Black beans, also known as turtle beans because of their hard shell-like appearance, are classified as legumes. The beans are actually the edible seeds of the legume plant.
Like other legumes such as peanuts, peas and lentils, black beans are prized for their high protein and fiber content. They also contain several other key vitamins and minerals that are known to benefit human health.
When preparing dried black beans, it is important to sort (pick out any small rocks or other debris that may have wound up in the package), wash and soak them in water for about 8 to 10 hours before cooking in order to achieve optimum flavor and texture.
You can tell they are finished soaking when you can split them easily between your fingers. Be careful not to soak them for more than 12 hours, otherwise they become mushy and bland-tasting. Soaking dried legumes reduces the amount of time needed to cook them, and also helps remove some of the oligosaccharides that cause gastrointestinal distress.