Cooking Beans with Soda and Salt



Fall and the Flowers that can handle it. 

I’ve always loved Chrysanthemums because they were the only flower in bloom outside during my birthday season, and our mother had large bushes of orange mums growing in front of our house. They also have the word ‘mum’ in their name, and our mum was a great mum. I’m enjoying seeing their hearty colors everywhere these days and thinking of her.



I suppose it’s human to search for something that agrees with you.

With beans it’s the question of salt.  For years I have cooked beans the way I have cooked them, with salt, and for years I have heard that if you add salt to beans while cooking it will make them tough. It’s an interesting theory, but then I kept right on cooking beans with salt and they turned out just fine. I also have heard that cooking beans with baking soda can help with digestion, so it seemed time to investigate these two notions and what others have to say.



Since he can explain it better than I, here are a few paragraphs from an interview of Dr. Guy Crosby, former science editor of America’s Test Kitchen, talking with nutritionist Amy Myrdal Miller then posted on The Bean Institute:


On Cooking Beans with Salt

“The slow step in cooking dry beans is absorption of water into the beans to turn them soft, as well as gelatinize of the starch that must be cooked in order to be digestible. Water can only be absorbed into the beans through a tiny opening called the micropyle, so the process is quite slow. Soaking beans in water for many hours reduces cooking time. However, in a pot of beans some beans may cook faster than others. This can lead to some beans bursting their skins, while other beans may not be cooked enough to be soft and creamy inside.

Brining beans involves the same process as soaking in plain water except the brine contains a low concentration of salt (sodium chloride). During brining the sodium ions slowly exchange with calcium ions that are part of a very large molecule called pectin. Pectin strengthens the cell walls in the beans, and calcium strengthens pectin. So natural pectin can produce skins on the outside of dry beans that are difficult to soften and expand, and can eventually burst when the inside of the beans become over-cooked. Exchanging sodium for calcium ions during brining weakens the pectin so the skins become more flexible and can expand without bursting as the interiors to cook to a soft creamy interior.

Thus, brining accomplishes two things: Brining provides water to soften the beans and reduce cooking time, while simultaneously producing beans that do not burst while cooking to the desired soft, creamy texture.”




On cooking beans with Baking Soda and an alkaline environment:

“An alkaline environment for cooking dry beans is created by adding a tiny amount of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to the cooking water. An alkaline environment means the water has a pH slightly above neutral pH, which is pH 7. The addition of baking soda to the cooking water does two things: It adds sodium ions that weaken the pectin as explained above, and more importantly, an alkaline environment causes the pectin molecules to break down into smaller molecules that greatly weakens the pectin causing the beans to soften much more rapidly. Beans cooked with a tiny amount of baking soda (about one teaspoon per cup of dry beans) added to the cooking water cook in about half the time as beans cooked without.”


So there. Salt and Soda. Gotta love science.



These are some gorgeous beans that my friend Hannah grew— Tiger’s Eye Beans originally from Chile and Argentina. What beautiful little nuggets. Below is a pile of my favorite standby—pinto beans, in a bowl made by Warren MacKenzie (aka St. Warren) himself from one of our visits to his Stillwater studio years ago. Visit here for more images of Warren’s work.



Other notes on Beans:

  • Beans may take longer to cook if they are old, if you’re using ‘hard’ water, or if you’re cooking them with something acidic like tomatoes or lemon juice.
  • Soaking beans increases digestibility and reduces cooking time.
  • Pour off the soaking water and replenish with fresh water for cooking so those hard-to-digest starches are rinsed away
  • Kombu seaweed contains enzymes that help break down the gas-producing raffinose sugars in beans and make them more digestible, many people add a strip of Kombu to the bean cooking water.
  • Check out Types of Beans and the Bean Nutrition Overview from the Bean Institute!
  • And the Legume Cooking Chart from UC Davis
  • Beans freeze really well—cook up a large batch and freeze in smaller portions




Cooking Beans with Soda and Salt

Soak Time: 8 hours

Cook Time: 1-2 hours depending on the beans


Check for stones or dirt, then soak overnight:

3 cups Beans

8 cups Water

1 1/2 Tablespoon Salt


The next day drain the water, then fill pot with fresh water at least a few inches above the beans. Add:

1 teaspoon Sea Salt

2 teaspoons Baking Soda

1 piece of Kombu Seaweed (Optional)

Simmer for 1-2 hours, until soft.

Add more water and skim off the foam as needed. 

Cooking times will vary depending on the beans.

Serve beans in everything from Breakfast to Brownies! 





Beautiful Magical Fruit


Please consider donating relief to help our neighbors displaced and suffering from the weather related chaos. Here, here and here are articles with tips on Giving during a time of crisis.


The study of change is the study of survival.”


Edward T. Hall 







6 thoughts on “Cooking Beans with Soda and Salt”

  • I’ll be doing this from now on…never knew. I have also heard that adding garlic to the brine and to the cooking water helps decrease gassiness.

    • Garlic–I had not heard that. May give it a try! When cooking vegetarian for large groups, everyone appreciates the efforts for better digestibiltiy :-)

  • A month ago, I was cooking baked beans for my neighborhood picnic. After hours of soaking and baking, the beans were still hard. I called Ruth, took the advice she game from The Bean Institute re: soda and miraculously, the beans softened in time for the picnic. BTW, I always salt beans as they cook.

  • OMGosh! Thanks for the bean tips. Since March I’ve been making beans at home. Really challenged by the gassy issue… Crossing my fingers this technique solves it. Thx Ruthie :)

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