Digestion-Friendly Cooked Beans

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Mike Blazer
Mike Blazer
Mike was a professional chef for over 10 years. He has written about food and cooking over a decade. He has been writing for The Foods Explorer since its launch in 2018.

Rich in fiber and protein, beans are an excellent dietary choice for blood sugar and weight management. In fact, beans provide what is known in the research world as a “second meal effect”.

This means that consuming beans with a meal will lower the blood sugar response to not only that meal, but the next meal as well. It’s bean magic! And at around 25 cents per cup, dried beans are one of the least expensive protein options.

4 Tips for Improving Bean Digestion

Beans and your stomach do not get along? While this is common, it is easily resolved for most people with a few tips to neutralize the offending compounds.

1. Kombu – Add a strip of kombu to the soaking and/or cooking water.

What is Kombu?

Kombu is a sea vegetable which contains the enzyme alpha-galactosidase. This enzyme breaks down the oligosaccharides in beans. In my opinion, adding the kombu does not affect the flavor or texture of the beans at all, except for making them easier to digest. However, the kombu does add vitamins, minerals and trace minerals to any dish it is cooked with.

I don’t cook beans without it. The kombu can be used in either the soaking or cooking stage or both. If used for both soaking and cooking, it will likely start to fall to pieces by the time the beans are cooked, which may be undesirable for certain dishes. Here I used a strip of Royal kombu, also known as sweet kombu. Kombu is available at Fairway, Whole Foods and most health food stores.

What are oligosaccharides?

These complex carbohydrates are what give beans a bad name. Without alpha-galactosidase in our digestive tracts, these oligosaccharides reach the lower intestine largely intact, and in the presence of anaerobic bacteria ferment and produce carbon dioxide and methane gases. You know the rest of the story. 

However, oligosaccharides are fuel for the healthy bacteria in our large intestines, such as Bifidobacteria or Lactobaccilli. Since these bacteria are helpful to our health, this loss of oligosaccharides may not be desirable from an intestinal health standpoint. So, if eating beans does not cause you any intestinal discomfort, it may not make sense to intentionally reduce the oligosaccaride concentration.

2. Use Warm, Filtered Water. 

Using warm water helps extract the oligosaccharides from the beans, releasing them into the water. Ideally, use filtered water, or at least avoid hard water. Hard water as well as acidic ingredients slow the cooking process. So, add ingredients such as tomatoes or vinegar only after the beans have become tender.

3. Time

Take your time with the pre-soak. Beans do not require soaking, but it reduces the cooking time and reduces digestion issues. An overnight soak is generally adequate. But, some people will enjoy their cooked beans much more if the beans are first soaked from 1 to 2 days.

4. Change the water

Change the water every eight hours when soaking (if soaking for an extended period). Always change the water before cooking the beans.

Option #1: Pre-Soak the Dried Beans

  1. Rinse dry beans, removing any pebbles, cracked or shriveled beans.
  2. Place the beans in a saucepan large enough to hold them after they have cooked. They will expand to 2-3 times their dried volume.
  3. Add warm water to cover.
  4. Let soak for at least 8 hours or several days. Or, you can quick-soak the beans, which is much faster, but does not help improve digestion.

Option #2: Quick-Soak the Dried Beans

  1. Rinse dry beans, removing any pebbles, cracked or shriveled beans.
  2. Place the beans in a saucepan large enough to hold them after they have cooked. They will expand to 2-3 times their dried volume.
  3. Add warm water to cover and bring to a boil.
  4. Turn off the heat and let the beans soak for 2 hours.

Cooking the Dried Beans

  1. Drain water from the pan, rinse the beans and refill with the same amount of water or more.
  2. Add to the water 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, at least 1 clove of peeled garlic per cup of dried beans, a bay leaf, and a kombu strip, if using. (Skip the garlic and bay leaf if using the cooked beans for baked goods.)
  3. Cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar. Bring the beans to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a low boil for their entire cooking time. If the water level drops below the beans, add more liquid.
  4. After 45 minutes of cooking, add up to one tablespoon salt per cup of dried beans.
  5. When the beans have a creamy texture and a few skins split, the beans are done cooking. This will take at least 1 hour for most beans. Some varieties of beans may take much longer. Check for doneness at least every thirty minutes after the first hour.
  6. When the beans are done cooking, remove the kombu strip from the pot.
  7. Drain the beans well and rinse in cold water.
  8. Cooked beans can be refrigerated for at least four days and frozen for up to a year.
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