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.

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Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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! :D (I live at sea level, though, so I have no suggestions as to high-altitude cooking.)

  3. 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.

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

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

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

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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)

  12. 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 says:

      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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.