Do I need to soak beans?
At Primary Beans, we obsess over creating delicious beans while making everyday cooking easy and accessible, which is why we were excited to partner with Karishma Pradhan of Home Cooking Collective. She shares our shameless geekery and belief that anyone can cook delicious beans if they’re armed with high quality beans and some background knowledge. Bean cooking can get a bit controversial, so in partnership with Primary Beans, Karishma set out to put an end to some of the most pressing bean cooking questions. For the complete guide, head here.
There is a huge debate around whether you need to soak beans in advance of cooking them. Some proponents argue soaking leads to more even cooking for certain bean varieties, including chickpeas and cannellini beans (Serious Eats). Others, like Joe Yonan, the Food and Dining Editor of the Washington Post and author of Cool Beans, insist that in most cases, soaking is unnecessary– and may even lead to flavor loss. The only consensus is that soaked beans take less time to cook than unsoaked.
To test these theories, I cooked 5 varieties of beans from Primary Beans in an Instant Pot: Ayocote Morado, Flor de Junio, Cannellini, Chickpea, and Negro. Each bean variety was divided into a control (unsoaked) and experimental (soaked and drained) group. For the experimental group, beans soaked in unsalted water for 6 hours. The longer a bean soaks in water, the greater the reduction in cooking time, up until a point. After six hours of soaking, any additional reduction in cook time is miniscule (Michigan State University).
There weren't any significant differences in texture or flavor between the control and experimental groups. The soaked beans were slightly more intact and evenly cooked. Interestingly, they also appeared lighter in color– likely due to some of the pigment being released in the soaking water. The soaked beans also cooked significantly faster, especially in the Instant Pot. For example, the soaked Flor de Junio beans took 9 minutes, while the unsoaked batch took 35 minutes. Flavor-wise, both Ayocote Morado batches tasted earthy and meaty, though the unsoaked group was slightly sweeter than its soaked counterpart.
One bean variety, however, stood out as slightly worse in the soaked group. The soaked Negro beans tasted almost waterlogged, and I preferred the unsoaked batch. These results align with other online research; soaked black beans taste less "beany" because they have thinner skins and can more easily absorb water.
Pressure cook times: Soaked vs unsoaked beans
|No soak||Chickpea||38 minutes|
|6 hour soak||Chickpea||13 minutes|
|No soak||Negro||28 minutes + 10 minute sauté|
|6 hour soak||Negro||7 minutes + 10 minute sauté|
|No soak||Cannellini||50 minutes + 10 minute sauté|
|6 hour soak||Cannellini||10 minutes|
|No soak||Ayocote Morado||48 minutes + 10 minute sauté|
|6 hour soak||Ayocote Morado||15 minutes + 10 minute sauté|
|No soak||Flor de Junio||35 minutes|
|6 hour soak||Flor de Junio||9 minutes|
Soaking beans ahead of time for 6 hours can lead to a marginally better outcome for most beans: slightly more intact and evenly cooked. However, thin-skinned beans like black beans may absorb too much water and taste almost waterlogged. If you don’t have time to presoak, don't sweat it– your beans will still be tender and delicious. However, there is one exception: if you’re starting with old beans that have suffered moisture loss (Primary Beans defines as beans older than 2 years from harvest), a presoak may help you achieve evenly cooked beans.