I have a pot of white beans that I have been cooking for 3 days. It's like the Twilight Zone. Any help, explanations?

I used, for the first time, the bring to a boil and let sit method. Then I started cooking them. That was in 2011.



Sam1148 January 12, 2014
The upstream comment about baking soda.
With old beans and hard water---baking soda breaks the magic bond on the bean that allows the beans to cook and soften.

Careful tho; just a pinch as baking soda can 'level' any flavor the beans have into a rather bland mush, so start with 1/4 tsp.
mainecook61 January 12, 2014
I grow dry beans, so I know that the reason they won't soften is because they are old. Even "dry" things have expiration dates! Once, I was sold "fancy" dry beans from a farmer's market that, as it turned out, had clearly had been hanging around for quite a while. No amount of cooking had any effect on them. Technique has nothing to do
with it.
EmilyNunn January 12, 2014
No salt was added to these beans. I used the same water that I have used to make beans, which is to say from the faucet. They were B.O.T.D. (beans of the devil). Thank you everybody!
Diana B. January 12, 2014
The one idea I haven't seen here, except obliquely in Diana M's post, is whether your water is hard or not. If it is, that will affect whether your beans remain tough. If your tap water is hard, use filtered or distilled water instead.
Superyalda January 12, 2014
The secret is NO SALT until after the beans are cooked. Soak, of course, and then boil without salt. That's the trick.
Took me a long time to learn that btw. My first pot of beans in salt water dates back to the first episode of the original twilight zone. They've been boiling ever since and my children and grandchildren will inherit them :D
twinjadojo January 12, 2014
I love this thread! I seriously think your fancy white beans may have been polished gravel. About a year ago, I learned to add a small (3-4 inch) piece of kombu (a type of kelp available at any Asian market on earth, or at Whole Foods if you don't mind patronizing Eden Brand foods [which I steer clear from because they are suing to avoid covering birth control for their employees *ahem*]) to my beans during their pre-soak and while cooking. It helps make the beans more digestible, and improves umami. Some people fish out the kombu after cooking, but I usually just leave it in there to eat. I have no idea what effect it has on gravel and other stones.
BETTY R. January 12, 2014
EmilyNunn January 10, 2014
Hee-larious. But since we're all women in this thread, I guess HER-larious is fine. Either way, Hahahahahaha!
EmilyNunn January 10, 2014
Yes, you are all her-larious. I threw them out. I've cooked a million pots of beans in my life, and these were fancy white ones. I ALWAYs soak them overnight. This time I tried the shortcut bring-to-a-boil method. No salt in water. I didn't actually boil them for 3 days straight. It was an on and off kind of thing. I kept looking at them, trying to break up with them, admiring them. But they were hard as rocks. So I tossed them. So many lessons in the kitchen.
Chef L. January 10, 2014
Having some fun at EN's expense! Laughed out loud. Only other thing I can think of...did you check to make certain that there was a fire underneath the pot? Agree tho that they were just old.
Franchette L. January 9, 2014
No beans should take 3 days to cook, just throw them away and buy a new pack. Before cooking them soak them over night and add a 1/2 tsp baking powder in the water that will help to tenderize them.
Author Comment
Did you cook the beans in salted water? Usually if you do that retards the cooking time of the beans and they will never soften (or they will take an ungodly amount of time). If you use the method of soaking then cooking Cooks Illustrated recommended, you would still have to drain and rinse those beans before additional cooking.
Greenstuff January 9, 2014
I've only every had tough-bean syndrome once, and a pinch of baking soda saved them. I think I tried it after something closer to 3 hours than 3 days, let along 3 years!

Voted the Best Reply!

Pegeen January 9, 2014
ENunn, they have left their bodies and gone back to the mother ship. Time to add them to your compost heap. (Your "Twilight Zone" comment cracked me up. Haven't we all been there, with one dish or another.)
LeBec F. January 9, 2014
peg, YOU are hysterical.
Diana M. January 9, 2014
I've had this problem before, especially with gigantes (the Greek 'giant' beans). I tried baking soda... didn't help. I tried never salting till the end... no dice. What finally worked for me was a) to not boil vigorously, just keeping it at a simmer and b) using filtered water instead of water straight from the tap. I've also found that I generally have a lot more luck with dried beans every time if I at least start the cooking process in my pressure cooker. But, to echo June, if your beans are too old to start with, I think nothing will work, save for throwing them out!
ChefJune January 9, 2014
I'm guessing they're just old. Beans are pretty inexpensive. I'd probably toss them and start over. I soak overnight, usually unrefrigerated (unless the weather is very warm) no salt in the water. I don't salt beans ever until they are almost cooked. [They always come out great!]
Jenny H. January 9, 2014
3 tablespoons, not 13!
Jenny H. January 9, 2014
Cooks illustrated suggests soaking beans overnight in brined water (for one pound beans,I 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts of water). Drain and rinse before cooking. Makes silky beans every time.
For your current batch, try adding a teaspoon or so of baking soda.
M.A.Copeland January 12, 2014
As it has already been suggested,do soak the beans over night, but also remember not to add any acidic ingredients until beans are softened or they may never cook.
Marci January 9, 2014
Did you soak them first? Are the beans old? Something is definitely wrong if they have not cooked in three days.
Make sure you soak in water overnight in the fridge, or quick soak by boiling for a few minutes and then take off heat, cover, and let sit for an hour.
I hope the next batch turns out well!!! Good Luck!
EmilyNunn January 9, 2014
And by this I mean: they still have not softened. I should probably just throw them out, but now it has become like a spiritual quest. I add more water, cook for hours. But they do not soften.
Recommended by Food52