Beans are an amazing source of protein and, given the extensive amount of variance among the types of beans available, add a sharp dash of color and texture to any meal. Whether you are planning on cooking with beans to feature as a main course element or a side dish, there are a number of important things to consider, some of which can spare you stomach aches down the road.
Beans are actually rather complex vegetables and no two varieties are quite the same. Understanding a few basic facts about beans, especially in the context of cooking with them, is important and will allow you to shed your fear of cooking with beans you’ve never even heard of and experiment with the host of new colors and textures these will offer your next meal.
First of all, we all know that beans are notorious for causing gas. This gas is the result of complex carbohydrates and sugars that are present in the molecular structure of beans. This is true for almost all varieties of beans and no bean that I know of will spare you the possibility of having some gas. Our bodies are only capable of breaking down certain complex chains of sugars and carbohydrates and those that cannot be broken down are not digested and the result is…well, you know, gas. Luckily, there are several over-the-counter digestion aids, such as Bean-o for instance, that can help your body work through this problem with everyone’s favorite legume.
While most people are aware of the gas issues caused by beans, one aspect of cooking with beans that is lost on many is the critical importance of soaking and properly boiling the beans before eating them. I have known many people who have not correctly followed the instructions on the bag of beans or in the cookbook and have either not soaked the beans at all, figuring it took too long and someone at the bean factory must have already made them safe enough to eat, or soaked them for far too short of a time period. Beans are not quick and easy food, at least not good beans, anyway. They take some planning ahead and you are always going to have to set aside the time necessary to follow the soaking instructions carefully, otherwise you may be in for some serious stomach cramps caused by beans.
You see, all beans, especially anything smaller like navy or kidney beans (not green beans as much) have a toxic chemical that is impossible for the body to digest properly. Soaking your beans is important because it eliminates this toxic chemical and neutralizes it so you can digest the bean without incident. It is vital that you make sure you don’t blow off the instructions on your bag of beans. Soaking means actually soaking; not rinsing them off and letting them sit in water for 10 minutes. And no, merely cooking many varieties is not enough to do the trick either. Plan ahead. Beans take time.
Another important factor to consider when cooking with beans is whether or not using a crock pot is a safe option. Chances are, if you research your bean in a legitimate cookbook about legumes or online, you will find that some varieties of beans are not suitable for crock pot or slow cooking. This is because that toxic chemic found in some beans is not completely eliminated in the process and can actually just collect and remain just as strong as though you had not cooked them at all. With this in mind, make sure that the water you use to soak your beans overnight (or however long you are told to) is completely drained off your beans and that you rinse them a few times following soaking, just for good measure.
Remember that beans do cause gas, but by using proper cooking techniques, including soaking and boiling for the right amount of time, you can reduce the effect of this. It’s only a matter of complex sugars, the bean is not out to get you. Furthermore, remember that some beans do contain some toxic compounds that while not fatal, can cause some nasty stomach cramps and general malaise. Research your bean, respect your bean, and get to know what each variety requires of you.