My favourite beans are lima beans, which means I’m no stranger to the overnight bean soak. You might be able to get away with skipping the soaking step with lesser beans, but the lima requires it. (If there is one thing that I hate feeling between my teeth, it is an undercooked, mealy lima bean.)
Soaking beans requires bean-soaking water, and a lot of bean recipes tell you to throw that water out once the soaking is complete. You’re then supposed to rinse the beans and cook them in fresh water. I have never done this because I’m against needless, performative labour. I rinse the beans (and remove any shriveled specimens or tiny rocks) before I soak them, so why should I have to rinse them again?
According to the bean thinkers at Rancho Gordo, it has long been assumed that tossing the water helps cut down on gastrointestinal distress (“the farts are in the water!” some claim), but there is, “conflicting scientific evidence that changing the water cuts down on the gas.” In addition to relying on flimsy scientific reasoning, you’re probably pouring flavour down the drain.
“The thinking now is that vitamins and flavour can leach out of the beans into the soaking water you are throwing down the sink,” the bean people explain, before adding, “if you want to, do it. If it seems unnecessary, don’t.”
I, for one, will not. Lima beans don’t seem to give my tummy much trouble anyway, but — more importantly — I’ve always found that beans cooked in their soaking liquid have a richer, darker, more flavorful broth.
I am not the only one who has noticed this. When the folks at Epicurious tested beans cooked in their soaking liquid versus beans cooked in fresh water, they found that, “the beans cooked in the soaking liquid were much more flavorful, had a prettier, darker colour, and retained their texture better.”
So, if like me, you always cooked your beans in their soaking water: Congrats, we’ve been right all along. But if, fearful of farts, you have been tossing the soaking water and replacing it with fresh, “clean” water, don’t worry. There is still time to change your ways and begin a whole new bean-eating chapter in your life — a chapter that is sure to be more delicious than any one previous.