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Types of Beans and How to Sort, Soak and Prepare Dry Beans

Updated on May 7, 2012

If you've yet to fully experience the wonderful world of beans, you're missing out. Part of the legume family, beans are most definitely an often overlooked nutritional powerhouse. My husband was diagnosed with high cholesterol and told by his doctor that he needed to consume less meat, and recommended substituting beans as a healthy meat alternative. Honestly, up until then, our bean consumption mainly consisted of the chili we made to warm ourselves up on bitterly cold nights. After some investigation and experimentation with legumes, we found there are few foods that offer the same nutritional value along with the enormous variety in texture, color and taste. Consequently, beans have become a staple in our diet, as a healthy meat substitute and stand alone dish our whole family has grown to love.

What's in a Legume

Legumes are part of the vegetable family that includes beans, lentils, peas and peanuts. These plants all have pods with small seeds inside which are removed, then dried for consumption. They've been called nature's perfect food, and for good reason. They are high in protein, high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, and antioxidant rich. Per 1/2 cup canned or cooked, or 1/3 cup mashed, they have approximately 8 grams of both fiber and protein. They also provide a healthful dose of iron, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium and folate. Fortunately, legumes are very low in fat and cholesterol free. Although peanuts, sugar snap peas and soy beans are technically legumes, our bodies metabolize them differently. These three legumes are typically utilized in recipes in different ways from the classic beans I'm discussing, as such I will leave them out of the discussion.

Soaking dry beans is an important part of the bean preparation process.
Soaking dry beans is an important part of the bean preparation process. | Source
Beano can reduce gastrointestinal problems.
Beano can reduce gastrointestinal problems. | Source

Beans, Beans, Good for your Heart, the More you Eat, the More you.....

Okay, I know there are those of you who avoid the almighty bean for “digestive” reasons. I will acknowledge you don't want to go from a complete bean virgin to bean freak overnight. In fact, the dog will begin to resent you for the misplaced blame. Just as you don't go from couch potato to marathon runner overnight, you are going to ease your way into eating these gas producing wonders. Your body needs time to acclimate in order to properly digest them. Introduce small amounts of beans gradually into your diet. A simple way to start is by adding two to four tablespoons on your favorite beans to a green salad a few times weekly. To further reduce the chance of abdominal discomfort, make sure to soak your dried beans in water before cooking.

Why do beans make us gassy?

Beans contain a sugar called oligosaccharide that the human body isn't capable of breaking down. You see, oligosaccharides are large, unwieldy molecules that are incapable of being broken down and absorbed by the small intestine. Normally enzymes come rushing into the small intestine to break down the “average Joe” sugar molecule before it has even a prayer of making it to the large intestine. There was a rather unfortunate omission in the digestive process of Homo Sapiens, where the presence of a oligosaccharide destroying molecule was grossly overlooked. So, these large molecules merrily make their way into the large intestine, completely undigested and yielding valuable nutrients. This is fantastic news for the scores of ravenous bacteria eagerly awaiting such an occasion, by golly, it's a free for all, a verifiable sugar eating party down there. The resulting gas is a by-product of the bacteria's digestive process.

Ever wonder what exactly is in Beano? It has the enzyme alpha-galactosidase that breaks down the pesky oligosaccharides. This enzyme is derived from a fungus called Aspergillus niger.

Some beans, like these Anasazi beans are harder to find in canned varieties.
Some beans, like these Anasazi beans are harder to find in canned varieties. | Source

Canned Versus Dry Beans

In some ways, beans are beans, regardless of whether they're dried or canned. You'll not be reaching new culinary heights by choosing only dried. Of course, using canned beans is more convenient that the dried variety. However, there are some valid reasons for putting away that can opener as dried beans have emerged the nutritional winner.

First, many canned beans have a surprisingly high sodium content, even just a half a cup can contain 20% of the recommended daily allowance. So, those of you who are watching your blood pressure or have other health concerns that call for minimizing your sodium content, sodium free dried beans are the way to go.

Since canned beans have a shelf life of approximately 5 years, they do have added preservatives. In contrast, dry beans are completely natural. You know exactly what's in them, since it's only what you yourself add.

Recently, there's been some controversy about a chemical found in the white plastic lining of canned goods, called Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is actually an industrial chemical and recent studies by the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have unveiled some concerns about the potential dangers of the chemical on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of young children, babies and even unborn fetuses.

Aside from the health benefits, there are other persuasive reasons to choose dry beans. They are cheaper per serving compared to individual cans of beans. There is also the compelling environmental reason: canned beans use a lot more packaging than dry beans. Not to mention, they take up less room in your pantry than bulky cans of beans. Finally, dry beans can last a decade or longer if stored in a cool, dry environment.

How to Sort, Soak and Clean Dry Beans

How to Sort, Soak, and Prepare Dry Beans

Before soaking your beans, you will need to do some sorting and discarding. It's easiest to put them on a large, flat surface like a cookie sheet or a cutting board. Choosing a white cutting board is your best bet, as you will readily be able to see any hidden rocks or stones. Spread them uniformly over the sheet and methodically look for any small debris. It's amazing how many times you will, in fact, find small rocks. As you sift through them also look for any discolored beans, beans with cavities or holes, significantly misshapen or discolored beans, or dirt.

As previously mentioned, beans don't have to be soaked, but it's in your best interest to do so. Some exceptions to the soaking rule are black eyed peas, lentils and split peas. Granted, having to do this adds to the time factor, but it's a step you do not want to skip. Fortunately, there are a number of methods, some faster than others to choose from depending upon your needs.

One way to completely avoid waiting for your beans to hydrate is to simply soak them overnight. You will want to add 10 cups of water for every 1 pound of dry beans. Simply cover the beans and refrigerate overnight for at least 6 to 8 hours.

To reduce as much of the indigestible sugars as possible, follow the overnight soaking instructions above, but in addition, boil the beans in the water for 2 to 3 minutes. If possible, also change the soaking water a few times, and never cook the beans in the same water they've soaked in. The water will have absorbed some of the oligosaccharides.

If you haven't preplanned enough for the overnight soak, then you can bring the 10 cups of water to a boil, add the beans, and allow it to return to a boil. Remove the beans from the burner, cover tightly and keep the beans at room temperature for at least 2 hours. If you have even less time, continue to boil the beans for 2 to 3 minutes, then allow to soak at room temperature for an hour.

For your convenience, a pound of dry beans is equivalent to roughly 5 cups of cooked beans. Making extra beans is a great idea to save you time later, fortunately beans freeze very well. Just thoroughly rinse them with cold water and make sure you thoroughly dry them before putting them in your freezer. Finally, dry, uncooked beans should be stored in sealed containers at room temperature, never in the refrigerator where they may accumulate moisture.

Fava beans
Fava beans | Source

Types of Beans

Before my husband had high cholesterol, I wasn't very adventurous in the bean world. We pretty much had kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, and occasionally garbanzo beans. With them, I'd make my own version of baked beans, chili, and if I was feeling particularly wild, we'd eat hummus, which is made from garbanzo beans. That was about the extent of it. I soon came to find there was an impressive variety of these lovely legumes all with different flavors, textures and colors providing a never-ending amount of versatility to our meals. Let's have a look at the different types of beans.

How Often Do You Use Dry Beans

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Beans And Their Alternate Names

Type of Bean
Alternate Name(s)
Common and Recommended Uses
Anzuki beans
Asuki, Asuki, field peas or red beans
rice dishes, Chinese and Japanese cuisine
Anasazi beans
Jacob's ladder beans
Southwestern recipes, refried beans, soups
black beans
turtle, black Spanish, and Venezuelan beans
beans and rice, mexican dishes, stews and soups
black eyed peas
cowpeas, cherry, China and Indian beans
casseroles, salads, curry, Southern U.S. foods, fritters
fava beans
broad, faba and horse beans
stews, Mediterannean cuisine, side dishes, soups and pastas
garbanzo beans
chickpeas, ceci beans
hummus, salads, soups, Indian cuisine (dal), Spanish stews
kidney beans
red kidney beans, rajma
Cajun dishes, stews, chili, three bean salads
soups, stews, salads, Indian cuisine
lima beans
butter and Madagascar beans
soups, stews, side dishes
navy beans
baked beans, soups, salad, chili
pink beans
Habichuelas Rosadas, Santa Maria, chili beans
chili, refried beans
pinto beans
chili, refried beans
white beans
great northern, pea bean, haricot, Cannellini
stews, side dishes, dips, soups, chili

Unique Ideas for Incorporating Beans Into Your Diet

  • When you're making a meal that contains meat, replace half the meat with beans.

  • Have a variety of frozen beans or canned beans ready and waiting for you to use.

  • Beans are fantastic in salads, replace the chicken with a healthy serving of garbanzo, black, navy, or pinto beans to add color and protein.

  • Go for a vegetarian chili by adding kidney or black beans.

  • Beans are fantastic in vegetable side dishes. We love adding them to green beans.

  • Consider adding chili beans to your home baked potato bar.

  • Copy cuisines from other cultures. The Mediterranean diet consists of a wide variety of legumes. Hummus is a delicious dip for vegetables or spread for bread. A lot of Mexican food also features beans.

  • Set aside one night or full day per week as your vegetarian night. Start experimenting with a different legume each week.

  • Learn how to make a vegetarian soup featuring beans, minestrone soup is a breeze and the garbanzo beans make it particularly tasty.


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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      5 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub on dry beans. I loved chickpeas and baked beans. I stay away from black beans, because I believe they're spicy, right? I'm not a big fan of kidney beans. Voted up!

    • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

      Elsie Nelson 

      7 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      Dry beans are the best. I've saved so much money buying them that way- granted they are a bit more work. Thanks for coming by!

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      My wife and I just stocked up on a variety of canned beans. Thanks to your hub, I'll be able to switch to dry beans soon.

      Are beans fresh from the garden best of all?

      Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared with followers and on social networking sites.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Terrific and comprehensive hub. Beans are a very important part of my diet, as a vegetarian, so thanks for the great tips and info.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great hub. Everything you need to know about beans in one place! Voted up.

    • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

      Elsie Nelson 

      8 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      Thanks, rjsadowski...

      ytsenoh, I love and adore hummus. It's one of my favorite healthy, easy lunches. Thanks for coming by.

    • ytsenoh profile image


      8 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      Thank you for this hub. You taught me something I didn't know. I love hummus and all kinds of beans.

    • rjsadowski profile image


      8 years ago

      A lot of good information on beans.

    • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

      Elsie Nelson 

      8 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      Thanks, BlissfulWriter. Legumes are great foods, plus they're easy to stick into recipes to up the nutritional value. Thanks for coming by and commenting.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image


      8 years ago

      Legume are excellent foods. And they are highly underrated. Great source of protein and filled with antioxidants.

      By the way, I love your description of how colon bacteria produces gas by eating the sugar in our beans.

    • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

      Elsie Nelson 

      8 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      Thanks, Rochelle!

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      8 years ago from California Gold Country


    • wordscribe43 profile imageAUTHOR

      Elsie Nelson 

      8 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      I love beans too, Rochelle. Thankfully, so do my kids, so they're one of our staples. Glad you found this hub useful. Thanks for coming by and commenting, good to see you.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      8 years ago from California Gold Country

      I love beans-- so nutritious. I usually use canned-- but am getting interested in knowing about the best ways of preparing dried beans, since they are easy to store for long term use.

      I'm printing this hub for --storage.



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