Capacity-Building Projects

Project 2: Best PRACTICES for Bean Cooking

According to market research, many consumers develop negative perceptions of pulses after cooking them improperly. Unfortunately, the information available to consumers about how to properly cook dried beans is inconsistent and sometimes contradictory. Consumers must also choose between the long cooking time of dried beans and the higher sodium content found in canned beans.

This 2018 project set out to create better guidelines for cooking dried pulses in different water conditions. It had a culinary focus split into two main objectives.

The first was to survey the wide range of advice found in bean cookery, from cookbooks and industry guidelines to package instructions, about the impact of salt, brining, and water hardness on cooking beans.

The second objective was to characterize the difference between a chef’s opinion of a perfectly cooked bean (i.e. “soft enough to chew”) versus the scientific cook times using analytical equipment such as the Mattson Bean Cooker to measure how different treatments impact cooking time. The chefs involved in this research project compared the sensory characteristics of navy, black, pinto, and kidney beans cooked to technical “doneness” against beans cooked past the “doneness” state to establish the ideal cooking time.

In this part of the project, we also conducted consumer testing to measure the impact of different salt treatments on flavour, texture, and appearance.

The knowledge we have shared from this project is helping industry improve the consumer experience with dried pulses as a healthy and affordable protein source.

The perfectly cooked bean

Properly cooked beans have a slightly firm bite and a soft, creamy, smooth texture, and can be chewed easily. They should appear shiny and firm with bright colour, not broken or burst from cooking.

Recommended salting methods for different bean types

Trials were conducted on five bean types: kidney, black, faba, navy and pinto. The use of one to two per cent salt reduced cooking time and improved the flavour, texture, and appearance of cooked beans. Cooking time for beans begins when the cooking water reaches a gentle simmer. Water should be kept from vigorously boiling to prevent beans from bursting open.

Based on the study, the cooking recommendations for each bean are as follows:

Navy Bean2% brine soak (average cook time = 34 minutes)
Black Bean2% brine soak (average cook time= 28 minutes)
Kidney Bean1% salt in cooking water (average cook time = 36 minutes)
Pinto Bean1% salt in cooking water (average cook time = 26 minutes)

Researchers concluded a little salt goes a long way in improving the overall flavour of beans.

Soaking beans in salt brine

  1. Prepare a 2% salt brine by adding 2 1/2 tsp of salt to 3 cups of water, then stir until fully dissolved.
  2. Add 1 cup clean, dry beans to the brine and soak for 24 hours at room temperature.
  3. Drain the beans.
  4. Bring 4 cups of fresh distilled water to a boil.
  5. Add the soaked beans to the boiling water and reduce the heat to a gentle boil.
  6. Cook the beans until they are firm yet tender and can be easily chewed.

Cooking beans in salted water

  1. Soak 1 cup clean, dry beans in 3 cups of distilled water for 24 hours at room temperature.
  2. Drain the beans.
  3. Bring 4 cups of fresh distilled water to a boil. For a 1% salted cooking water, add 1 1/2-2 tsps (9-11 g) salt. For a 2% salted cooking water, add 3 1/2 tsps (20 g) salt.
  4. Add the soaked beans to the boiling water and reduce the heat to a gentle boil.
  5. Cook the beans until they are firm yet tender and can be easily chewed.

A note on hard water

Cooking beans with hard water can greatly impact the cooking time and quality of the beans. Hard water can be found throughout Manitoba and is categorized by the level of calcium carbonate in the water:

Water QualityConcentration (mg Calcium Carbonate/L)
Medium Hard60-120
Very Hard180+

Most communities in Manitoba use some degree of hard water:

CommunityConcentration (mg Calcium
WinnipegMedium Hard (81)
BrandonHard (150)
Portage la PrairieVery Hard
DauphinVery Hard (229)
NeepawaVery Hard (295)
MelvilleVery Hard (309)
MorrisVery Hard (420)
Source: aquatell.ca

Based on our trials, cooking beans in hard and soft water (vs. distilled water) increases the cooking time and decreases the cooked quality. This effect is more prominent in larger kidney beans, where cooking time increases by 17% for soft water and 70% for hard water, and less prominent in black beans, where cooking time increases by 2% for soft water and 17% for hard water.

However, when cooking in either soft or hard water, the seed coat becomes hard and chewy, and the cooked bean fails to achieve the desired smooth, soft, creamy texture. Overall, the effect of hard water on the quality of cooked kidney beans was most pronounced.