Legumes & beans

Beans are seeds that grow inside pods. After harvesting, beans are removed from the pod and dried, which account for their hardness. Compared with grains, beans are relatively higher in protein and fat and lower in complex carbohydrates. Prepared in soups, as side dishes, or cooked with other foods, beans provide a slow, steady source of energy midway between the quick, rapid growth of vegetables and the calm, peaceful strength of whole grains.

Grains and beans have traditionally formed a pair in dietary systems worldwide: rice and beans, lentil and barley, couscous and chickpeas and so forth. The combination of grains and beans provide a higher amount of usable protein. The proportions between grains and legumes could range from very little beans to only beans. In any switch from a diet plentiful in meat to one plentiful in beans, it is a good idea to take it slowly. The digestive system may need more than a few months before they can digest beans comfortably. 

Although all plant foods contain all eight essential amino acids (those that cannot be manufactured by the human body), they are less biologically available and effective for assimilation and usage by the human body, than the protein in eggs, milk and meat. However, they provide protein for bodybuilding and body repair without the additional cholesterol and fat found in meat, which is a desirable solution for those who are burdened by excess weight and clogged vessels.

Beans are one of nature’s best foods for weight loss. They are satisfying, suppress the appetite, and cleanse the digestive system. They are rich in proteins, helping to curb carbohydrate cravings. Beans are also rich in oligosaccharides, a starch that feeds the bacteria in your gut.

If your body is not aggravated by dryness, and you can digest beans without gas, they are an essential food for cleansing in the spring. Not only reducing water weight, they are high in soluble and insoluble fiber. Nothing beats a bean to bulk up stools for a satisfying morning elimination. As with many high fiber foods, beans have been shown to reduce cholesterol.

Selecting beans

Look for beans that are well formed, uniform in size, smooth skinned and shiny in color. Spots, streaks, wrinkles and pitting indicate beans that have lost their vitality. Keep the beans in closed, airtight containers and store them in a cool dark place.

Beans and gas

Legumes properly cooked have a smooth texture and a wonderful taste. It is a well-known fact that legumes are relatively hard to digest and many people suffer from gas or bloating and other symptoms after eating legumes. The hard and dry qualities of legumes is what make them challengeable for digestion, therefore must be thoroughly softened. A chemical called saponin is present in beans. ‘Sapon’ means soap in French and gave name to the lathery, gas-causing froth that appears on the surface of your pot when cooking beans. They are natural protein digestion inhibitors that protect the legume from invading insects. Saponins are chemicals responsible for making beans difficult to digest and thus, gassy. The saponins, however, can be removed using the process below. Since the primary site of protein digestion is the stomach, people who have gas after eating beans may also have an upper digestive tract deficiency.

Beans are high in purines which metabolize into uric acid, and may aggravate gout. Beans contain several toxins which degrade at boiling temperatures. The toxicity of beans increases if they are heated but never boiled.

Basic method of Precooking – Soak, Strain, Cook, Strain

Most legumes need overnight soaking, or at least 6 hours. The exceptions are lentils and mung beans, which can be soaked for as little as two hours. After soaking strain and rinse. Put the legumes in a pot and cover with room temperature water. Bring slowly to a boil. Scoop and remove any foam that has formed. At this point stop the cooking, strain and rinse the legumes with tap water. For those who struggle with digesting legumes, it is recommended to repeat the process of bringing to boil; scooping the foam, straining and rinsing once again or repeatedly strain and change the water every half hour while cooking.

Cooking beans with sea vegetables

A strip of Kombu or a pinch of Higiki is traditionally added to legumes in the Far East. The combination improves digestibility, the flavor of the beans and adds minerals from the sea. Soak the algae for a few minutes in cold water, rinse and put on the bottom of the pot and the legumes on top. 

Cook with Spices

Beans are generally cooling with the exception of peanuts, and can make digestion extra sluggish unless spiced. Chilis, black pepper, ginger, cumin and others stimulate the blood flow to the stomach, the primary site of bean digestion. They balance the cooling, astringent qualities of the bean, assisting in the formidable task of digesting a bean. South Asian cuisine also employs Hing, fenugreek, and ajuwan seeds.

Cooking options

Option #1

After completing the precooking process, put the legumes back in the pot and cover with water, bring to a boil, lower the flame, cover and cook until softened. You can cook in a regular pot, with a lid, or use a pressure cooker that shortens the cooking time. It is best to add a small amount of oil (usually cold pressed sesame oil) to help soften the legumes during cooking. It is also advisable to add spices in powder form that improve digestion and prevent gas such as cumin seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, celery seeds, fenugreek seeds, ajuwan seeds and so on. At the end of cooking, when the legumes are soft, add more oil as needed, salt and other spices in powder form such as turmeric, cinnamon or dry ginger.

Option #2

In this version we add a bit of the sweet taste (raisins, dates or raw sugar), sour taste (balsamic vinegar, lemon or lime), and at the end of cooking a salty condiment (soy sauce, sea salt, rock salt) to your bean preparation.

Warm some sesame oil or ghee, add whole spices and fry for 1 minute over medium flame. (Such as cumin seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, celery seeds, fenugreek seeds, Ajuwan seeds, mustard seeds and so on). Once the spices release aroma, add chopped garlic, chopped onion, chopped dates and a slice of lemon. Fry all ingredients and mix together. Add the legumes (which have already passed the boiling – straining – rinsing process described above), mix well and add water to the height of the contents of the pot. Bring to a boil, lower the flame, cover and simmer. Add cold water as needed. Cook until soft.

Canned Beans

Canned food is generally best avoided. Nevertheless, canned beans, should always be cooked until they are soft.

Other Tips

When precooking legumes, it is an option to add a bit of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to soften them up.


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