Dry Hard

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In the botanical classification system, dry beans are legumes, Fabaceae s.l. (or Leguminosae), a “family” of plants as defined by the APG System (III), which includes 730 genera of plants. Most dry beans are classified as being in one of these genera:

  • genus Lens – lentils
  • genus Vicea (including the genera known once as Vigna and Faba) – vetches, lupins, broad beans
  • genus Cicer – chickpeas
  • genus Pisam – peas
  • genus Glycine – soybeans
  • genus Arachis – peanuts
  • genus Phaseolus – (Central and South) American beans

Plants have moved or been moved from the original regions where plants evolved by “natural” processes and by human intervention. Some human interventions occurred before historical records were made. The fact that dry beans were grown, stored or consumed can be inferred from archaeological evidence. Some interventions are a matter of historical record, but the records are obscure or not known to consumers, farmers and suppliers of seeds and dry bean commodities. The events known, perhaps euphemistically among historians since the late 20th century as the Columbian exchange in the period of European colonization (from the 15th through the early 20th centuries). Phaseolus beans have been cultivated and consumed in parts or Eurasia for centuries. Some writers interpolate or speculate about some legumes – were black-eyed peas (an ingredient in the “Southern” recipe for “Hoppin’ John”) introduced to the Southern US by African persons brought to the US as chattel slaves, or by slave traders, or by entrepreneurs?

Lentils are variants of one or two of the species in Lens, an Asian plant that was known to the Romans and cultivated in European areas of the Roman Empire. Lentils have a flat, disk-like shape. Red split lentils, also described as pink or salmon ,are true lentils. Red lentils are processed by hulling and splitting brown lentils. Red lentils are called dal in the languages of Indian farmers, markets and cooks. Asian brown lentils are small. North American farmers grow larger varieties.

In the North American grocery market, large brown and green lentils grown in the USA and Canada, noted in the Lentil#Types section on the Wikipedia page, are available – actually common. There are black lentils.

Yellow split lentils are hulled split moong (mung) beans. Yellow split lentils can be cooked like other split lentils and are regarded as dal in the languages of Indian farmers, markets and cooks.

Broad beans, and faba (or fava) beans are vetches (Vicia faba); Lupini beans are lupins. Broad beans and lupins are the original Mediterranean and European dried beans.

Peas are variants of Pisum sativa.

Chickpeas are in the genus Cicer. White chickpeas (garbanzo bean; Egyptian pea; kabuli chana) have been grown, cooked and consumed around the Mediteannean and in Asia for a few millenia of recorded history. In India, dark chickpeas (bengal gram) have been cultivated since before recorded history.

Urad beans (black gram) and moong (mung) beans (green gram) are Vigna mungo (beans, not lentils). Cowpeas and black-eyed peas are Vigna unguiculata (beans). Pigeon peas (red gram), are Cajanus cajan (beans).

Black urad beans, also known as black gram are beans. When hulled or split they are regarded as dal in Indian cooking. The whole beans, also, are cooked like dal – usually longer.

Many of large kidney-shaped beans and medium and large oval beans are variants of Phaseolus vulgraris, beans that evolved in South and Central America. The variants used in Central American recipes include pinto, navy, Great Northern, lima, red kidney, cranberry and black turtle beans. Phaseolus was exported within decades after European contact with South and Central America and used in European and south Asian and Indian agriculture and cooking. White kidney beans and cranberry beans were adopted and adapted in Italian, Mediterranean, and European cooking and agriculture. White beans: Cannellini and Great Northern. Cranberry beans: Romano and Borlotti. Some sources recite old botanical taxonomy and refer to some Vicea dry beans evolved in Europe and Asia as Phaseolus.

Farmed Commodities

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization refers to dry beans, the seeds of several legumes, harvested as dry grains, among 11 types of dry pulses. Split pulses are commonly called grams. Some whole pulses are called grams, depending on the source of information. The list of dry grams and pulses:

  • dry beans,
  • dry broad beans,
  • dry peas,
  • chickpeas,
  • cow peas,
  • pigeon peas,
  • lentils,
  • bambara beans,
  • vetches,
  • lupins, and
  • pulses not elsewhere specified.

Green beans, string beans, soybeans and some green peas are not dry beans.


In Indian cooking, dal refers to several dry legumes:

  • hulled or split legume seeds (pulses) – split peas, moong (mung) beans, red lentils.
  • whole grams: lentils, urad beans, mung beans, and pigeon peas.
  • split dark chickpeas and whole chickpeas, white or dark
  • red kidney beans.

In some Indian regions, red kidney beans are grown, processed, sold and/or cooked as Rajma. Red kidney beans are a varietal of Phaseolus vulgaris.

There are botanical and culinary differences between Asian urad beans (very small, hard black beans, botanically Vigna mungo) and medium small black turtle beans (botanically Phaseolus vulgaris.

An Indian cooking site explains and has images. Anupy Singla’s books explain the terms for whole, split and hulled legumes.

Saboot Masoor DalWhole, brown LentilsLens
Masoor Dal DuhliSplit & hulled.
Pink, red or salmon lentils
LensProcessed brown lentils
Saboot Urad,
Black Dal
Whole black beansVigna mungoSmall whole urad beans. Asian
Urad Dal ChilkaSplit & hulled urad beans with hullsVigna mungoProcessed urad beans
Urad Dal DuhliSplit & hulled urad beans, cleaned;
Vigna mungoProcessed urad beans
Sabut Moong DalWhole green mung beansVigna mungo
Moong Dal ChilkaSplit & hulled mung beans;
Vigna mungoProcessed Mung beans
Sabut toor dalWhole pigeon peas; red gra,Cajanus
Toor dal, duhli toor dalSplit & hulled pigeon peasCajanus
Lobia, lobhhia; rongi; chawliWhole blackeyed peas (cowpeas)Vigna
Desi chanaWhole black or green chickpeas; Cicer
Chana dalSplit & hulled black chickpeas; bengal gramCicer
Kabuli chanaWhole white chickpeasCicer
RajmaRed Kidney beansPhaseolus vulgaris
White Kidney beans;
Cannellini beans
P. vulgaris
Romano beansP. vulgaris
Cranberry beansP. vulgaris
Borlotti beansP. vulgaris
Great Northern beansP. vulgaris
Pinto beansP. vulgaris
Black turtle beansP. vulgaris

Red Kidney beans have become a north Indian food.

Cooking dry legumes uses resources including time,labour and fuel or power. Canned beans are cooked to a point, canned, and cooked in the can at high temperature. Canned beans are high in sodium, except for some brands. After the food industry became able to present cooked or parcooked canned dry beans in the retail and restaurant supply markets, cooking dry beans meant heating and stirring for the majority of home cooks. Dry beans were or remained a culinary interest in the industrialized countries of Europe and America in the 2nd half of the 20th century:

  • Some recipes focused on traditional methods such as ceramic cooking vessels. Paula Wolfert and others writers who wrote about Mediterranean (southern Europe, the Aegean countries, the Levant and North Africa) cooking techniques almost unknown modern times. The fascination with travel fed culinary exploration. For instance Books by Yotam Ottolenghi in the early 21st century .
  • Works on central American cooking and south Asian cooking addressed the preparation of dry beans. Some discussed ceramics but most techniques involved metal cooking vessels.
  • Recipes were developed for vegetarians and vegans. Recipes were developed for slow cookers and pressure cookers; even microwave cooking. Anything that would braise or boil dry beans.

Dry pulses last years. Old pulses are drier and harder to cook. It is hard to tell when the beans were harvested – age is not easily judged from appearance.

Dry pulses have to be cooked in water. The cooking time depends on the seed, age, and cooking method. Many recipe books understate cooking time for some pulses. Dry beans can be soaked in water and cooked at the same time by simmering for a long time, soaked separately, or soaked and cooked fast and hot.

Clay pot cooking was used in every culture – ceramics predated metal cooking vessels. The word olla is Spanish, based on Latin. The Romans had good pottery. After the decline of the Roman empire, the olla – the bulbous cooking pot – was the common ceramic vessel. Paula Wolfert wrote about cooking in ceramic pots. Rick Bayless wrote about ceramic beanpots in several books. Mexican and Central American cooks simmered pinto beans and black (turtle) beans in an olla in enough water to keep the beans covered in water through the entire process. With this method, the beans were not soaked or pre-cooked. According to Rick Bayless writing in Mexico, One Plate at a Time (Scribner, 2000), at p. 192, cooking in an olla heated the beans and water to 205-210 degrees (F). The beans would be cooked for several hours. Little water was lost to evaporation. The beans absorbed much of the water, and the remaining water became a broth. The constraints starting early enough to get the beans cooked by meal time, using enough water, and keeping the heat low and steady.

Stoves and ovens became the preferred approach where hot stoves were workable, including Europe and North America. Stovetop elements and burners heat the contents of metal pots above the boiling point of water, even at the lowest settings. With stoves, metal pots and cheap energy or fuel, the prevalent approach became to soak and boil.

A ceramic or metal beanpot or casserole (e.g. a Dutch Oven) filled with beans and water can be put in an oven set as low as 250 F. to simmer the beans slowly; many recipes suggest a hotter oven. The constraints on slow simmering and baking are starting early enough to get the beans cooked by meal time, using enough water, keeping the heat steady and limiting the escape of steam from the pot.

The 20th century traditional slow cooker gets the beans and water hot enough to simmer. Slow cooker times dependent on the device, and the amount of beans and water, are often unreliable. Some dry beans – mainly small split lentils – will cook in a slow cooker in few hours on the traditional low setting without soaking.

Rick Bayless agreed in Mexican Everyday (2005) that a slow cooker was a method of cooking pinto beans, black turtle beans and some other phaseolus beans – without soaking. His recipes use 6 hours on the traditional high setting. Other slow cooker approaches without soaking:

  • Black turtle beans can be done in 6 hours on low;
  • Pinto beans take up to about 8 hours on low.

Other dry pulses require different treatment in slow cookers; soaking and/or several hours on the high slow cooker setting: urad beans, rajma (red kidney beans) and chana dal (chickpeas).

A pressure multi-cooker – i.e. an electric pressure cooker (e.g. Instant Pot) with a slow cooker program does not work like a traditional slow cooker. Not all pressure multi-cooker models reach and maintain the expected or optimal slow cooking temperature

A pressure cooker will cook dry pulses. Modern pressure cooking cookbooks and resources have trust-worthy suggested times.

Soaking before cooking reduces the cooking time for dry beans. It depends on the seed coat (hull), size and the cellurar structures of the bean. Soaking is often assumed or overlooked in recipes and discussions. Some recipes, as noted above, omit soaking. There are variations on soaking:

  • long-soaking in at ambient (room) temperature,
  • quick-soaking in boiling water; Some recipes cook dry beans for a short time in boiling water before baking them’
  • soaking in brine,
  • adding baking soda to the cooking water.

Some recipes for some pulses aim to break the pulse down to a sauce, soup or gruel. Some will call for mashing a few cooked beans to thicken the sauce. Many aim to get the beans soft, but whole.


One response to “Dry Hard”

  1. […] dry beans are a staple ingredient in many recipes. Some recipes provide directions for cooking dry beans as a […]

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