Whether or not you need to soak pinto beans before cooking them is a common question for home cooks. The short answer is that soaking pinto beans is recommended but not absolutely necessary. Soaking pinto beans before cooking can help reduce cooking times and improve texture, but unsoaked beans can still be cooked successfully with adjusted cooking methods.
What Happens During Soaking
Soaking pinto beans prior to cooking accomplishes a few things:
- It allows beans to absorb water, which decreases overall cooking time.
- It helps dissolve indigestible oligosaccharides that can cause gas and bloating.
- May help remove some phytic acid, which can inhibit nutrient absorption.
- Can remove some dirt or debris from beans.
Dry beans are quite hard and dense. As they soak and absorb water, the beans expand and become more permeable. This prepares them for even cooking by allowing heat and moisture to penetrate fully and evenly during cooking. Pre-soaking makes beans cook faster, resulting in tender beans while using less fuel.
Recommended Soaking Times
Most sources recommend soaking pinto beans for 5-12 hours before cooking. Here are some general soaking guidelines:
- 5-6 hours: Quick soak for relatively tender beans.
- 8 hours: Standard overnight soak.
- 12 hours: Extended soak for older beans.
You can soak beans at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Cold soaking in the refrigerator may result in more even hydration. Regardless of soaking time, be sure to drain and rinse the beans well before cooking.
Do You Have to Soak Pinto Beans?
While soaking pinto beans is recommended, it is not strictly necessary. Pinto beans and other dry legumes will soften and become edible with cooking even without an initial soaking step. However, unsoaked beans can take significantly longer to cook. They may also not achieve the tenderness and creaminess of soaked beans.
There are a few instances where you may need to skip the soaking step:
- You forgot to soak the beans ahead of time
- You want to make beans more quickly
- You are using a pressure cooker or slow cooker
Both pressure cookers and slow cookers can reduce overall cook times for unsoaked beans. With these appliances, presoaking is optional. However, even a brief soak of 1-2 hours can help. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for bean recipes.
Cooking Unsoaked Pinto Beans
To cook unsoaked pinto beans, follow these tips for best results:
- Pick over beans and rinse well. This removes any dirt or debris.
- Use a generous amount of water. Unsoaked beans will absorb more liquid during cooking. Add at least 6 cups water for every 1 cup dry beans.
- Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until tender. Expect cooking times around 1-1.5 hours.
- Add salt and acidic ingredients like tomatoes toward the end. Adding early can prolong cook times and result in uneven cooking.
- Stir beans occasionally and add more hot water if needed to keep beans covered.
Beans may take 1-2 hours to become tender when unsoaked. Check frequently toward the end of cooking. They can go from undercooked to overcooked quickly. Taste a few beans at a time to test doneness. Beans should be creamy inside with no hardness but not falling apart.
Cooking Soaked Pinto Beans
When pinto beans are soaked prior to cooking, the process goes much faster. Follow these steps for soaked beans:
- Drain the soaking water from the beans and rinse well.
- Place soaked beans in a pot and cover with several inches of fresh water. Add 2-3 cups water for each cup of soaked beans.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 45-60 minutes until tender.
- Stir occasionally and add more hot water if needed to keep beans submerged.
- Add salt, acidic ingredients, and seasonings in the last 10-15 minutes so beans retain their shape.
Thanks to soaking, cooked beans will be ready much sooner than unsoaked. Monitor after 45 minutes. Check doneness and continue simmering if needed for up to 1 hour total. Stir gently to avoid bursting the softened beans.
If you forget to soak beans the night before or need them faster, there are a few shortcuts. These quick-soaking methods can reduce the wait time to an hour or less:
- Boiling water method: Cover beans with boiling water and let soak for 1 hour before draining and cooking.
- Pressure cooker method: Use the pressure cooker to soak beans. Add water and beans, cook for 1 minute, then allow natural pressure release for 1 hour.
- Microwave method: Microwave beans covered with double the water for 5 minutes. Allow to soak for 1 more hour.
While quick soaking is faster, beans may not soften quite as well as with longer soaking. Cook times after quick soaking may need to be extended 10-15 minutes for tender results.
Using Canned Pinto Beans
Canned pinto beans provide a handy shortcut since they are fully pre-cooked. Rinsing and heating canned beans is much faster than cooking dried. However, canned beans have some drawbacks:
- Higher sodium content from canning process
- Fewer nutrients due to canning and storage
- Higher cost compared to dried
- Less control over texture preference
If you need convenience, canned pinto beans can substitute for home-cooked in many recipes. Drain and rinse them first to remove excess sodium. But dried beans will ultimately be tastier, cheaper and more nutritious.
Soaking Beans Ahead of Time
If planning ahead, beans can be soaked in advance for extra convenience. Here are some tips for preparing soaked beans in advance:
- Soak beans up to 24 hours for maximum hydration.
- Store soaked beans in their soaking liquid in the refrigerator up to 2 days.
- Before cooking, drain beans and change soaking water to refresh.
- Discard beans left at room temperature more than 4 hours after initial soaking.
With some planning, presoaked beans are ready when you need them. Cook them directly from the refrigerator within a day or two.
Do All Bean Varieties Need Soaking?
Beans come in many shapes, sizes and colors. Soaking recommendations can vary slightly for different types. Here are general soaking guidelines for popular bean varieties:
|5 to 12 hours
|5 to 12 hours
|8 hours or overnight
|8 to 12 hours
|8 to 12 hours
|8 hours minimum
Beans like pinto, black, and kidney benefit from prolonged soaking. Quick-cooking lentils and split peas can skip soaking. For any variety, soaking is optional but usually improves texture.
Tips for Cooking Soaked Pinto Beans
Follow these tips for cooking soaked pinto beans to perfect tender yet firm consistency:
- Simmer beans gently after boiling to avoid bursting skins
- Don’t add salt or acids until the end to prevent tough beans
- Skim off any foam that rises to keep broth clear
- Keep bean pot partially covered to allow steam to escape
- Stir beans occasionally to ensure even cooking
- Check doneness at 45 minutes, then cook longer if needed
Well-soaked pinto beans can turn from crunchy to mushy quickly. Keep a close eye on them as they simmer and stop cooking immediately once they reach the right tenderness.
Tips for Unsoaked Pinto Beans
To achieve tender unsoaked beans, remember these tips:
- Wash and pick over beans thoroughly before cooking
- Use a large pot with plenty of water to allow for absorption
- Cook at a low simmer to penetrate beans evenly
- Expect cooking times around 1 to 1 1/2 hours total
- Check frequently toward end of cooking to avoid overcooking
Unsoaked beans take patience, but can be cooked successfully. Keep them barely simmering and be prepared for a longer cooking time.
Troubleshooting Common Bean Problems
Even with the best soaking and cooking methods, beans can sometimes turn out improperly cooked. Here are some common bean cooking issues and how to avoid them:
Problem: Tough, undercooked beans
- Insufficient soaking time
- Cooking liquid evaporated
- Adding acidic ingredients too early
- Cooking at too high temperature
Problem: Burst, mushy beans
- Oversoaking beans
- Cooking at rapid boil
- Cooking beans too long
- Stirring beans too vigorously
Problem: Beans never soften
- Older dried beans
- Hard water preventing hydration
- Salt or acidic ingredients added too soon
- Not simmering at low enough temperature
Many common bean issues can be prevented with proper soaking, gentle simmering, and testing doneness frequently. Adjust soak times and cooking methods as needed.
Storing Cooked Pinto Beans
Like many foods, cooked beans keep best in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. To maximize freshness:
- Store cooked beans in their broth in a sealed container.
- Freeze for longer storage of up to 6 months.
- Refrigerate or freeze bean soups, dips and other dishes.
- Bring to a boil before re-heating to food-safe 165°F.
Cooked beans also work well in many dishes like tacos, salads, rice bowls and more. Cook a big batch and use them throughout the week.
Soaking pinto beans before cooking is recommended for tender, creamy beans in less time. However, with patience and the right techniques, even unsoaked beans can turn out delicious. For best results, soak 5-12 hours, drain, rinse and simmer gently 45-60 minutes. Cook unsoaked beans 1-1 1/2 hours in ample water at a low boil. With the proper preparation, pinto beans can provide an affordable, nutritious addition to many meals.