Enough is enough. It’s finally time to put those neglected (okay, forgotten) bags of dried beans buried in the cupboard to good use. Whether you were dreaming about chili or black bean burgers, you bought them all those years ago for a reason. But are they still safe to eat? How long can you store dried beans?
We’ve got the answer. As it turns out, these durable little gems can last a whole decade—if you know how to store them.
How to Keep Dried Beans Fresh
Officially, dried beans have a minimum shelf life of one to two years, per the USDA. Unofficially, they last…basically forever. Dried beans are considered non-perishable. After two to three years, the nutritional value starts diminishing, and all vitamins will be gone after five. (Warm storage temperatures will speed up that quality decrease, too.) But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t cook and eat them after 10 years if you really wanted to.
Aside from tiny changes in nutritional content and possibly appearance, dried beans are likely safe as long as they were kept in a cool, dry, dark place. A tightly-sealed container will help the beans keep longer than the plastic bags they often come in. It may also help to keep your bean types separate to prevent a bad bunch from spoiling the rest.
How to Tell If Dried Beans *Actually* Went Bad
If you find beans that are moldy, off-smelling or full of pantry bugs, throw them away and add a new bag to your grocery list. Moisture likely got into the bag or container, leading to their demise. The less oxygen and light, the better. If your beans are only a bit faded in color, keep them; this is natural and doesn’t signal that they’re expired.
If you have seriously aged beans on your hands that need a little extra love, a ¼ teaspoon of baking soda per pound might help them soften, according to The Bean Institute.
How to Cook Dried Beans (Yes, You Have Time)
The efficiency of canned beans is definitely tempting. But soaking your beans overnight gives you a chance to be productive while you sleep, and who doesn’t want that? While soaking isn’t technically necessary, it will help the beans cook a bit faster. This process also makes the beans creamy and soft instead of metallic and mushy (like their canned counterpart).
Step One: Put the beans in a pot with a few inches of water, then pop it in the fridge overnight. (If you’re really in a rush, you can bring the same pot to a boil, put a lid on it, turn off the heat and let the beans sit for an hour before draining and cooking them.)
Step Two: Drain and rinse the beans after they’ve soaked. Move them to a new pot with 2 inches of fresh water, salt and any flavor enhancers you’d like to add, like garlic, rosemary or a bay leaf.
Step Three: Slowly simmer the beans—boiling can break them—until they’re tender but firm. Depending on the bean, this should take anywhere from one to three hours. Let them sit in the broth for an extra half hour once they’re cooked through to maximize the flavor. Not sure how much to make? One cup of dry beans makes about three cups of cooked beans.
7 Ways to Use Dried Beans
Chili is a no-brainer for getting a lot of beans out of your cabinet and onto your stove in one shot. This white turkey chili with avocado starts with sweet corn and white beans, while this vegetarian cauliflower chili stars black beans and sweet potato. If you’re in need of a warm hug, spicy coconut black bean soup is a close second—and a cinch to prepare. Soak ’em for a side dish like white beans with rosemary and caramelized onions or braised cannellini beans with prosciutto and herbs. Hungry for dinner minus the dishes? Give one-pan sausage with broccoli rabe and white beans a try. And if you’re not feeling very fork-y lately, sweet potato and black bean tacos with blue cheese crema are for you.