BEER-N-BBQ by Larry

Cooking Beans in Salted Water is a GOOD Thing – Dispelling the Myth that Salt Hardens Beans

I get a lot of repeat comments from viewers on my YouTube Channel and elsewhere about how I shouldn’t be soaking or cooking beans in salt water because the salt causes the beans to harden. This is NOT true. This myth that salt causes beans to harden has been dispelled for many years now and needs to die.

I, too, used to believe such nonsense as I had been told by my elders for years (and by a number of old cook books) that cooking beans in salt water is bad because it hardens or prevents them from softening.  Finally, after years of holding onto this false belief, I had my mind set right due to a confluence of research in food science, increased skepticism and interest in knowing the why and how of everything, and the ability to find (and disseminate) such information via the Internet.  I am now a better and more efficient cook as a result.

Beans Don’t Actually “Harden”

Beans don’t harden from cooking them in salted water.  They were ALREADY hard (in their dry state) before cooking them.  The better way to re-phrase this myth is that the bean cooking process is hindered and slowed by the salt in the water thus requiring extending cooking time to soften them, but even this is untrue.

As you can plainly see in some of my videos, the beans are completely softened after soaking them overnight and simmering them in salted water for about an hour. I even squish one and eat it in my Barbecue Beans from Scratch video dispelling this myth outright in front of people’s eyes and some of them STILL continue to comment pointing out this myth again and again.  It’s crazy! They see their incorrectly and long held belief blown up and proven wrong before their own eyes and yet they still cannot process and accept the very truth they just witnessed.  People can be very stubborn.

The Real Cause of “Hardened” Beans

The true source of the “bean hardening” or more appropriately “hindered and slowed cooking time” are acidic ingredients added to the beans.  This is why I cook (and soften) the beans BEFORE adding them to the pan with the acidic ingredients (tomatoes mostly).

If you just throw uncooked beans into the acidic tomatoes and cook them together from the beginning, it will take many more hours (Trust me. I know. I did it before my enlightenment.) to soften them in contrast to the one hour simmer in salted water.

Salt is Actually GOOD for Beans

The real mind F@$k for people that still believe this myth, even after watching my videos dispelling it, is that cooking beans in salted water is actually beneficial to the beans and therefore your dining experience.

Not only does adding salt improve the flavor of the beans, it also helps them to retain their shape throughout the rest of the cooking process.  As you can see at the end of my BBQ beans video, the beans are not mushy with stray skins floating about as would happen if I didn’t cook them in salted water beforehand.

Cooking beans in salted water before mixing and cooking them with other ingredients not only saves time, they also taste better and hold their shape better.

Further Reading

If you’d like to read more on this topic, there are a number of sources out there.  One of my favorite articles on this topic is one over at Serious Eats called Should I Salt My Bean-Cooking Water?


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