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Bean Water FAQ + a Basic Bean Recipe

Of all the posts on this blog, the most popular is Don’t Throw Out That Bean Water from way back in 2010.

Since it’s officially soup season, this is the perfect time to revisit the topic of bean water and to answer all of the questions posed by readers in a Q&A format.

It also includes more information and tips I’ve learned from using (and storing) the cooking water from dry beans in many ways.

 Why are home-cooked beans better than canned?

The decision to use dry beans you have to cook versus opening a can of beans is ultimately about personal preference and convenience. I rarely buy canned beans because for as long as I’ve had my own kitchen, I’ve stocked mason jars of dry beans I buy in bulk.

garbanzo-beans-and-greens-soup
Make a pot of beans and reap the rewards: a bean water FAQ.

They’re ridiculously cheap–especially if you’ve ever grown and shelled your own dry beans and know how much work it takes to get a cup!.

Canned beans may be as filling and nutritious as home cooked dry beans, but they do come in cans lined with bisphenol A (called BPA)-based epoxy. Studies have linked long-term low-dose exposure of BPA to breast cancer, diabetes and other health risks, although the FDA asserts that current levels in canned foods are safe.

In the most recent study, researchers found the greatest exposure to BPA stems from certain types of canned products: canned soups and pasta. So while some companies have stopped using BPA in their can liners and the health risks remain unclear, I say, Let’s just cook some beans and avoid the conversation altogether!

bean-water

Finally, it’s a taste issue. Here are the results of a taste test comparing dried chickpeas to canned. Guess which one was the winner? No contest, right?

Or maybe for me it’s also about control: I like to salt and cook beans to my own taste (read: not mushy!).

Do you always have to soak beans?

Here’s my secret: I rarely soak my beans, mostly due to poor planning and an innate need to streamline my cooking, I mean, if I’m doing to boil beans for 90 minutes, what’s another 30? (Soaking can cut cooking times down by about 25%.)

I realized this statement may make some people want to take the gloves off. No soaking?! But I stand behind the evidence from several reliable sources that it makes not a whiff of difference nutritionally or in terms of flavor or gas-producing effects whether or not you soak beans.

Or in the words of former L.A. Times food editor Russ Parsons, “Almost every recipe in every cookbook you’ve ever read says you must soak dried beans before you cook them. In almost every case that advice is wrong.” Turns out that the age of the dry beans (yes, beans can be too old) and the water minerality that determine overall cooking time.

Now, if you have inflammatory issues or other health concerns, there can be some trouble from complex sugars that we don’t have the enzymes to digest. But according to one food scientist, cold water soaking does not leach these sugars through the cell walls.

A more recommended method involves bringing dry beans and water (at a ratio of 4 parts water to 1 part dry beans) to a boil for 3 minutes, then let them soak for 2 hours and pour off the water, then repeat. A similar cycle of warm soaking and draining is also recommended by the Weston A. Price foundation. (Soaking and sprouting also is believed to reduce the phytic acid, an “anti-nutrient” that interferes with the body’s absorption of nutrients.)

Should you salt beans?

Again, I believed I was going against the mainstream thinking here. I always salt my beans during cooking because I want the salt to be absorbed into the beans’ interior during cooking. Not a lot of salt, but enough to enhance their flavor while they cook and to season the bean water.

A lot of people believe that adding salt to beans toughens them. Well, guess what? A host of food scientists and other authorities have unanimously debunked this common cooking myth.

Salt away–judiciously. Your bean water will thank you.

Why save and use bean water?

There’s no obligation here. If you cook dry beans, feel free to toss that bean water away.

garbanzo-beans-and-greens-soup-in-pot

As a practical cook, I save bean water because it’s a flavorful resource for making other things, mostly soups, that eliminates the need for another type of broth or stock (store-bought or homemade) unnecessary. It saves time, money and packaging waste.

{Yes, this, too, is a form of foraging–finding and using all the best natural resources at your disposal.}

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This cooked-bean by-product is starchy and mildly flavored but way better than using water in your cooking. Bear in mind that the particular bean qualities will create beans water with specific flavors and colors.

Four times out of five, I cook garbanzo beans or canellini beans, which are mild in flavor and yield a light-colored broth. Cooking water from a pot of black beans, however, I reserve for black bean soup or for thinning black bean dip because the brackish color can be off-putting in other dishes.

What is the nutritional content of bean water?

I believe this is an area that has not been studied, and I could not find any references about the nutrition in bean water.

According to a scientist interviewed by Cook’s Illustrated “more than 70 percent of bean nutrients are retained during cooking, including 86 percent of the protein, 83 percent of the iron, 96 percent of the zinc, 66 percent of the niacin, and 70 percent of the thiamine. About 53 percent of the calcium content, however, is lost.”

bean-water-vertical

Where do these nutrients go? Into the cooking water is what I presume. Any nutrition experts out there want to chime in?

Is bean water toxic?

Bean water is not toxic, as some people have suggested. Beans, notably red kidney beans and cannellini, contain the compound phytohaemagglutinin (PHA or kidney bean lectin). According to the FDA, this has presumably caused some foodborne illness from soaked raw or undercooked beans only. Several sources I consulted confirmed that PHA is rendered harmless within the first 10-15 minutes of boiling.*

So, breathe easy but cook those beans completely first friends!

Can you freeze bean water?

Sure, you can freeze bean water like any broth for future use in ice cube trays, jars or freezer bags. (For that matter you can freeze extra cooked beans as well.) Use within 3 months.

A lot of other guides I consulted suggested safe freezer storage for up to 1 year. While this is certainly safe, your freezer is not a safety deposit box!

So, for quality sake and for using the food you have on hand regularly, I recommend a much shorter time frame.

Is bean water the same thing as aquafaba?

Yes–but not always. Aquafaba is bean water, generally from cooked or canned garbanzo beans (chickpeas), that has a particular ratio of saponins, proteins and dissolved starch to function as an egg replacer.

Aquafaba is all the rage because of its miraculous ability to whip like eggs whites for use in vegan desserts and baked goods from brownies to ice cream.

How do you use bean water?

Soups, principally, especially minestrone. Use it to make risotto, polenta or a stew. One commenter uses it in bread and pizza dough–bravo!

bean-water-to-soup

I also love to make a brothy pot of beans flavored with garlic, parmesan rind and fresh herbs like rosemary. All I need to do to this Tasty Basic Beans recipe below is add a bunch of chopped greens, such as chard or beet greens and taste for salt.

I serve this simple soup with parmesan shavings, a drizzle of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. A hunk of crusty bread completes the meal.

Tasty Basic Beans

Four times out of five, I cook garbanzo beans, but this formula adapts to any type of dry bean. Just adjust the cooking times according to this handy guide to cooking beans and legumes either on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker. I’ve been relying on it for years.

This recipe makes 4 cups of cooked beans and 5 cups of bean water to put to good use.

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bean-water-to-soup
5 from 1 vote
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Tasty Basic Pot of Beans

This is my all-purpose recipe for any type of dry bean. I put it on the stove before I even know what I'm going to make because it's handy to have cooked beans and the precious bean water around for any number of soups. Minestrone with white beans and chickpea stew are two house favorites.

Course Soup
Cuisine American
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 35 minutes
Servings 6 people
Calories 289 kcal
Author Lynne Curry

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dry beans rinsed
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/4 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, thickly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 2-inch square parmesan cheese rind optional

Instructions

Stove top method:

  1. Combine the beans, water, onion, carrot, bay leaf, salt and parmesan rind, if using, in a saucepan with a lid.

  2. Bring it to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook partially covered over low heat until the beans are consistently tender, about 1 1/2 hours. (If your beans are soaked, reduce the cooking time to 45 minutes.) Be sure to sample at least 3 of the beans for doneness before removing them from the heat.

  3. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Pressure cooker method:

  1. Combine the beans, water, onion, carrot, bay leaf, salt and parmesan rind, if using plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to prevent foaming into the pot of a 6-8 quart pressure cooker. Align the lid and seal it completely.

  2. Place the pot over high heat until the pressure is reached. Reduce the heat to low and maintain steady pressure for 35 minutes.

  3. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the pressure to release naturally. Remove the lid and check the beans. If the beans are slightly underdone, just leave off the lid and bring them to a boil. Then, simmer until they’re tender.

  4. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Recipe Notes

Note that slow cookers are not recommended for cooking many types of beans containing PHA, most notably kidney beans, because they do not reach temperatures over 176°F.

Comments

  1. “I put it on the stove before I even know what I’m going to make because it’s handy to have cooked beans and the precious bean water around for any number of soups”
    I don’t agree, look at: http://nutritionfacts.org/2016/06/30/not-die-cookbook/
    Best regards, Audrea

    1. Hi Andrea,
      I’m interested in your comment. I took a look around the site for the link you provided, but did not find what you may have been referring to specifically. Can you say more about why you don’t think it’s a good idea to have cooked beans on hand for ready-made meals? Thanks!

  2. Joe

    Audrea’s post is comment spam

  3. Kate


    Hello Lynne,

    I wonder if it’s possible to build bean broth, as one builds chicken broth (using the previous broth as the cooking liquid). I have looked all over online, but have not been able to find any information on cooking beans in bean broth. Often I need more beans before I’m able to use the broth from the previous batch. And because bean broth is so light, I wonder if double-cooking might add depth? But concerned it may add bitterness (I’m using Rancho Gordo so I don’t want to ruin an expensive batch of beans.) Thank you in advance!

    1. That’s an intriguing question, Kate. When I think about culinary traditions in general, there are few times when a broth is reused. When making meat stocks, the bones are sometimes boiled a second time for a stock called “remouillage.” Vegetable stocks, on the other hand, are best made fresh and do not hold like meat stocks. So, I think from a quality and freshness standpoint, it’s best to start fresh each time when cooking beans. I don’t think you’d get any benefit and there may be some downsides. So, if you have leftover bean broth that’s more than a day or two old, it’s probably time to say good-bye and pour it into the compost (maybe the plants would like it?) or down the drain. It’s had a good life. Thanks for writing!

  4. Susan

    I often put dry red kidney beans in the slow cooker, put it on low for 3 hours, place 3 kitchen towels over it (it makes a difference), and the beans are well cooked. Why is it recommended to not cook in slow cooker. I thought slow cookers still boil / simmer, but the low setting takes longer, and the high setting faster. So how is it any different than boiling / simmer on the stovetop, except for the amount of time it takes, and that you can “walk away” from it? Thank you.

    1. That’s a great question, Susan. Logically, it sounds like it shouldn’t be an issue. However, what I’ve read from a variety of sources is that kidney beans, in particular, need to come to a full boil for safe eating. In general, slow cooking is not recommended for kidney beans because the cooking temperature *may* be too low to kill the phytohaemagglutinin (PHA). So, even though you’re cooking the beans thoroughly, they are still taking longer, which means they are cooking at a lower temperature than recommended. Here’s the most helpful information source I found for background, which also includes a handy guide for safely cooking kidney beans: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1799&context=extension_curall.

  5. Bakitgul

    So has anyone tested for pha in beans after having been cooked in a slow cooker? They cook well in a slow cooker and I have never heard of anyone getting sick from them……..

  6. Lynn Leeds

    Thanks for all this info re chickpeas. I bought a pressure cooker just to cook dry chickpeas and am happy with results. I too save the chickpea water which I use to make soups, but my big question is what nutrients remain in the water the chickpeas cook in (pressure cooked or just simple long-simmering in a pot). You address this very question. Yea! If more nutrient-info surfaces, please post it.

  7. Jarrod

    Thanks for putting together this FAQ! I am curious if it matters what kind of water I use for the soak? I would think hard mineral water would infuse the beans with more than just water and change the taste.

    1. You’re welcome, Jarrod! I’m not sure about your question about hard water. It would presume that the beans undergo change during the soaking stage and absorb some of the minerals–if I’m understanding correctly. I don’t think the soaking water makes a difference. But here’s what I found about the effects of water hardness on cooking legumes:
      “Cowpeas were cooked in water made hard (or soft) by the separate addition of similar concentrations of certain salts (CaCl2, MgCl2, or NaHCO3). The beans were also cooked in hard tap water and in double distilled water before and after soaking in water. Hard water caused a significant decrease in softness, led to reduced water absorption, and also decreased solids loss in the cooked product, but it increased the cooking time and discolouration of the beans. Hard water also gave rise to a significant (P<0.05) increase in mineral content, but it had less effect on the proximate composition of the cooked products." https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1992.tb01177.x

  8. LAM

    Can you tell me how long bean broth will last in the fridge?

    1. I would recommend 2 days no more than 3.

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