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Do I Need to Soak Beans Before Cooking Them?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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There is some dispute over whether or not soaking beans before cooking is necessary, and there are certainly some advantages to taking this step. Technically, however, it is not absolutely required, although when a recipe calls for soaked beans, you should take the time to soak them, as the cooking time will be wrong otherwise. There are also some distinct advantages to using soaked beans rather than dried ones that you may want to consider when preparing bean recipes.

Whether or not you soak beans, it is essential to wash and pick through them before using them. Otherwise, you may cook in pieces of gravel, twigs, and other objects from the field the beans were grown. It helps to rinse beans in a large colander, allowing them to spread out as you rinse them so that you can pick out any foreign objects. If you plan to soak the beans, cover them in warm water, changing the water every now and then until the beans have swelled to twice their original size; you can also simply leave them in the water overnight.

The primary reason people soak beans is to cut down on cooking time. Beans that have been soaked cook in much less time than dried beans do, saving energy in the cooking process along with time. In addition, by slowly allowing the beans to fill with water, you will encourage them to cook all the way through, rather than cooking on the outside while the middle remains raw and hard. Soaked beans are also less likely to fall apart during the cooking process.

Some people also believe that the longer you cook beans, the less nutritional value they have. It is true that heat damages some essential vitamins and minerals, but the beans will still be extremely nutritious. You should also simmer the beans slowly, rather than boiling them, to encourage gentle, even cooking without burning.

All of the above reasons are pretty strong arguments to soak beans, but there's a clincher: soaking helps to break down the sugars in beans that your body finds hard to digest. These sugars are the root cause of the gastrointestinal symptoms that are infamously associated with beans, and by soaking them before cooking them, you can drastically reduce gas, bloating, and other discomfort.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon328521 — On Apr 04, 2013

I cook my beans (all kinds) in a steamer. Takes 60 minutes.

By bluedolphin — On Oct 14, 2012

Another reason why it's good to soak dry beans before cooking them is because it reduces the flatulence effect of the beans.

I used to avoid eating beans because it would give me a lot of gas. Then my doctor told me that if I soak the beans overnight and throw away the water I boil them in, I won't get as much gas. I tried it and it really works!

I guess while the water breaks down the sugar in the beans, it also breaks down some of the substances that cause gas. When you throw away that water, you also get rid of those substances to great extent.

I'm so glad I found out about this. I can eat beans now which is great because I love beans. Chili is my favorite food ever.

By discographer — On Oct 14, 2012

I didn't soak my garbanzo beans before cooking them and they've been boiling for the past four hours. I just took a couple out to taste and they're still hard! I can't believe this, if I knew that they would take so long to cook, I would have definitely soaked them. I will make sure to do that next time.

By the way, am I supposed to soak beans in cold water or hot?

By andee — On Oct 13, 2012

Yes, it is very easy to soak dried beans, but many times I forget about doing it. I have never really noticed much difference with my digestive system, but they don't take nearly as long to cook when they have been soaked.

My favorite thing to use dried beans for is a ham and bean soup that really hits the spot during the cold months. I know not everyone likes beans, and some people really have trouble after eating them, so I don't usually fix this for company, but enjoy it when it's just my husband and me eating at home.

By Mykol — On Oct 12, 2012

One of the biggest advantages I know of to soak dry beans is how much better they are this way on your digestive system. If I get lazy or forget to soak my beans, I am always sorry.

They taste just as good, but my stomach rumbles and I am pretty miserable a few hours later. I also think people have a lot more problems with gas and bloating if they don't soak their beans.

It really is very easy to do. I just put the beans in a big bowl, fill it with water and put them in the refrigerator over night. It is amazing how much the beans expand when you do this. You also need to be sure and drain off all the water and rinse them, and your digestive system will thank you.

By honeybees — On Oct 12, 2012
I never soak my beans, but just plan on cooking them for a long time whenever I use them in a recipe. One thing I do is rinse them off really well. It is surprising how many small pebbles or twigs you might find in a package of beans.

Beans are so full of nutrition without adding a lot of calories that I should really fix them more than I do. My kids don't care for them all that much so that is one reason I hardly ever fix them.

By julies — On Oct 11, 2012

@anon136856-- I find it interesting that it may depend on how old the beans are whether you need to soak them or not. I have some packages of beans that have been around a long time and I have no idea how old they are. They look perfectly OK, but maybe have become too dried out over time and would be better if they were soaked before using them.

By anon136856 — On Dec 24, 2010

Soaking beans or not depends on how old (therefore dried out) the beans are. If you have very discriminating tastes you will find that soaked beans will cook up with a slightly more tender skin than non soaked beans.

By minombre — On Dec 22, 2008

If you do not have time to soak beans overnight, it is also good to put beans in cold water, bring it to a boil and remove that first water.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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