You have a hunger for chili and are waiting for the beans in the pot to soften so you can add the additional ingredients. You wait. And wait. And those darn beans are still hard after hours of cooking. There are a few reasons the beans won't soften, and after trying several "rescue" tricks, you still may have to face the facts and drag the trash can over to the stove and dump them.
Old Beans Equal Hard Beans
Discovering an old bag of beans in the kitchen cupboard doesn't guarantee a rich pea or lentil soup. The age of those beans, especially if they haven't been stored in an airtight container, may mean they are just too dried out to absorb any of the cooking liquid. Because it's hard to tell how old the beans are when you're standing in a grocery aisle, go for the ones that are lightest in color when you shop.
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Hard Water Doesn’t Help
If you've soaked your beans for at least 12 hours and they still won't soften, the reason may be that the soaking water was hard. Chlorinated water is another culprit. If your water source is either hard or chlorinated, keep a large jug of purified water in the kitchen for just this use. Or you can also just fill a pot with water and let it sit out overnight and the chlorine will evaporate. Boiling the water also gets rid of the chlorine.
Beware of Acid-Based Ingredients
If your beans won't soften, even after cooking for a long time and then adding the tomato sauce if you're making chili, the sauce is the culprit preventing the beans from softening. Tomato sauce contains a lot of acid, acid that creates a barrier. Vinegar, lemon juice and even some molasses also throw up an invisible shield so beans won't soften. Cook the beans until they are soft, then add the acidic ingredients.
Softening Beans the Slo-Cooker Way
Cooking black eyed peas in a crock pot relieves you of the step of overnight soaking. In fact, most beans such as pinto, black, baby limas and white beans can be dumped directly into the crock pot without soaking. Giant lima beans and chickpeas will need soaking for softening, but lentils and split peas should not be soaked.
Quick Fixes for Hard Beans
If, after hours of cooking your beans still aren't soft, add a dash of baking soda to the pot. Baking soda creates an alkaline environment that weakens the pectins in the beans. Use about 1 teaspoon for every cup of beans.
Chop up 4 bay leaves and add them to the pot and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. They may alter the flavor of your dish a bit, but bay leaves are always a good bet for most recipes anyway.
Add salted water to the dish or use a pressure cooker with 2 1/2 cups of water for every cup of beans. Cook for 1/2 hour or longer if needed to soften the beans. If none of the fixes above work, remember the trash can.