beans wont cook

Hi - I prepared dried great northern beans according to the "prefered" method on the bag which was to boil for an hour and let sit in the hot water for 2 hours. I used some in a stew recipe and they wont get soft. I froze the beans that were boiled and I was wondering if I can thaw and reboil them so that I use them in recipes going forward. Help! Thanks! Debbie

  • Posted by: Debbie
  • October 22, 2013


Sam1148 October 27, 2013
A pinch or two, just a pinch, of baking soda to the water after you discover the beans aren't softening. It corrects the acid and softens the water if you have high lime content.

Don't use too much as it can dull the flavor of beans if over used.
arcane54 October 27, 2013
I agree with the "these beans are old" comments and the myth about salting will eventually die. I test my beans when I soak them. If the beans remain all puckery after soaking, they were too old to absorb the water and too old to cook/use successfully. that way I don't waste all that time (and anticipation). Dating your packages helps, too.
creamtea October 23, 2013
I make beans quite often, about once a week. It is a 3-stage operation: I usually soak overnight. On rare occasions I've used the "hot soak" method but never the way you describe, i.e. simmering for an entire hour and then soaking; usually it's a short simmer followed by a long soak. It sounds like you may have only completed the soaking stage, not the cooking stage that fully tenderizes the beans. If your recipe had tomatoes or anything else acidic, that would have kept them from softening. Additional notes: I salt the soaking water, discard it after the soak and replace with fresh (again salted) water plus a whole peeled onion and a bay leaf for the simmer, and I don't add the additional components of the recipe until they are tender. I do think you can use the frozen beans if you simmer them until tender before proceeding with the recipe--they just weren't cooked enough the first time. And I second kircon's comment about adding kombu, available at health food stores, as that tenderizes them and improves flavor.
catalinalacruz October 23, 2013
We learn something new when it is brought to our attention, as you just did. Thanks.
ChefOno October 23, 2013

The myth about salt is never going to die is it???

catalinalacruz October 23, 2013
Good tips here -- don't use old beans, don't use salt until after cooking, but has anyone said don't cook in hard water? I have to use bottled water for beans, as our water is so hard. I learned this the hard way (no pun intended :).

Voted the Best Reply!

mainecook61 October 22, 2013
Those beans are old.
ChefOno October 22, 2013

This article by Shirley Corriher may be of interest here:

Exbruxelles October 22, 2013
It's pretty common to bring the initial soaking water to a fast boil before leaving beans to soak. Like others, I've never heard of boiling beans for a long time prior to soaking--it sounds like it would result in under-cooked beans, which is what you have. I've also found that some old beans won't get soft no matter how long you cook them, which could also be the problem here. I'd pitch the frozen beans and start over with fresh ones; beans are cheap.
klrcon October 22, 2013
I've never really heard of boiling before soaking so I don't know what went wrong there. Perhaps your beans are old? Sometimes that can lengthen the time it takes for them to cook, sometimes dramatically. Can I suggest a trick I picked up from a Peter Berley cookbook? You might try boiling them with a strip of kombu seaweed - it speeds up the time it takes for beans to cook and helps them soften quite nicely without falling apart and getting those blown skins. As a bonus it also adds a lot of healthy minerals - and it doesn't impart any noticeable flavor, in case you're thinking beans and seaweed is weird, which would be understandable.
My typical method for beans is to soak overnight in a saltwater brine and then boil them with a strip of kombu the next day. I find that they generally only take 40 minutes to an hour to soften nicely even though I salt them right from the beginning because I think they taste best that way.
Good luck.
petitbleu October 22, 2013
Whenever I'm cooking beans for use in another dish (a soup or stew, for instance), I make sure to cook them completely before adding them to the dish. You might think they would overcook in this case, but I've never had this problem. Dried beans are pretty resilient.
ChefJune October 22, 2013
I've also never tried the boil before soaking method, but I'm wondering if you might have added salt before the beans were cooked? I find that keeps the beans from softening (even though some "experts" have said that's a myth...)
Maedl October 22, 2013
When I cook beans, I put them in water to soak the night before I plan to cook--then simmer them in water. I’ve never tried the method that you mention, but it sounds like it might be intended for the soak, to be followed by simmering to soften and cook them completely. You also say you used some in a stew--were there tomatoes in the stew? The acid in tomatoes can prevent beans from softening completely too, I believe.
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