How to Better Digest Beans
Oligosaccharides (sugar molecules) in beans are responsible for producing gas (flatulence). Sometimes human digestive enzymes can not fully digest the oligosaccharides, which can lead to the production of gases as waste products. Here are tips on reducing the likelihood of flatulence:
• Soak beans for 12 hours or overnight in four parts water to one part dry.
• For best results, change the water 1-2 times. Lentils and whole dried peas require shorter soaking times.
• When ready to cook, drain off all soaking water and discard. Cook the beans in fresh water.
Ingredient and Seasoning Choices to Decrease Flatulence
• For improved flavor and digestion, and more nutrients, place a piece of dry kombu (a sea vegetable) in the cooking pot. Kombu contains glutamic acid which acts as a natural bean tenderizer. Add a 1” piece of dry kombu for every 1 cup of dry beans.
• Two tablespoons of the herb winter savory or four tablespoons of the Mexican herb epazote added to beans as they cook will reduce the effects of the gas-producing sugars. Other seasonings that help are cumin, fennel, and ginger.
• After bringing beans to a boil, scoop off and discard the foam that is produced- this reduces even more of the gas-producing effects.
• Continue to boil for 20 minutes without the lid to let the steam rise off. This helps to break up and disperse the indigestible enzymes.
• Add salty products near the end of cooking. If added at the beginning, the beans will not cook completely and skins will remain tough. Season with sea salt, miso, or soy sauce.
• Don’t add baking soda- it destroys nutrients, and affects the flavor and texture.
• Let beans cook slowly for a long period of time so they are very tender. All beans have different cooking times- check for desired texture.
• Eat more beans. Expect a digestive adjustment when beans are new to the diet; the digestive system initially produces gas as a result of the sugars in the beans, which will gradually decrease over time. Eat small amounts frequently to allow the body to get used to them.
• Improve overall digestion. Chew all foods slowly and thoroughly.
• For persistent gas try pouring a little apple cider vinegar or brown rice vinegar into the cooking liquid during the last stages of cooking. Vinegar softens legumes and breaks down the protein chains and other indigestible compounds. Another option is to marinate the cooked beans in a solution of 2/3 vinegar and 1/3 olive oil, creating a salad-type dish. Marinate while still warm.
Sources: Pitchford, Paul Healing with Whole Foods 3rd edition, North Atlantic Books, 2002
Lair, Cynthia Feeding the Whole Family 2nd edition, Moon Smile Press 1998.