Make Extra-Tender Beans With a Little Baking Soda

Ask a crowd of beans lovers to tell you how to properly cook a pot of beans, and you’ll get your answer from each person. But in the midst of a healthy debate about the merits of soaking and when to add salt or acid, there is one universal truth that anyone can refuse: When it comes to beans, clay pots reign supreme.

Unfortunately, not everyone has a traditional clay pot to use whenever they have a craving for beans. If that’s you, Samin Nosrat has a simple tip for making beans that are tender and delicious: just add some baking soda. Here’s how she explained it in a recent interview with the New Yorker :

I didn’t know this until recently when I was researching something, but there is a reason why beans are often cooked in ceramic pots. It turns out that many ceramic pans are slightly alkaline, and it’s this alkalinity that makes the skin of the beans tender – which is why I usually add a pinch of baking soda when I cook my beans.

I cook and eat a lot of beans , and immediately after reading the interview, I started adding to my soda. It does work: even a measly 1/8 teaspoon added at the start of cooking will noticeably soften the skin of the beans, which can take a long time to reach, especially if you’ve sat for a while before cooking.

Depending on how much baking soda you add – and when you add it – you can further enhance the softening power of the baking soda. I recently soaked some dry chickpeas with a teaspoon of baking soda and plenty of salt overnight. Before cooking, I drained the soak water and added half a teaspoon of baking soda to the cooking liquid. They cooked super tender, but also, mmm, mostly naked; the skin immediately slipped off and partially dissolved. We already know this method is great for hummus , but I bet it will also make the creamiest roasted beans . (I used my naked chickpeas in the soup like a complete dolt.)

Of course, baking soda is not a perfect substitute for a real clay pot, which not only imparts alkalinity but also a smokier and earthier aroma than other vessels. But if you want softer grains with a better texture, a little dusting works wonders.

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