Are dried beans still edible after they are used as pie weights?

When people blind bake a pie crust (a term that means prebaking the crust without its filling), they often line it with aluminum foil or parchment paper weighted down by dried beans. The beans keep the bottom of the crust from puffing up and bubbling.

After the beans are baked with the crust, you could still theoretically cook and eat them, says Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Pie and Pastry Bible and The Cake Bible. “But you wouldn’t want to, as the beans take on an unpleasant aroma.” After a few uses, they develop an acrid, overly toasted smell and what Jena Roberts, a representative from the National Food Laboratory, describes as a concentrated “beany note.”

Baking the dried beans causes a chemical reaction called pyrolysis, in which the sugars and/or amino acids are converted into other compounds that give off a weird smell, Roberts says. “They would impart a different flavor profile to your soup than you’d expect, but there are zero food safety issues,” she says, because bacteria require a water source to grow.

Instead of dealing with smelly beans, Beranbaum says she just uses rice for a weight, and she lines her pie crust with parchment paper or a large coffee urn filter. “A little of the butter in the crust comes through the parchment, coating the rice, and the rice becomes toasted, making it excellent to use as a pilaf,” she says.

CHOW’s Nagging Question column appears every Friday.

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