Why won’t my beans soften | 5 reasons and how to fix them

Why wont my beans soften
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One of the most frustrating things that can happen when cooking beans is that the beans just won’t soften. Especially since beans already take so long to cook, depending on the type of bean, of course.

Most beans should be ready in 45 minutes to two hours. There are a few reasons that may cause your beans to stay hard, no matter how long you cook them, and there is a remedy for each of these reasons.

Beans may remain hard while cooking for various reasons. Dried beans should be soaked in water before cooking to prevent additional cooking time. Avoiding this step may also cause the beans to remain hard. Additionally, the beans may be old, your tap water may be hard or chlorinated, or you may have added acidic ingredients too soon in the cooking process.

5 Reasons why your beans won’t soften and how to fix them

Understanding how to cook beans is crucial if you want to ensure a soft exterior and interior.

The last thing you want is hard beans or, even worse, mushy beans. There is a process involved in preparing the beans before cooking them, as well as proper steps that need to be followed during the cooking process to ensure the beans turn out perfectly.

The following causes and remedies will apply to any type of legume, including:

  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Split peas

Reason 1: Not soaking beans

The first step in preparing beans is to lay the beans in water overnight, or, alternatively, for 12 hours. A key point to understand about soaking beans is that this process itself will not soften the beans.

Soaking the beans in water serves another purpose. The water will help to soften the seed coat. When the seed coat is softened, moisture can more easily penetrate the bean during the cooking stage, which will eventually help to soften the bean.

You could opt not to soak the beans prior to cooking, but this will only result in a longer cooking time. The initial part of the cooking process will only serve to hydrate the seed coat so that moisture can easily penetrate into the bean. The additional cooking time may be influenced by factors such as the type of bean, the age of the beans, etc. Not soaking the beans may cause the cooking process to increase by an additional hour.

You should soak the beans in warm water for a period of 12 hours. You may be able to slightly speed up this process by adding salt to the water during the soaking phase. Half a table spoon of salt should suffice.

Reason 2: The beans are old

Beans can be stored for years before they actually expire. However, when and if the beans do expire, you may find it exceptionally difficult to cook them soft. In fact, you may not succeed at all.

You should preferably try to use fresh, dry beans when you are cooking beans for a recipe. Some beans may never soften if they have been stored for longer than a year or if the storage conditions are unfavorable. It will be quite challenging, if at all possible, to soften these beans during cooking.

There are a few things you could look out for to identify if the beans in your storage are old. Look out for mold on the beans, molted skin, or dark spots on the surface of the beans. Dry beans don’t usually have any type of odor, so if you do notice any kind of rancid aroma, then you should throw the beans out as they may have developed mold, there may be pest droppings on the beans or in the bag, or fermentation may have taken place.

Furthermore, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Bad Bug Book, consuming legumes that are off or have gone bad is not good for you and may cause extreme nausea and vomiting within three hours of ingesting toxic beans, followed by diarrhea.

Beans can be stored up to a year in proper storage conditions. Ideally, the beans should be stored in an air-tight container, in a cool, dry place, and away from direct sunlight.

Reason 3: Hard or chlorinated water

Another problem that may affect how your beans soften is your water quality.

Remember, hard water and chlorinated water are not the same thing. Using hard water to boil beans will cause a specific reaction. It causes the calcium and magnesium within the bean to bond with cell walls, which may make the beans hard and dramatically increase the cooking time of the beans.

Typically, hard water is mineral-rich water. There is a very real possibility that no amount of soaking or cooking will fix these beans. You could try to hard soak or soft soak the beans. A hard soak is soaking the beans for more than 8 hours. A soft soak is bringing a pot to the boil for five minutes, then switching off the heat and allowing the beans to soak for up to an hour.

To resolve the problem of hard water, add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to the water per pound of beans for a quick soak. This may help to promote tenderness in the beans. For a long soak, add three table spoons of salt per gallon of water.

Alternatively, if you have chlorine in your water, you may let the water sit overnight as this will allow the chlorine to evaporate, or you could simply boil the water to remove the chlorine in the water.

Keep in mind that very fresh beans may turn into mush when you add baking soda. So be careful with how much you add.

Reason 4: Adding acidic ingredients too soon

Certain recipes include acidic ingredients such as lemon juice, tomatoes, or vinegar to be added to the beans that are in the cooking process. Adding an acidic ingredient too soon may prevent the beans from softening during cooking.

This is a common mistake made by many home cooks, especially in recipes like chili recipes or when cooking dried beans. Adding acidic ingredients too soon will harden the seed coat and make it very difficult to cook the beans soft as moisture will not be able to easily penetrate the skin of the bean.

Cook the beans until they are soft before adding acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, to the beans.

Reason 5: Hard skin beans

This is the most challenging problem to fix.

Some beans may develop hard skin due to unfavorable growing conditions. These may include extremely hot and humid growing conditions. You may just be the unlucky person that buys that bag at the grocery store.

In such an unfortunate case, you may find that the beans remain hard, whether you use them shortly after purchasing them, or 12 months later. There is often very little, if anything, you can do to salvage these types of beans. You could try to cook the beans and add a few extra hours to the cooking time. However, this may all be in vain as the beans may not soften at all.

A possible solution to hard skinned beans may be to cook the beans in a slow cooker over an extended period of time.


I am a kind of person that would sneak a taste out of grandma’s pot when I was barely tall enough to reach it. I grew up in kitchens full of love and liveliness and have spent my whole live learning, experimenting and succeeding in the art of cooking. At Pro Family Chef, every day is an opportunity for a new meal and a brand new flavor. I created this website to connect people that love to cook, with the products designed to make their cooking easier, hassle-free and rewarding every time.

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