Dear Home-Ec 101,
HELP! We tried dried black beans and mistakenly added salt, seasonings, and wine after soaking and the beans are not getting tender even after hours of cooking.
Are there any fixes for tough beans you know of?
Thanks in advance,
Chewy in Chesterfield
Despite what you have been told, salting the water does not cause the skins of beans to become tough. Some people believe that the salt prevents beans from absorbing water, but this has been disproven by a few studies.
Water generally enters beans through three openings with fancy names: raphe, hilum, and micropyle rather than crossing the outer coat of the dried bean. So don’t worry too much about adding salt or seasonings to the cooking water. Your beans will still soften even in salted cooking water.
Acidic ingredients can cause tougher beans. The acidity can react with the coating of the bean, so hold off on adding acidic ingredients until the end of the cooking process.
If you have hard water, the minerals can deposit on the beans which can also make them tougher than beans cooked in soft water. While some people suggest adding baking soda to the water, I find that can create a weird texture and / or a funky taste. If you have hard water consider using bottled water instead.
The leading cause of toughness in beans (sounds like I’m about to unveil some scary medical news, huh?) is age. Just because you bought the dried beans from your store last week doesn’t mean they are new. As dried beans age, the pores through which the water enters tend to close and the outer coating may change, too. If water can’t get into the bean, they aren’t going to soften no matter how long you cook them.
My best advice is to try again with beans from a store with a high turnover rate on their dry goods. It won’t do any good to buy the same beans from the same store if they came out of that same shipment from long ago.
If you live at high altitude, you may find that a pressure cooker significantly reduces the amount of time it takes your beans to soften.
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