What Are Soup Beans?

Cindy Quarters

Beans have many positive features that make them popular for use in the kitchen. They are high in fiber, very filling, simple to cook and easy to store. They are also inexpensive, making them an excellent choice for people on a budget. A number of different types of beans can be used as soup beans, but in the Appalachian region of the United States, where soup beans are a traditional dish, pinto beans are commonly used.

Navy beans, which are often used in soup.
Navy beans, which are often used in soup.

Because soup beans are usually dried, they must be soaked overnight before they are to be cooked, so that they will cook properly the next day. Otherwise they are likely to end up too hard to eat. When placed in a pot the night before, then covered with boiling water and allowed to sit overnight, the beans will absorb much of the water and swell, becoming not only plumper but also softer in the process.

Assorted beans, any of which can be used in soup.
Assorted beans, any of which can be used in soup.

Soup beans are usually cooked on the stovetop, where they are allowed to simmer for a long time. They must be cooked for at least four hours, but they can tolerate being on the stove much longer than that, which makes them good for when meal time might be delayed. Some water may need to be stirred in from time to time, but other than that the beans can be left to simmer until it is time to eat them.

Ham, hog jowls or ham bones are almost always added to the soup beans to add flavor. Many people add a ham bone with some of the meat still on it to the beans as they begin to cook, and by the time the beans are ready the meat is falling off the bone and the ham flavor has permeated the soup. Diced ham or other cured pork products may also be used, both to enhance the flavor and to add extra nutrition to the beans.

If pinto beans aren’t available, people sometimes use navy beans, butter beans or black-eyed peas instead of the traditional soup beans to make this dish. Any of these foods will work to create a dish very similar to the one made with pinto beans, especially if plenty of ham is used for flavor. The final result won’t look quite the same, but it is ultimately a matter of personal preference as to whether or not to use pinto beans or another type of bean to make a tasty pot of soup beans.

Pinto beans are the traditional choice of soup bean.
Pinto beans are the traditional choice of soup bean.

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Discussion Comments


I use ham hocks in pintos when I cook them. They impart lots of flavor and are cheap. When the hocks are done I take them out of the beans, let them cool and then pull off and chop the bits of meat. Then I add them back to the beans.

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