What is the best method to cook 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 are several ways to cook beans at home, from stovetop to an electric pressure cooker like the Instant Pot. My goal was to determine the best method and identify any differences between methods. I used the following criteria to assess: (1) Bean texture, (2) Bean flavor, (3) Cook time, and (4) Ease of use.
Bean varieties: For this experiment I used (unsoaked) dried Cannellini beans from Primary Beans.
Bean Texture: How firm or soft do the beans feel? How evenly did the beans cook? Did the skins remain intact?
Bean Flavor: How concentrated or diluted does the flavor of the beans taste? Did the salt penetrate the beans enough?
Cook Time: How long did it take the beans to cook?
Ease of Use: How difficult was it to cook the beans? Did this method require active or passive involvement?
Methods included an Instant Pot (6-quart), slow cooker (6-quart), oven, and stovetop. Each test used ¼ cup unsoaked dried Cannellini beans, ⅓ tsp salt, ½ tsp olive oil, and a varying amount of water between 1-2 inches given differing heat sources and evaporation rates. I added additional water for the stovetop and oven methods as needed during cooking. For the Instant Pot, I cooked on high pressure followed by a 10 minute natural pressure release.
Please note: Raw red kidney beans, and to a lesser extent raw white kidney beans (aka cannellini beans), contain a lectin called phytohaemagglutinin, which if consumed at high levels can cause serious problems like vomiting and diarrhea. (Primary Beans has more information about the issue in the FAQs section.) This lectin can be deactivated by first boiling beans at 100 C for at least 10 minutes, so low-and-slow methods like a slower cooker can be a problem. Though cannellini beans contain about ⅓ the amount of this compound as red kidney beans, I did not want to take any chances with this experiment, so I boiled the beans on the stovetop for 15 minutes before proceeding with all 3 methods. In retrospect I would’ve chosen another bean for the experiment, but came across this information midway through.
The 3 methods yielded varying textural results. The Instant Pot and slow cooker had the best texture (creamy with skins and body primarily intact). I ranked the slow cooker as my favorite texture, creamy and just firm enough. However, slow cookers require the longest amount of time (6-8 hours), plus a recommended pre-boiling step if cooking with cannellini beans, so it is less convenient. On the other hand, the Instant Pot took the least amount of time (just under 1 hour), and yielded a slightly firmer, slightly less creamy bean. The oven and stovetop methods yielded less even results: some beans were hard, others were mushy, and some lost their skins. Additionally, these 2 methods required over 2 hours of cooking time.
Based on these results, the tastiest method for cooking cannellini beans would be a combination of the Instant Pot (to cook the beans to full tenderness) finished with a slow cooker for a couple of hours (to further release the creaminess and create a rich broth). But, this strategy is complicated, involves multiple pieces of equipment, and requires a lot of time.
Cooking beans in an Instant Pot and slow cooker results in beans that are evenly cooked, intact, and creamy. Both methods were ranked as easy, however, considering the amount of cook time required for slow cooker beans, the Instant Pot method comes out on top. The stovetop and oven methods result in beans that were unevenly cooked– some had hard spots while others were mushy. For Instant Pot beans, finishing the beans using the sauté mode (lid off) to thicken the broth, enhances the creaminess and concentrates the broth.