I’m having a horrible time trying to get beans cooked to be tender and not bitter. Overnight soaking and rapid soak methods aren’t making any difference. If I add anything to the cooking process, it’s a piece of onion and/or a hot green chili. These beans soak for at least 10 hours and cook for over 4!

Ok, so maybe at my store, the beans are old. The packages are never past the pull date. How do you tell just by looking whether they’re “too old”?

  • Are you discarding the soaking water and cooking in fresh?
    – GdD
    Nov 5, 2018 at 9:45
  • 2
    Wait, "bitter"? That's not a usual problem for old beans, just that they never get soft. Can you describe the bitter flavor?
    – FuzzyChef
    Nov 5, 2018 at 19:46
  • Thank you. No, I don’t know how to describe the bitterness. Yes, I pour out the soaking water and rinse the beans before putting them up to cook in fresh water.
    – TLA
    Nov 6, 2018 at 16:09
  • I don't think it's a duplicate because the OP is asking how to tell if the beans are old in the store, which isn't covered in the other question. I'll take a stab at answering this.
    – FuzzyChef
    Nov 8, 2018 at 19:12

2 Answers 2


There are three primary reasons why dried beans do not soften despite extensive cooking time: 1) they are old; 2) hard water; or 3) the presence of an acid.

If you don't think your beans are old, then perhaps your water is the problem. Beans cooked in hard water will never soften properly. If this might be your case, try cooking them in distilled water instead. That should help. It doesn't sound like acidity is a problem, given what you described.

For cooking advice, I often look to Christopher Kimball of America's Test Kitchen. His group does extensive testing of all sorts of recipes and cooking techniques. Here is an excerpt from his blog on dried beans:

"Troubleshooting Hard Beans

Finally, if you’ve cooked your beans for hours and found they failed to soften, chances are they are either old and stale (and will never fully hydrate or soften), the water is too hard, or there’s a acidic element present. Food scientists universally agree that high acidity can interfere with the softening of the cellulose-based bean cells, causing them to remain hard no matter how long they cook. Alkalinity, on the other hand, has the opposite effect on legumes. Alkalines make the bean starches more soluble and thus cause the beans to cook faster. (Older bean recipes often included a pinch of baking soda for its alkalinity, but because baking soda has been shown to destroy valuable nutrients, few contemporary recipes suggest this shortcut.)"

Here is the link: https://christopherkimball.wordpress.com/2009/04/30/cooking-beans-101/

Good luck!

  • I cook beans in a glass pot. Will find out about the water here and try distilled water. Thx.
    – TLA
    Nov 6, 2018 at 16:16

The best way to cook beans is in an Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker, which reduces the cooking time to just 10-15 mins. Incase it is not available in your area or you do not want to invest in one then always make sure that you have the beans soaked before cooking. And when you start cooking add some salt in the cooking water, which will speed up the process. Keeping the pot closed for the initial 30-40 mins is a good idea so that the heat doesn't escape out. Make sure you add enough water before you start.

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