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Making Beans Easy to Digest

Like many people, over the years I have found that I sometimes have problems digesting beans, both with gassy stomach pains (which bother me) and with flatulence, which is a highbrow term for farting (which bothers the people downwind from me). There are a combination of things that, taken together, make beans easy to digest.

First, and very important with any bean, pick over the dried beans, discarding any small stones or foreign matter. I pour them out ľ cup at a time on a dinner plate and spread them out flat with my fingers. Once they are picked clean, rinse very thoroughly.

Pre-Soaking - For all but a few, very easy to digest beans (moong dal from India, lentils, and black-eyed peas) I find that pre-soaking the beans and discarding the cooking water before final cooking, makes a big difference in digestibility. Hereís how you do it.

Allow for dry beans expanding when soaked and cooked. One cup dried beans will yield 2 1/2 to 3 cups cooked beans, so be sure to allow for that. If you pre-soak, the swelling will take place while soaking, so you will know the finished volume when you cook. If you plan on cooking the beans from dry without soaking, be sure to allow extra water, and extra room in the pot, for the expansion.

Quick soak method - after cleaning, put beans in water and bring to a boil, and boil them for about 5 minutes, then let them sit for 1 hour or more. Whichever method of soaking you use, drain and discard the soaking water and rinse the beans thoroughly before adding fresh water and cooking.

Very Thorough Cooking - This is the single most important factor in making beans easily digestible. Beans should be cooked until they are soft all the way through, with no firmness or crunchiness. Firm and crunchy beans look good on a plate but are hard to digest.

Boiling Hard Before Main Cooking Method - Whether you pressure cook or slow cook beans, it is a good idea to bring them to a rolling boil without pressure for about 10 minutes before using your main cooking method. This seems to help with digestion and can dramatically shorten the cooking time, especially when using a slow cooker.

Wait on Salt and Acidic Ingredients - Both salt and acidic ingredients such as tomatoes interfere with the process of beans becoming tender, so hold off adding them to the beans until they are thoroughly cooked.

Digestive Spices - Indian cooking uses ginger, turmeric, and sometimes fennel and asafetida to cook with beans to make them more digestible. I especially recommend ginger and turmeric. If you use a small amount with the beans while you cook them, they aid with digestion but do not dominate the flavor.

Japanese and far East Asian cooking uses a piece of kombu or kelp, which is a kind of seaweed, cooked in with beans. It seems to help make beans a bit softer, thickens their cooking liquid a bit, and also enhances their flavor. Note that seaweed is high in salt, and I have found that it does lengthen cooking time of beans if I add it too early. I now find it works best if I add the seaweed when the beans are pretty much done, before I add any other ingredients. I usually throw a small piece of kombu in with the cooking water, and sometimes I add ginger, sometimes turmeric, and sometimes fennel.

Those are the main spices that I can confirm assist with digesting beans. I use them constantly, and I can tell the difference in digestibility when I leave them out.

Combinations and Proportions of Foods - I have found that what foods I combine the beans with, and the proportion of beans to other food, affects how easily they digest.

Beans go really well with different forms of grains - rice, pasta, and breads. They seem to work best together when the amount of grains equals or exceeds the amount of beans. Grains and beans are usually found together in traditional cuisines around the world.

When I make rice and bean combined dishes, I like the proportion of rice to beans to be 3 to 1 or more. When I make bean and rice salads that are 1 to 1 proportion, I find myself wanting a piece of bread on the side to balance. Itís almost instinct by now to want to balance the beans with grain.

Chewing and Savoring - Both beans and grains are foods where a lot of the digestive process starts in the mouth. Unlike meat, they are not foods that lend themselves to being gulped unchewed. Chewing beans and grains thoroughly, or savoring bean or pea soup broth in the mouth before swallowing, greatly reduces gas and makes digesting them a lot smoother. It also brings out more of their flavor and makes eating them more enjoyable.

Cooking With Canned Beans - When you use beans from a can or jar, make very sure that the beans are thoroughly cooked, soft and not crunchy. Drain and rinse the beans before adding them to whatever dish you are making. This makes them easier to digest. It gives the dish you add them to a cleaner and fresher taste, and it also seems to lengthen the time the leftovers stay good tasting in the fridge. You can also use spices like ginger and turmeric to aid digestion.

Summary - If I had to pick out the absolutely essential things to keep in mind, they are -

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