Instant Pot Rio Zape Beans. A classic heirloom bean from the Southwest, dry Rio Zape beans are cooked in about an hour thanks to my pressure cooker.

Rancho Gordo would not exist without Rio Zape beans.

(I broke out in a sweat writing that sentence – I can’t imagine life without my Rancho Gordo bean box.)

On their Rio Tape bean page, Steve Sando, founder of Rancho Gordo, says:

This is the bean that started the whole thing! I was eating a bowl of simply cooked Rio Zapes and I was just bowled over. The flavor was reminiscent of pintos but there was so much more going on. I could detect traces of coffee and chocolate and the velvety texture was like nothing else. I was sold on heirloom varieties after just one bite.

A bowl of cooked Rio Zape beans on a wood table, with a dish of uncooked beans and an Instant Pot in the background
Instant Pot Rio Zape Beans

As I’ve said many times before, I love Rancho Gordo, so I’m grateful Mr. Sando had his bowl of beans. His heirloom beans have inspired many of my recipes, like Instant Pot Ayocote Negro Beans, Instant Pot Yellow Eye Beans, and Instant Pot Scarlet Runner Beans

The history of the Rio Zape bean

Food History Digression! Rio Zape beans were found in the Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings of the Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico, in 1935. (It’s also known as the Hopi string bean.) Then, in the 1960s, archaeologists also found them in the excavation of a sealed tomb in Rio Zape, Durango, Mexico. The beans were sealed in the tomb in about 600 AD, and were still in good enough condition to be identified. (The tomb has an amazing name: La Cueva de los Muertos Chiquitos, “The cave of the little dead”.) We’re cooking a truly heirloom bean, one that has been in the North American Southwest for centuries.

Sources: Colorado Plateau Gardening & Horticulture , Farmers Web

Pressure cook all the beans

Of course, I’m using my (not so) secret weapon, and pressure cooking my beans. Bean cooking is one of the reasons I became a pressure cooking fanatic – it’s amazing how quick and easy it is to cook dried beans in a pressure cooker.

🤨 Soaking Rio Zape beans?

I get the “to soak, or not to soak?” question all the the time.

I don’t soak my Rio Zape beans in this basic recipe. They don’t need an overnight soak, and cook to tenderness with 35 minutes at high pressure.

That doesn’t mean you can’t soak the beans. They turn out fine, though the bean broth isn’t quite as full bodied. Soaked beans cook much quicker, 15 minutes at high pressure. I use that if I’m cooking the beans with other ingredients, where the shorter cooking time keeps me from overcooking the whole dish just to get the beans tender.


This is a simple dried bean recipe, so the ingredients list is pretty basic

  • Dry Rio Zape beans
  • Onion
  • Bay leaf

See recipe card for quantities.

🥘 Substitutions

Rio Zape beans can be hard to find. If you come across Hopi Purple string beans, they’re the same bean. A good substitute is pinto beans.

Don’t have onions or bay leaf? You can substitute a pinch of dried thyme for the bay leaf (or skip it), or a few unpeeled garlic cloves for the onion (or skip it).

Cooking in broth: This is the big one. Replace some or all of the water with broth for an ultra-rich pot of beans. Of course, I prefer a homemade Instant Pot Chicken Back Broth, or Instant Pot Vegetable Broth for the vegetarians and vegans out there. If you use store-bought broth, I recommend reduced-sodium broth, and skipping the salt in the recipe.

How to Make Instant Pot Rio Zape Beans

This Rio Zape recipe is straightforward, because I like a simple pot of beans.

  1. Sort and rinse the dry Rio Zape beans. Get rid of any stuff in the bag that’s not a bean, and toss any broken beans.
  2. Put the dry Rio Zape beans, 6 cups of water, ½ teaspoon of baking soda, a peeled onion, and a bay leaf in an Instant Pot (or other pressure cooker).
  3. Lock the lid, and pressure cook at high pressure for 35 minutes. Then, let the pressure come down naturally for at least 15 minutes before quick-releasing any remaining pressure.
  4. Serve, or freeze for later in their broth in 2-cup containers.

🛠 Equipment

A 6-quart pressure cooker. Pressure cooker dried beans are one of the key reasons I became a pressure cooker convert. Try them – you’ll never go back to canned beans. (OK, maybe you will, for convenience – but see the Storage section for tips)


This recipe scales down easily – cut everything in half if you don’t need as many beans, or have a 3-quart pressure cooker. Scaling up runs into space issues; if you have an 8-quart pressure cooker, you can double this recipe, but it’s too much to fit in a 6-quart pressure cooker.

💡Tips and Tricks

  • Quick Release: If you’re really in a hurry, instead of using a natural release, you can add 5 minutes to the pressure cooking time for this recipe, then quick release the pressure once the beans are done cooking. The sudden drop in pressure throws the water into a boil, which roughs up the beans, releasing starch and thickening the pot liquid. I found it to be a little rough on these beans, but if I’m in a hurry, I will add the extra 5 minutes to pressure cooking to save the 15+ minutes of natural release.
  • Salt your bean water! “Salt toughens beans” is a myth. Salting before cooking helps season the beans all the way through as they cook. It also helps with older beans. Speaking of older beans…
  • Baking soda: Baking soda helps tenderize older beans. That’s why I include it in most of my bean recipes. It’s optional though; if you don’t want to use it, you can skip it.
  • If your beans are still tough when the cooking time is over, especially any “floaters” at the top of the pot, give the beans a stir, lock the lid, and pressure cook for another five minutes. Older beans take longer to cook, and if the beans have been sitting in the shelf at your store for a while, they may need extra time.
  • Simmer to thicken: If you have the time, and want thicker bean broth, simmer the beans for 20 minutes after pressure cooking. I set my Instant Pot to Sauté mode adjusted to low, set the timer to 20 minutes, and leave the lid off.

What to serve with this recipe

Rio Zape beans are a southwest classic, and a bowl of brothy beans are a great side dish with any Tex-Mex or Norteno Mexican meal. I particularly love having them with tacos.



A bowl of cooked Rio Zape beans on a wood table, with a dish of uncooked beans and an Instant Pot in the background

Instant Pot Rio Zape Beans

  • Author: Mike Vrobel
  • Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Yield: 6 cups beans


Instant Pot Rio Zape Beans. A classic heirloom bean from the Southwest, ready in about an hour thanks to pressure cooking.


  • 1 pound dried Rio Zape beans, sorted and rinsed
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 bay leaf


  1. Sort and rinse the beans: Sort the Rio Zape beans, removing broken beans, stones, and any other non-bean material. Put the beans in a strainer, rinse the beans, and set them aside to drain.
  2. Everything in the pot: Pour the beans into an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker. Stir in 6 cups of water, 1 teaspoon of fine sea salt, and ½ teaspoon of baking soda. Add the onion halves and bay leaf, and lock the lid on the cooker.
  3. Pressure Cook for 35 minutes with a Natural Release: Pressure cook on high pressure for 35 minutes in an electric pressure cooker (“Manual” or “Pressure Cook” mode in an Instant Pot), or 30 minutes in a stovetop PC. Let the pressure come down naturally; you can quick release any remaining pressure after 15 minutes if you’re in a hurry.
  4. Serve or Save: Remove the onion and bay leaf and discard. Serve the beans as-is in their broth, freeze in their broth for later (see Storage section for freezing details), or drain and use them as directed in another recipe.
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 55 minutes
  • Category: Side Dish
  • Method: Pressure Cooker
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: Instant Pot Rio Zape Beans, Pressure Cooker Rio Zape Beans

☃️ Storage

A 2-cup container of beans, with cooking liquid, replaces a 15-ounce can of beans from the grocery store. They’ll last in the refrigerator for a few days, and freeze for up to 6 months. I always make extra beans, and freeze the leftovers for use in other recipes. Freezer beans are ready to use with about 5 minutes in the microwave, and are so much better than canned.

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