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I made some refried beans in a slow cooker, loosely following the recipe from my cookbook. The recipe says to cook the beans with ½ teaspoon of salt. Is this necessary to properly cook the beans? I am starting from dry beans.

I actually used ½ tbsp of soy sauce instead of plain salt and the beans tasted fine, but I would rather add no salt or soy sauce.

I see from this question that salt can affect the softness of the beans, but it seems like the beans should soften eventually either way. Since I am making refried beans, I only need the beans to soften enough for me to break them apart with a hand mixer, and then I can continue cooking them until they’re ready.

This post at the New York Times only discusses using salt to add flavor to the beans, but I am not worried about that. If I make a salt-free batch of beans and don’t like the taste, I can always go back to adding salt next time.

So will the beans cook properly in a slow cooker without adding salt?

  • Is there a reason you're trying to avoid this extremely small amount of salt? – Catija May 16 '15 at 22:47
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    @Catija Unless I am off in my calculations (which I could be), the added salt will make the sodium content of the beans 4 or 5% of the US daily value per cup—not a huge amount, but I would like it to be lower if it can be. A lot of the reason that I’m cooking my own refried beans is that I feel like canned refried beans have too much sodium. – amaranth May 16 '15 at 22:54
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Yes. In fact, many, many people believe (falsely) that adding salt before or during cooking will keep beans hard (a myth addressed in your first link), and most of these people have been cooking perfectly good beans for many years without adding salt until the beans were fully cooked.

The cooking time may vary slightly. In some circumstances, the texture of the beans and/or their skins may soften at somewhat different rates than with salt. But the beans will still cook fine.

(One note: some chefs have claimed that cooking beans without salt causes people to add even more salt afterward to create a flavor that tastes "properly salted." Beans are generally enhanced by adding flavoring components early enough in cooking for the flavors to penetrate. But you can always add salt afterward too; the resulting flavor distribution will just be different.)

  • I tend to avoid salting any soup-y things until the cooking is done... The salt flavor just disappears during the cooking and I always have to add more later on. – Catija May 16 '15 at 22:54
  • Thanks. I’ll make my next batch without salt and see if it tastes OK. – amaranth May 16 '15 at 23:02
  • @Catija - It works either way. The salt flavor doesn't "disappear"; it merely gets intermingled with other ingredients. I read this some years ago, which claimed that pre-salting required half as much salt as post-salting to produce adequate flavor. I tried it myself and while I didn't see as much difference, I found I used somewhat less salt overall when I added most at the beginning. It also depends on whether you really want the concentrated "briny sauce" flavor with contrasting (more bland) beans vs. less contrast. – Athanasius May 17 '15 at 1:24

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