Cool Beans – Cooking and Connecting with Heirloom Selections

Steve Smith, founder of Chili Smith Family Foods

Beans: They’re good for the planet and our health, yet, around the world, people eat only a fraction of the amount of beans that our ancestors enjoyed in centuries past. Beans lose out to convenience, even though they remain an affordable alternative to meat. Admittedly, cooking dry beans can seem daunting when recipes often call for soaking as long as 12 hours prior to cooking for another hour or two.

For readers with the good fortune of living in the Sacramento area, Chili Smith Family Foods is on hand to help make cooking and eating beans both easy and delicious. The Carmichael storefront location offers three monthly classes. Dozens of heirloom varieties stock the shelves, and the freezer is full of wholly cooked dishes, with a focus on chili. Knowledgeable staff members field questions on topics ranging from the regenerative farming practices employed by Thornton-based Mohr-Fry Ranches, where the beans are grown, to how to reduce bean-induced gas and bloating. Beyond sharing knowledge, the Chili Smith team is committed to bringing people together around healthy, delicious food.

Pressure cookers are the historic timesaving alternative to long cooking times. The Instant Pot further reduces cooking times, so that soaking is optional and what used to take as long as 12 hours now can be accomplished in as little as 30 minutes. Choosing not to soak may lead to more gas, however. The starches responsible for bean-induced flatulence are water soluble, so discarding soak water makes the end product easier on the digestive tract.


Like other heirloom varietals, beans sold at Chili Smith have been selected by generations of farmers and cooks for factors such as flavor and cooking properties. This differentiates them from many of the beans on supermarket shelves that offer farmers bigger yields and whose uniformity makes processing easier. The Christmas Lima is on the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste, a status reserved for high-quality, regional, heritage foods that are not widely produced. These mottled maroon and white beans are each the size of a quarter and so meaty that committed carnivores enjoy them as an entrée. This spring, Chili Smith’s Christmas Limas were delivered to schools around the country as part of Slow Food’s Plant a Seed kit.

Chili Smith’s founder, Steve Smith, was introduced to what he first pronounced as “hair”-loom beans by an article in Bon Appétit magazine. Smith substituted heirloom varietals for kidney beans in the chili that was once a mainstay at the Smith family’s Northern California restaurant chain, Mandy’s Pancake House. Smith was awestruck by how high-quality beans improved his already-great chili.

Some Chili Smith customers are committed to plant-based diets, while others pair their beans with meat and dairy products. All agree on the importance of selecting the best heirloom ingredients. The humble bean can be a powerful tool for connection and learning.


East Side Salsa

Chili Smith Family Foods
5907 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael • 800-434-2929 •