Beans: soaking and combating gas

I posted earlier on this subject, and today’s Sunday Times food question column written by Chris Tan provides some useful further information.

As I mentioned before, one way to get rid of gas caused by beans is to blanch the beans, followed by several hours of soaking with frequent changes of water. However, this may also cause a diminishing of flavour.

Chris Tan suggests that traditional methods of cooking beans may provide a solution to the gas problem:

Indian legume dishes almost always include a pinch of asafoetida, a garlicky-tasting powdered dried plant sap with a reputation for reducing flatulence. Mexican bean dishes call on epazote, a green herb, for the same reason. In Japan, cooks simmer beans with a piece of kombu or dried kelp, to help the beans soften and to nullify their gases. Of somewhat lesser fame are spices that combat gases, including cumin, fennel, caraway and ginger.

Only problem is, one might not want the taste of these herbs and spices in a sweet azuki bean dish!

But don’t worry, because gas from beans might not be a problem for everyone. Chris Tan goes on to say,

Anecdotal evidence says that people who eat beans frequently suffer less gas than occasional bean-eaters, perhaps because our intestinal microbe populations evolve to accommodate the situation.

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Muffins: green tea, red beans and pine nuts

Inspired by the visual effect of this cake on Obachan’s Kitchen – the sliced black soya beans amidst the green cake, I decided that today’s rapid-baking session to fulfil urgent take-away snack needs would comprise my faithful muffin recipe, spiced up by matcha, azuki beans and pine nuts.

[N.B.: If you want to stick more strictly to anti-candida principles, then omit the pine nuts and replace dairy milk with alternatives, and perhaps avoid the green tea too. Guess that leaves you with a red bean muffin!]

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Ingredients & baking notes:

1) 2 tsp matcha green tea powder for 2 cups of flour. This is the quantity I derived from making green tea glutinous rice balls. A very delicate matcha flavour and I think I could have used more in the muffins as wholemeal flour has a stronger taste compared to white flour so unless you are paying attention, the green tea flavours might just pass unnoticed. The brown colour of the muffin is from the wholemeal flour, no sign of green tea at all (no wonder so many commercial green tea products use colouring).

2) I cooked 1/2 cup dried red beans using this method. Cook till just soft and not disintegrated, and make sure they are dry enough to separate out into individual beans before mixing into the batter.

3) The pine nuts were roasted beforehand, by dry-frying in a skillet over very low heat.

4) Just over 1/4 cup of white sugar went in. I wasn’t sure what would be the appropriate amount to balance out the bitterness of the matcha and the bean taste. In the end, I think there wasn’t enough green tea taste and I could have used a little less sugar (or perhaps none at all, in which case everyone else in my family would be spitting this out at the first mouthful).

5) Decided to use butter instead of vegetable oil today.

Verdict: it was OK tastewise, but I think the main problem is that I don’t like the texture of this muffin recipe anymore. It seems too close-textured and sort of gummy. And they don’t rise enough to produce those enticing giant cracks on the top. [13/2/08 update: reheated the frozen muffin in microwave for a snack, and somehow they seem very nice today!?! The texture is crumbly and light – maybe they just needed a bit more cooking time? Useful to slightly underbake muffins that will all be frozen, so that the reheating won’t dry them out too much. The pine nuts and red beans are great but not enough green tea taste.]

I got rather sick of these muffins after a period where I was making a big batch of them once every week or every fortnight (in the days when the only food intolerance friendly snacks I made were muffins and scones). Today was the first time in many months that I’d made them but no, I’m still sick of them.

Looks like it’s time to be more adventurous with my basic muffin recipe. I used to avoid ones that use buttermilk because it’s so expensive, but now that I know some substitutes for buttermilk, there’s no excuse not to try them .

12/6/08 update: made these muffins again as I needed a sugar-free snack (omitted sugar this time) for bento. Increased the amount of green tea powder to 2 1/2 Tbsp and it was great. Also, the texture is definitely slightly gummy. A check on various troubleshooting websites suggests that there’s too much liquid. I also wonder if I have been over-mixing the batter…

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On cooking beans

As you can tell from the recipes here, I’ve been cooking red azuki beans quite often. However, I haven’t tried to understand the principles behind cooking beans until now.

I’m thinking of making kuromame, or Japanese sweetened black soya beans in order to try this Kuromame Pound Cake. Many recipes on the internet include bicarbonate of soda and I was curious as to the function of this. (Some also recommend putting some rusty nails in the cooking water -!- this is to intensify the black colour of the beans; cooking them in an iron pot will have the same effect.) I was also interested to understand why Just Hungry says that twice-boiling the beans gives a better flavour.

Bicarbonate of soda & beans

The function of adding baking soda (or any alkaline) to the soaking and cooking water is to soften the bean skins and help them to cook faster. However, this is probably unnecessary unless you live in an area with unpleasantly hard water. The drawback of using soda bicarbonate is that it may destroy thiamine (Vitamin B1) in the beans, which contribute to their nutritive value. Bicarbonate of soda may also give the beans a soapy flavour.

If you do use soda bicarbonate to counter the problems of hard water, use no more than 1/8 tsp per cup of beans. This is a small enough amount to limit the loss of thiamine and hopefully avoid a soapy flavour.

Soaking beans

Most obviously, soaking helps to shorten cooking time. Ratio of water to beans should be 3:1 or 4:1.

Here is a chart of soaking times from RecipeNet. For example, it recommends that azuki beans should be soaked for 4 hrs and then will cook with just 1hr on the stove. But others have different instructions for soaking times. Just Hungry says 24hrs in cold water, while Central Bean says 8 to 10hrs is optimum and that beans soaked for longer than 12 hours can lose their taste and texture.

Personally, I found that soaking red azuki beans overnight resulted in the water turning reddish and the bean skins splitting. This didn’t look too good to me. However, another time I followed a wagashi cookbook for an alternative method of boiling unsoaked beans for 2 mins then discarding the water and reboiling in fresh water. This initial short cooking produced a very similar result to overnight soaking with the water turning red and the beans swelling and splitting, so maybe this is what is supposed to happen?

As for the temperature of the soaking water, while warm water will speed up the soaking process, Central Bean points out that hot water may cause the beans to go sour, so room temperature is best. I’ve found beans also might go sour if you leave them to soak for too long, so personally I prefer not to soak for more than about 8 hours.

Perhaps the solution is to use warm water only if you intend to use a relatively short soaking time of say, 4 hours. If you want to leave the beans overnight or longer, then use room temperature water.

Alternative soaking methods

Quick soaking method involves bringing beans & soaking water to the boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat, cover, and leave for 1 hr.

Read up on other variations of quick soaking here and here.

Discarding soaking water

One of the problems of beans is that eating them can cause flatulence. Soaking reduces the complex sugars/ starches in beans that cause gas. So to make beans more digestible, one should throw away the soaking water and cook in fresh water, and once the beans are cooked, to rinse them again in fresh water.

References:
All about beans
Storing & Soaking
Cooking Beans