That is the question. Or at least the most popular question. In Mexico, most cooks don't soak. In Italy, the soak and change the water. What do you do? Does it work? Then I'd say keep on doing it, up to a degree. I recently received this email from a cooking school instructor:
I am an instructor at where we have a Natural Chef program and we have had two bad experiences with your beans. We are so excited about them since they fit our style perferctly so I wanted to follow up on our disappointments.
The problem: On two different occasions with two different beans (sorry don't remember the types) with two different cooks we did this...
Soaked the beans 28-24 hours.
Cooked the beans in filtered water with a little oil added.
Cooked and cooked and cooked for up to 4 hours.
The beans never softened to a point where they were edible.
Note: we have successfully cooked 3-4 types with no problems and enjoyed them immensely!
So - being a cooking school we need to know. What is happening? People just assume the beans are old but I'm not going for that. Can you spot the clue? The only time I have ever heard of a problem with the beans taking so long to cook is when someone has given them a 24 hour soak. I'm not sure why but I've had two or three people say the beans took forever and just a little digging will reveal they were oversoaked.You can cook fresh beans, which I'd define as within two years of harvest, maybe three under optimum storage conditions, without soaking. I used to be adamant about not soaking but I've done side by side comparisons and the soaked beans have a better texture. I don't change the water. In general, I soak in the morning and cook in the afternoon. I cook beans 2-3 times a week. I believe the optimum soaking time is from four to six hours for most beans, a full six for runner beans like Scarlet Runners, Cellini, Runner Canellini and that family. You will hear about the "Quick Soak" method. Just smile and act interested when you hear about it. You cover the beans with hot water, let them soak for an hour and then strain the water and start cooking with new water. If the beans are in hot water, you're already cooking so why not just cook them? It doesn't make much sense but if it's been working for you, go for it. It may be there are better ways to cook commercial store bought beans but with fresh, heirloom beans, you're working too hard!