Turns out cooking dried red kidney beans and cannellini beans in your slow cooker can make you sick. Find out how to eliminate the toxin that can make you ill and how to safely prepare and cook these commonly used legumes.
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moms chili

Pictured Recipe: Mom's Chili

Dried red kidney beans and cannellini beans (white kidney beans)—are pantry staples and healthy to boot, adding protein, fiber and iron to your daily meals. When cooked until their centers are creamy, these beloved legumes go into delicious veggie burgers, fresh salads, rice dishes and, of course, chili. Whether you have cans of prepared beans or bags of the dried ones stacked (neatly, of course) in your pantry, red kidney beans and cannellini beans are always good to have on hand.

However, both of these colors of kidney beans can be toxic when prepared in a slow cooker. All of you chili champions and stockpilers of beans, especially, need to hear this.

According to the Food and Drug Administration's Bad Bug Book, dried red kidney beans and cannellini beans contain toxic levels of lectin—proteins that bind to carbohydrates—and can cause vomiting, diarrhea and gastrointestinal illness for several hours when not cooked properly. Phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) is the lectin in the beans that causes people to become sick. PHA protects legumes from pests and pathogens, but when humans consume as few as four improperly cooked dried beans, they may suffer these symptoms, says the FDA. Lectins are found in all plants, including legumes, but dried red kidney beans and cannellini beans are the only ones that contain a high enough concentration of PHA to temporarily sicken humans.

The good news? Eliminating the toxic level of lectin in the beans is super easy. When preparing dried red kidney beans, the FDA recommends soaking them overnight, then boiling them for a 30 minutes. Since most slow cookers do not reach the boiling point (212°F), beans prepared in them without soaking and cooking them first will carry the toxic lectin. (And no need to worry about canned beans; they've already been prepared properly.) Luckily cooking these dried beans safely is as easy as 1-2-3.

How to Safely Cook Dried Red Kidney Beans & Cannellini Beans

1. Soak the dried beans for a minimum of 5 hours or overnight.

2. Drain the soaked beans and put them in a large pot. Add enough fresh water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Boil the beans for 30 minutes.

3. Drain the beans and use in your slow cooker recipe.

Bottom Line

Carry on with your bean-eating routine, just be sure to boil your dried red kidney beans and cannellini beans for 10 minutes before continuing with your intended preparation. Because most slow cookers do not heat food to more than 212°F, this extra step is necessary when following a slow cooker recipe. The 30-minute boil will rid the beans of lectin, which can cause temporary gastrointestinal distress.

Beans are nutritious, delicious and affordable, especially when you buy them dried. So make a dent in your stash of beans and dig into one of these easy recipes that highlight dried beans.