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Dietitian Nicole Senior is such a fan of red kidney beans, we asked her to share the facts in this month’s Good Carbs Food Facts A to Z. 

Raw red kidney beans (Phaseolis vulgaris) are beautiful. Their deep dark colour is delightful and their smooth rounded edges are pleasing to touch – they remind me of little river pebbles hewn by perpetual flowing water. And, in a wooden box or plastic container, they make great DIY maracas for your family band. As well as the dark brownish-red variety, there are also a couple of speckled varieties that look gorgeous and remind me of little wild bird’s eggs.

Red kidney beans
They are rich in the trace element molybdenum, high in fibre – including soluble fibre that helps lower bad LDL cholesterol and modulate blood glucose response – and a good source of protein, folate, manganese and copper. They also contain iron, B-vitamins, potassium and magnesium. As well as being rich in nutrients, kidney beans also contain an array of phytochemicals including phenolic compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. And to top it all off, they have a low GI (36 for canned kidney beans; 51 for home-cooked dried beans). It is perhaps not surprising that eating legumes regularly is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, probably due to their ability to lower bad LDL cholesterol, but they have also been shown to reduce blood pressure in clinical studies. Like all legumes, kidney beans walk the line between two food groups, being both vegetables and meat alternatives. A serving is half a cup of cooked beans.

Red kidney beans are great in soups, stews, curries and salads. They feature in many well-known dishes around the world such as chilli con carne in Latin America, rajma in India and Pakistan, and red beans and rice in Creole cuisine of Southern USA. They give great texture and colour to salsas and dips, are a frugal filling for wraps, and give starchy satisfaction to salads. They go wonderfully with corn, spices and avocado, and are expert extenders of one-pot meat meals (such as chilli beef) to reduce the amount of meat and add health benefits.

What about wind? The main culprits are their large indigestible sugars (raffinose, stachyose and verbascose). They zip through the digestive system and arrive in the large bowel intact where the resident healthy bacteria enthusiastically ferment them and feast. The bad news: gas. The good news: these indigestible sugars are water soluble. If you are cooking from scratch, rinsing and soaking before cooking dried beans helps wash them away. If you opt for canned convenience, rinse beans well before using. Here are some handy tips on cooking beans from scratch from The Good Carbs Cookbook.

CLEAN Pick through the dried beans, discarding discoloured or shrivelled ones.

RINSE several times and then swirl them around in a bowl of cold water discarding any floaters.

SOAK Beans and peas will double or triple in size depending on which soaking method you use so it’s important to use a large enough container.

  • Cold soak – Pour room temperature water over beans to cover and soak for 8 hours or overnight. Discard the soaking water and rinse beans in fresh cool water. Cold water starts but does not complete the rehydration process so they will appear wrinkled after soaking. They will fully hydrate during cooking. 
  • Quick soak – The warmer the water the faster the beans absorb it. This method reduces cooking time and produces consistently tender legumes. Put beans in a large pot and add 4 cups of water for every 1 cup of legumes. Bring to boil, reduce the heat and gently simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse with fresh cool water before cooking. 

COOK – STOVETOP For 1 cup of legumes allow 3–4 cups of water or stock. In general, for every 1 cup dried legumes you should get 2–2½ cups of cooked legumes. Cooking time depends on the type of bean.

  • Keep the cooking water at a gentle simmer to prevent split skins. 
  • Add warm water periodically during cooking to keep the beans covered. 
  • Stir the beans occasionally to prevent sticking. 
  • They are done when they are tender, but not mushy. Check by either biting one for tenderness or pressing between your thumb and forefinger when it will break up easily. 
  • Drain immediately they reach the desired tenderness to stop the cooking process and prevent over-cooking. 
  • Hold the seasonings until the end of cooking. Acidic ingredients such as lemon juice, vinegar, wine or tomato sauce prevent softening, so don’t add them until the beans are tender. 

COOK – PRESSURE COOKER Use about 2½ cups of water per 1 cup of soaked beans and cook for about 20 minutes (following the manufacturer’s instructions for cooking beans in the pressure cooker). Make sure the pressure cooker is no more than half full of ingredients including cooking liquid.
Nutrition Facts Red Kidney Beans