The Magic of Beans
Good and good for you.
Published: July 7, 2012
Inside guide to the fruit of Jack’s beanstalk.
Beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot!
If the old ditty resonates with you, it means you aren’t digesting them well. Beans can be tough to digest, but they are packed with fiber, protein, and B vitamins. Soaking and cooking beans thoroughly helps break down the complex sugars (oligosaccharides such as raffinose) that can challenge your digestive system.
If flatulence is a problem for you when you eat beans, start with small amounts to allow your body to gradually increase the production of enzymes necessary to help digest them. Cook your beans until they burst or mash effortlessly to ensure that they are ready to eat.
Herbs that promote the digestion of beans include ajwain seed, anise seed, asafoetida (hing) resin, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon bark, clove, coriander seed, cumin seed, fennel seed, fenugreek seed, garlic, ginger root, marjoram, mint, star anise, winter or summer savory, and turmeric. Cooking beans with a blend of two or three of these herbs will improve digestibility—but don’t mix all of these herbs in a pot with your beans! Experiment with the ones that you find tastiest and most suitable to supporting your digestion. Many people from India maintain the tradition of chewing on dried fennel seeds or drinking a cup of fennel tea at the end of a legume-based meal to aid digestion.
Getting the Perfect Bean
• Cooking time depends on whether you’re using dried or fresh beans. The fresher the beans, the shorter the cooking time. Beans are tastier and less grainy when cooked slowly, so avoid pressure cooking if possible.
• Rinse beans thoroughly in cold water and discard any that are discolored or badly formed. Also remove any pebbles or small stones.
• If using dried beans, cover beans with 3 to 4 times their volume of filtered water. Soak for at least 8 hours or overnight (you can skip the soaking step for mung beans, lentils, and split peas, but make sure to rinse them). Discard the soaking water. Rinse thoroughly. For some of the longer-cooking beans, I have found that soaking them for 24 hours and changing the soaking water two or three times can decrease the cooking time.
• Both soaked dried beans and fresh beans need to be covered with 3 to 4 times their volume with fresh filtered water.
• Bring to a gentle boil. Lower heat and simmer, partially covered, to ensure that the water does not boil over. Skim off the foam that accumulates on top of the water, as it increases intestinal gas.
• Stir occasionally to avoid starch sticking to the bottom of the pot and possibly burning.
• Add more water as needed to keep the beans covered. • Add your choice of herbs and spices. A ½ strip (about 3 inches/ 8.5 cm) of kombu (a sea vegetable) per cup (250 mL) of dried beans is also a great way to support digestion and boost mineral content. Alternatively, add 1 bay leaf per cup (250 mL) of dried beans for easier digestibility.
• Add a pinch of gray sea salt or pink rock salt only after the beans are tender (about 10 minutes before they are fully cooked), so that the beans cook all the way through.
Quick-Soak Method for Beans
When time is limited, wash and pick over beans and put them in a stockpot. Cover with 3 inches (7.5 cm) of water. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes, remove from heat, then cover and soak for 1 hour. Discard soaking water, add fresh water, and cook until tender.
Julie Daniluk, RHN, best-selling author of Meals That Heal Inflammation (Hay House), has helped thousands of people enjoy allergy-free foods that taste great and assist the body in the healing process.