Interested in getting more beans into your diet? Smart move! Our Top 3 Tips for Cooking Beans in a Slow Cooker can help you get started.
Incorporating more beans into your diet by cooking your own is a great idea—here are some reasons why:
- Beans are healthy and boost the nutritional content of your meals. Naturally gluten-free and cholesterol-free, beans are rich in fiber and protein, as well as provide a variety of vitamins and minerals including folate, iron, magnesium and potassium. An eating plan that includes plenty of beans is associated with better blood cholesterol levels, heart health, decreased risk of some types of cancer, lower body weight and better blood sugar control.
- You control the salt level. If you’re watching your sodium intake, cooking your own beans in a slow cooker is great because it allows you complete control over how much salt and seasonings are added. Canned beans, although handy, frequently contain a good dose of salt; you can rinse them of course, or buy no-added salt versions.
- Beans are a good buy. I’ve previously written about the cost savings of cooking dried beans (read that post here). Suffice it to say, you will save money over buying them canned. And, in case you haven’t noticed, people have been displaying their “prep-ahead” meals all over social media—and beans are frequently an addition to these perfectly portioned and packed meals. Kim and I are fans of “planned-overs” (intentionally cooking more than you need so there are leftovers around for additional meals)—extra beans are never a problem (you can always freeze the extras, too).
And now for those Top 3 Tips For Cooking Beans in a Slow Cooker:
- Clean them thoroughly first. Pick through the dried beans and discard any tiny rocks, foreign matter, or shriveled beans. I do this by spreading them onto a rimmed cookie sheet or into a large bowl and then inspecting them. I find that if I’m cooking the entire bag of beans it helps to just inspect half the bag of beans at a time. Then pour them into a sieve and rinse them very well to remove dust and dirt.
- Skip the soaking if you like—with one exception. Although we’ve given instructions on various bean soaking methods on this blog in the past, the truth is, there is no rule that says dried beans must be soaked prior to cooking. In fact, soaking beans ahead of time only decreases cook-time in a slow cooker by a small amount. So, it’s your choice, with the exception of dried kidney beans. This is because kidney beans contain a high level of a toxin (called phytohaemagglutinin—say that three times fast…or even just one time). It only takes a few uncooked kidney beans to cause an illness that mimics food poisoning (this is not a problem with commercially canned beans, as they are basically “cooked” during processing). The toxin is not destroyed at the lower temps of the slow cooker—despite the longer cooking time. So, if you are going to slow cooked dried kidney beans the FDA advises a 5 hour soak (discard the water afterward) followed by 10 minutes of boiling prior to cooking the beans in fresh water in the slow cooker.
- Don’t add acid ingredients until the end of cooking. Acidic ingredients tend to keep the beans from softening, and nobody wants a hard and crunchy bean. So, if your recipe calls for vinegar and tomato products (such as for baked beans—here’s our version), it’s best to cook the beans first, then add those ingredients once the beans are done. You can certainly season the beans (a couple of garlic cloves is nice) during the slow-cooking process, but watch the salt, as large quantities of salt may also impact the texture of the beans (plus having no-salt or low-salt beans is one of the benefits of cooking your own).