alice Waters method of drain and sauté in olive oil and Rosemary. right now they are completely tasteless. First time I've ever cooked beans without salt and I can't tell a difference, except the lack of taste.
ChefOno May 22, 2012

The oven provides the most even heat and therefore the best beans (and the least amount of attention).

Salt goes in at the beginning for proper and even seasoning. Test after test after test has shown salt has no negative effects.

Be careful using a slow cooker for beans! Some beans, Kidney in particular, contain a toxin that requires a hard 10-minute boil to deactivate.

ChefJune May 22, 2012
"Tests" may show no difference, but my beans show a difference!

Voted the Best Reply!

ChefOno May 22, 2012

Harold McGee: Salt does slow the softening of dried beans, but adding it early also gets salt into the bean interior, while adding late leaves most of the salt on or near the surface. If you’re thinking ahead early enough to presoak the beans, salt in the presoaking water actually speeds the cooking, in addition to salting the beans evenly.

ChefJune May 22, 2012
I use the stove top method, and though it's said salt doesn't affect the texture of the beans, I prefer to salt towards the end of the cooking time.
boulangere May 22, 2012
I tend to use the stove top or oven, and I always salt at the end.
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