Published April 4, 2022

The Embarrassing Bean

Written by
Charlene Nelson
| The Dakotan

In many parts of the world, beans (and their legume cousins, lentils) are eaten every day at virtually every meal. By comparison, Americans eat very few beans. And this may be one big reason for it: gas.

Many people have a reaction to beans that, well, alerts others to what they had for lunch.

There are two reasons for this: The first is fiber. Fiber is actually healthy for you. It's one of the reasons you should be eating beans. A diet high in fiber can help prevent certain cancers and improve diabetes. It gives a feeling of satiety and so is helpful in losing weight. But the small intestine can't process fiber very well, and that's where the trouble starts.

The solution? Become accustomed to fiber. You really should be eating more fiber anyway. In countries where beans are a central part of the diet, gas just isn't that big of a problem. That's because they've become accustomed to the high fiber in beans. You should do the same.

Gradually introduce foods high in fiber into your diet. Start with fresh (uncooked) fruits and vegetables and then add whole grains. Then start serving bean dishes where beans are not the main ingredient. Gradually increase the amount of beans in each meal until the fiber is well-tolerated.

The second reason beans produce gas is because they contain a sugar (oligosaccharide) that humans cannot digest. There are several ways to solve this problem:

The easiest thing to do is soak the beans and before cooking discard the soaking water and replace it with fresh water. This will remove about 75% of the sugars.

Remember how I told you in the last article that there was one drawback to cooking beans in the pressure cooker? Well, this is it. Since you don't soak when pressure cooking, there's no way to discard the soaking water. You will get rid of some of the sugars when you drain and rinse the cooked beans, but not nearly as much as if you drain the soaking water.

So if you really want to cook with the pressure cooker, here are some other methods to prevent gas:

The American solution is to take a digestive aid like Beano. It contains alpha-galactosidase, an enzyme that helps to digest the oligosaccharides.

In other countries where beans are eaten regularly, cooks will add gas-inhibiting ingredients. The Japanese use kombu, a type of dried kelp, in their dishes. Like the digestive aids, kombu is high in alpha-galactosidase, and so will help with that sugar.

In India, cooks will put a spoonful of fennel seeds or fresh ginger into the beans as they cook. These ingredients help flavor the beans and are known to help prevent gas.

If you're really adventurous, try adding a pinch or two of asafoetida to your bean dishes. Asafoetida (or in Hindi, hing) is a staple ingredient in many Indian bean and lentil dishes. As the name implies, it smells pretty nasty. But it loses its pungency when you fry it in a bit of oil. It imparts a savory flavor to the dish, something similar to onions and garlic. Asafoetida is known to be quite effective at curbing gas caused by eating legumes. Thankfully, a little goes a long way. Just a pinch or two will do the trick. Be sure to store the powder in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, so it doesn't stink up your kitchen.

Finally, not all beans have the same gas-producing potential. Lentils and light-colored beans, like black-eyed peas do not have as much oligosaccharides. Darker colored beans, like kidney and black beans have more. That's why in Brazil, where everyone eats rice and beans every day, parents first introduce light-colored beans into their children's diet before feeding them the national dish, Black Bean Feijoada.

Finally, here are some other things you should know about cooking with beans:

  • As beans age they can get super dry and will not easily re-hydrate. You might be able to re-hydrate these old beans by soaking them overnight and then pressure cooking. If that doesn't work, then they're no longer good for cooking. But don't throw them away! Grind these beans into a powder and use some or all of the bean flour as a substitute for wheat flour in baking or as a thickener.
  • Acid and salt can keep beans from becoming tender while cooking. So add vinegar, lemon juice, and tomatoes to the pot only after the beans are tender. Add salt at the very end of cooking. 
  • Like other legumes, lentils have all the protein and other good nutrition as beans. But unlike beans, lentils do not need to be soaked. The brown lentils you buy in the store will cook up in about 15-20 minutes. Black or french lentils may take longer, 20-30 minutes. Smaller lentils, like red lentils, cook in 10 minutes or less. Lentils will double, maybe even triple, in size when cooked.

Now, armed with all this information about beans, you are ready to become a bean connoisseur. Check some of the bean recipes in the link below and start making beans a regular part of your menu.

Recipes using beans: https://www.providenthomecompanion.com/recipe/using-food-storage-staples/

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