When Dry Beans Go Bad

Dear Home Ec 101,

I am on hour sixteen, and they still aren’t tender. I gave up the stove top and moved them into a crockpot hours ago.(electricity to run the crockpot is far less expensive than the cost of the gas for the stove) They soaked for 2 days, not kidding. what am I doing wrong? I used bottled water. I am high altitude.

Signed,

Dry in Denver

Heather says:

For what it’s worth, the song lies. Beans are not the magical fruit some vulgar jingles would have you believe. They do have a shelf life and it sounds as though yours may have passed theirs.  As beans age their ability to absorb water breaks down and they won’t swell and become soft when cooked.

Cooking at high altitude does have its challenges.  The higher your elevation the lower the temperature at which water boils. Salt does raise the boiling point of water but the amount is negligible. (I wasn’t thinking about scale when I first wrote this piece this morning. ) Although, salt is very important for flavoring the beans. 1 tsp per cup of dry beans is the rule of thumb.

Me? I live about as close to sea level as one can get without drowning.

I’d like to open the comments to those who live at high altitudes and may  have suggestions for coping.

Here are more articles on cooking with dried beans.



18 Comments

  1. Araceli on October 26, 2015 at 10:33 am

    I was givin four large (32oz.) bags of beans a month ago and just now realized why they haven’t been cooking as well as my store bought ones… the expiration date on them was 01/29/2015 .. go figure… other than that, this is how my father in law taught me to cook dry pinto and peruano beans:
    in warm water rinse beans, remove as much of the water after you see that the rinsing water is clear (in a sense) . Cover beans with warm or hot tap water and set aside. Fill your cooking pot with hot tap water and place over heat and bring to a rolling boil. Drain the soaking water from the beans before putting them into the boiling water and cover. When beans start to boil, reduce heat to low or med-low, cover and simmer for one hour then add salt and garlic clove(s), cover and simmer for another hour and remove from heat if tender to your liking.
    They’ve always turned out scrumptious following that routine (if you will). Good luck and thank you…

  2. MKEgal on October 25, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    Pressure cooker for sure,
    and don’t add salt until they’re cooked.

  3. Keter on October 30, 2009 at 6:18 am

    Even at low altitude crunchy beans are sometimes a problem A little apple cider vinegar sometimes works to soften them. Or a can or Ro-Tel (diced tomatoes and chiles). I add salt halfway through cooking; I found that adding it earlier makes crunchy beans every time. As for the "musical" issue….add some dried Epazote (a Mexican herb with a very light flavor similar to savory) to your beans as they cook…it works wonders.

  4. Beth on October 30, 2009 at 5:47 am

    I grew up near the Rocky Mountains, but I haven't lived too high in altitude. Nevertheless, we cook dry beans frequently. A 24 hour soak is what we always do and we don't add salt until they are cooked. The salt can really toughen the beans if added too early.

    When I did have a pressure cooker it worked GREAT, and instead of the standard 2 to 2 1/2 hour boil, I think it only took 30 minutes.

  5. Kathleen on October 30, 2009 at 1:54 am

    I live in Florida so high altitude isn't a problem but the only time I've ever had a problem with cooking beans is when I try cooking them in something salty–like broth.
    To tell the truth, though, I prefer the easy of canned beans. They're still pretty darn cheap. Mrs. Mordecai over at the Be It Ever So Humble site did a series on beans, including a cost comparison and concluded that dried were still the better bargain–including the cost of electricity used to cook them, but it was only about 15-25 cents per 12 ounces. Throw in the added cost of freezing (or for me, the high value of freezer space) and again, the canned beans are the way to go for me.

    • mom, again on November 10, 2009 at 5:43 am

      don't add salt to beans until they are done. Salt toughens the beans if they are cooked in it.

      Also, what kinds of beans was the writer cooking? Chickpeas never get 'soft' in the way some other beans do.

  6. ThatBobbieGirl on October 29, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    From some friends who were missionaries at a very high altitude place in South America, I learned that the pressure cooker is the way to go to get beans soft.

    I am not at high altitude, but I do have some old beans that I am unwilling to toss — crockpot for 24 hours made them disgustingly overcooked, but still somewhat crunchy. The pressure cooker came to my rescue — I actually pressure canned them so I could do a bunch at once to have later. Worked great. (I'm thinking I may have picked that idea up on this site, but can't remember for certain)

  7. Megan on October 29, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    I second the pressure cooker. I live in the mountains, around 6500ft, and thats the only way I would even attempt dry beans anymore. If you soak them a bit first, they'll be done in a jif in the pressure cooker

  8. Rebecca on October 29, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    I am pretty low, around 1200 alt, so I don't have high altitude tips. I can tell you that baking soda is supposed to help old beans get soft (though its to make the skins soft not the insides), but it also supposedly gives them a strange flavor and if you put more than 1/8 tsp per cup of beans it will destroy the thiamine in the beans.

  9. Camilla on October 29, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    After soaking them, cut one in half with a sharp knife; if there's a core that's whiter than the hydrated part, they're not done soaking yet and won't cook up well/evenly. This should let you judge how long they really need to soak (sometimes a couple of hours is enough) and tell you if age/hydration is the problem.

    My beans get 7min at high pressure in the pressure cooker (plus time to get up to pressure and come down from pressure) after soaking, but I'm at sea level. I bet the pressure cooker is an even more dramatic improvement at altitude.

  10. shaun on October 29, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    I don't live at high alt, but I use a pressure cooker. It raises the boiling temperature to about 250F at sea level. I don't even ever bother soaking the beans and they finish in a little over an hour. That would be my suggestion.

  11. HeatherSolos on October 29, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    It could either be a regionalism or my parents teaching me the wrong lyrics. Both are known to happen with frequency.

    • nukenanc on October 29, 2009 at 6:16 pm

      My Dad always sang "musical fruit" also.

  12. ToyLady on October 29, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    We always heard that beans were the "musical fruit" not the "magical" fruit.

    Unless you're talking giants and golden eggs. . .

  13. HeatherSolos on October 29, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    You are right. I'm correcting it. I wasn't even thinking about it this morning. The salt is more for flavor.

  14. Stacy on October 29, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    I live at almost 6,000 feet, but to be honest, I've never even tried to make dry beans. I bought some recently with the intention of doing so, not knowing it might not work. As far as high altitude cooking in general, I usually don't have a lot of problems. The main concern is usually baking. I have a high altitude cookbook, and have looked up recipes online for adjustments to make to cookies and such. As for the boiling point, I honestly haven't had any big problems with that. You have to cook some things longer, that's all. I've only started getting more serious about cooking since I moved here about five years ago, so I can't properly compare low to high altitude cooking.

  15. Sara on October 29, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Heather – my Gen Chem professor told our class of 300 that for salt to affect the boiling point of a gallon of water, you would have to add a POUND of it, which would just be disgusting. I'm not sure why this myth keeps popping up, but I'm doing my best to debunk it! 😀 (I live at sea level, though, so I have no suggestions as to high-altitude cooking.)

  16. nukenanc on October 29, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    I also live at Altitude (about 7000 ft) and I cannot get even beans that I bought that week to soften up. My baked beans always have a crunchy texture that I do not like. With the cost of electricity, I've mostly given up and buy the canned beans. I'd love to hear a solution.

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