At Academy of Healing Nutrition we learn The Longevity Diet which includes successful cooking methods for problem foods. There is a world of flavors to discover. Beans and legumes such as peas and lentils cause indigestion because they contain protein, carbohydrates and high amounts of a complex sugar called raffinose that the body cannot break down. Beans are also rich in fiber which can increase flatulence and bloating. Why? Complex sugars and bacteria.
Since the human body lacks enzymes needed to break down those sugars, they move along in the digestive system without getting absorbed. When they finally reach the small intestine, the sugars meet bacteria which breaks down the sugars to release gas and cause bloating. The digestive process produces the problem. Since before our grandmothers’ time many solutions have been recommended. For example, cook the beans with a carrot, or with a potato, and when cooked chew beans thoroughly. None of that works. Others advised: If one bean bothers you, try a different one. Lentils, split peas and black-eyed peas, for example, are lower in gas-producing carbohydrates than other pulses. Chickpeas and navy beans are on the high end. That still leaves the sugar. Chickpeas I blanch in boiling water with baking soda and cook them a long time adding a little baking soda to the cooking water.
Cooking works fairly well but does not adequately remove the acids from beans that are irritating. For that you have to soak the beans for eight hours or overnight if possible changing the rinse water every three hours. Soaking beans for more than twelve hours turns cooked beans to mush. Research in 1985 in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, “Effect of Processing on Flatus-Producing Factors in Legumes“ found that adding baking soda to the soak water of dried beans before cooking (about 1/16 teaspoon per quart) significantly decreases the content of the raffinose family of sugars.
Soaking also cleans the beans more thoroughly since beans cannot be washed before being sold or they turn moldy. That is why the bean soaking water is discarded. So it is best to blanch and rinse the beans thoroughly before cooking. If you plan to cook beans for dinner and you want to use the long-soak method, start soaking in the morning. To cook beans for lunch, soak them overnight.
Legumes sans probleme
Non-kidney shaped beans and round legumes like lentils and split peas should soak for 12-24 hours in filtered water to cover plus one tablespoon of cider vinegar or lemon juice for every cup of dried beans/legumes used. Drain, rinse, and cook as usual. Or wait until the beans are tender but not quite done to add a splash of apple cider vinegar and a teaspoon of salt to the pot. The apple cider vinegar breaks down indigestible sugars to help digestion and also brightens the flavor of the beans without the need for excess salt.
If you are following a salt restricted diet, there are a number of tasty, convenient salt substitutes. My favorite is Mrs. Dash. She has several varieties. Her Table Blend contains many herbs and spices that enhance digestion: onion, black pepper, chili pepper, parsley, celery seed, basil, bay leaf, marjoram, oregano, savory, thyme, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, mustard seed, rosemary, garlic, orange peel, carrot, lemon juice powder, tomato, red bell pepper, citric acid, and oil of lemon. Adobo is a seasoning used in Filipino chicken or pork dishes stewed in vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, bay leaves, and peppercorns. It is also used as a paste or marinade made from chili peppers, vinegar, herbs, and spices, used in Mexican cooking. Adobo seasoning mix—whether homemade or store-bought—typically consists of garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, salt, and pepper, along with the chef’s preferred additions. You may find cumin, paprika, and other spices in it.
I also like to add one or two tablespoons of Maine’s Seaweed Soup Mix With Dulse to the cooking water for a boost of minerals and a pleasant salty flavor. Available at www.theseaweedman.com. Another home favorite is I soak chickpeas as usual with baking soda, cook with a dash of baking soda until tender not mushy, rinse and add balsamic vinegar and chopped raw garlic.
The real key is to break down the sugars in beans and legumes before they hit the GI track, or remove as much of them as possible. The good news is that sugar is water soluble. That is the method to the soaking and discarding the soaking water madness. Most cooks recommend soaking in 5 times more water than you have beans. Beans are seeds. The moment they come into contact with enough water the natural germination process begins. The water is absorbed and they swell and the seed coat breaks. Enzymes are activated and begin to breakdown the store of food to what the embryonic plant can process. So the idea is for most of these sugars to be released into the water as the enzymes do their work. We throw out the soaking water discarding the sugar. You need a lot of soaking water so that there is enough to take up these sugars or rinse it every few hours. A little water can only hold so much sugar.
If you buy canned beans, you need to throw out the liquid they come in because it contains a lot of the gas causing sugars. Do not add salt too early in the cooking process as it slows down the softening process. It means your beans will take longer to cook and therefore the complex sugars take longer to break down. I add salt at the end of cooking and add seaweed during cooking so less salt as needed at the end.
Beans & Spices: No Hay Problema
There are herbs and spices that aid in breaking down the complex bean sugars during the cooking process. Ginger, cumin, bay leaf, fennel seed, ajwain, epazote, and asafoetida, are traditionally recommended. Ajwain seed–also known as ajowan caraway, bishop’s weed, or carom—is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. Both the leaves and the seed‑like fruit of the plant are used for poor digestion. Sold online or in East Indian food shops, Ajwain is effective for stomach pain, flatulence, indigestion. Take 1 teaspoon of ajwain simmered for a few minutes as a tea for one week. It warms digestive fire. In India they add the seeds to cook with breads and legumes. Thymol, the essential oil extracted from carom seeds are used as anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.
Asafoetida is another Ayurvedic herb used for poor digestion, also asthma and depression. It is heating and very pungent smelling so that some cooks recommend storing the original container in another plastic or glass container or in another room! The common name for it is “Devil’s Shit.” Originally from Afghanistan and thereabouts, it tastes more like garlic. The taste can be moderated a bit by adding turmeric, cumin and salt. I add those three powders and oil to make a spicy air-popped non GMO popped corn.
Epazote leaf is admired in Mexico though may be hard to find up here in North America. Common substitutes are coriander seed or long coriander leaves, even in México. Epazote has a somewhat pungent flavor profile with notes of oregano, anise, citrus, mint, and even tar or creosote. The most flavor is provided by the fresh leaves and stems, and older leaves have a stronger taste. The herb is an excellent remedy for stomach and intestinal ailments like indigestion, cramps, and ulcers. Its decoction has been found to have some anti-diabetic properties.
Finally a trick I learned many years ago for studying herbal medicines, a life-long process, is to analyze a popular commercial or patent remedy by studying and using the ingredients. That way you can see how the synergy of the formula works and get acquainted with the property and taste of the individual herbs.
Koee dikkat nahin hai
That’s “no problem” in Hindi. A favorite digestive remedy in Indian groceries is the Ayurvedic remedy called Hajmola. It contains black pepper, pippli a rejuvenating dried long pepper, ginger, cumin, citrus peel an Ayurvedic sugar cane (sharkara). Several herbs in Hajmola pills are harder to find locally. One is samudra leaves, known as elephant creeper in English, recommended in Ayurveda for everything from indigestion and constipation to male infertility. It moves prana (qi) circulation around to improve sperm mobility. It can be ordered online.
Other ingredients in Hajmola are rock salt, black salt and sal ammoniac which is an irritant that is safe in small amounts. Notice how Ayurveda uses pungent herbs and mineral salts for indigestion. They reduce acidity and may improve acid reflux as well as bloating. You already have many of these cooking remedies in your kitchen. Thinking about the energetic actions of Hajmola’s herbs: They are pungent, detoxifying and salt creates more saliva. Such a digestive remedy made by combining either Eastern or Western herbs reduces gas, bloating, and acidity which is useful for both Ayurvedic Kapha and Chinese weak spleen. The Ayurvedic cure for indigestion uses pungent anti-phlegm herbs for a diet that favors dairy and grains. The Chinese herbal tradition uses herbs that move stuck qi in the digestive center, such as Xiao Yao Wan. But that is another herbal trip we will travel together another time.