The Importance Of Soaking Nuts, Grains, And Legumes

August 5th, 2010 - filed under: Food and Health

I recently wrote an introduction to fermented foods, in which I mentioned the practice of soaking grains. Many readers responded with interest, curious to learn more about this traditional technique. Yay! You guys make me so happy! And that brings us here: the ins and outs, the whys and the hows, an all-around intro to soaking your nuts, grains, and legumes.


Why Would You Want To Soak?

Nuts, grains, and legumes are each different kinds of seeds. As such, they have evolved protection mechanisms to keep them safe until conditions are desirable for germination. For example, seeds are difficult to digest in order to facilitate seed dispersal – the animal that eats them carries them away, and then ‘drops’ them right into a pile of ‘fertilizer’. How marvelous! But in order to pass through the gut intact, they must be indigestible.

Further, all seeds need to remain secure until they are able to sprout. This stability is maintained via elements that suppress the enzymatic activity involved in germination. These elements – the ones that render seeds difficult to digest and allow them to lay dormant – are termed antinutrients.

Antinutrients are so named because they may ‘take’ more nutrition than they provide. During healthy digestion our own enzymes work to disassemble food into usable molecules. This begins in the mouth with the enzymes present in saliva, and continues in various forms throughout the entire digestive tract. But antinutrients work by inhibiting our digestive enzymes and preventing them from breaking down food, interfering with healthy digestion.

As well, antinutrients bind to precious minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. Essentially, they steal these minerals from our bodies. A diet rich in antinutrient-containing foods can lead to mineral deficiency and may contribute to poor bone density.

One of the most prevalent antinutrients is phytic acid. Grains are relatively high in phytic acid, though it exists in seeds and legumes as well. In situ it’s found bonded to phosphorous, residing in the bran of the seed. The bran is the hard outer layer rich in fiber, protein, and omegas. Phytic acid in the bran prevents premature sprouting. It has a strong affinity for minerals, and any mineral it binds to will become insoluble. This is how phytic acid leaches nutrients from the body.

Other antinutrients include flavanoids, like tannins, starches, and some proteins, such as lectins. All of these may irritate the stomach and interfere with digestion. However some, like flavanoids, are cancer-fighting and have other nutritive qualities. Clearly, nutrition science is complicated and convoluted – more on this at a later date.

SO, soaking seeds initiates germination. That’s the whole point. By ‘kicking off’ the sprouting process, antinutrients are disabled and enzymatic activity increases. Phytic acid is deconstructed and inhibitors are neutralized. The acid used in the soaking medium breaks the bonds that bind important minerals, and they become bioavailable. Thus, the seeds become digestible – and nutritious.

Soaking also begins to ‘pre-digest’ the seeds. For example, soaking and sprouting can break down certain proteins, such as gluten. This can facilitate digestion as well – some people with gluten sensitivity can eat soaked and sprouted glutinous grains. Phytase is the enzyme that is responsible for cleaving phytic acid from phosphorous and other minerals. Probiotics are a critical source of phytase, so eat your beasties!


Well, How Do You Soak?

There are four simple components that go into soaking seeds: liquid, acid, temperature, and time. That’s it!


To soak the whole seed, like almonds or rice or oatmeal or lentils . . .

  1. Cover with water, enough to allow the seed to swell.
  2. Add an acid, either lemon juice or vinegar, about a tablespoon per cup of water (rough estimates are okay).
  3. Allow to sit at room temp for at least 7, but ideally 12-24, hours.
  4. If possible, drain and then proceed as normal.

~OR~

  1. Cover with an acidic cultured liquid, like kombucha or water kefir (for nuts, whole grains, legumes) or yogurt or ‘milk’ kefir for (for oatmeal, porridge).
  2. Allow to sit at room temp for at least 7, but ideally 12-24, hours.
  3. If necessary, drain and then proceed as normal.



To soak flour for use in a recipe . . .

  1. Mix the flour with whatever liquid is called for in that recipe, plus the sweetener (if called for) and the fat (if called for)
  2. Add 1tablespoon of acid, either lemon juice or vinegar, per cup of liquid.
  3. Allow to sit at room temp for at least 7, but ideally 12-24 hours.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients and proceed as normal.



So that’s it – the why and the how of soaking seeds (nuts, grains, and legumes). I hope it helps to clarify things, and maybe even inspires you to tackle this traditional, nutritive technique.

BONZAI
sign-off

28 Comments to The Importance Of Soaking Nuts, Grains, And Legumes

1

Lily

August 5, 2010

Sounds interesting. I’ve heard that it was important, and this was a great explanation. Thanks Sayward, I’ll give the grains/legumes a try, but I’m not sure about the flour…

2

erosan

August 5, 2010

I don’t know a lot about soaking grains, since this is the second time I hear about this (and I find it very interesting), but I know a thing or two about the science of cooking, and I want to make just a quick comment about that last recommendation of adding acid to flour:

Be aware that by doing this it could affect the outcome of your recipe if you are baking something that requires using chemical leavening like baking powder or baking soda…

Baking soda and baking powder depend on the ph balance of your mixture for acting. For them to correctly act, you need to have the right balance of acids and basic ingredients.

Adding more acid is not going to prevent them from leavening, but it could make the leavening action to happen too quickly and you could end with a cake/bread that is flatter than usual because the bubbles of CO2 happened before the protein mesh set (thus escaping the bread, instead of leavening it).

Speaking of meshes, as indicated by Sayward, gluten formation is inhibited by acid, so if you are kneading pizza dough (which relies on the gluten formation to don its elasticity) or a boule of pain rustique where you want that cavern-looking spaces for the texture inside the bread, this is something you might want to avoid.

Anyhow… precisely because most chemical leavening agents need the acidity, you should check your recipe. It’s probably already calls for something acidic (like buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream), in which case the extra acid is probably not needed, right?

All in all, it sounds like a good idea to soak most of your grains if you have the time. Now, excuse me while I hit google and wikipedia for more info on those pesky antinutrients!

3

Kathryn

August 5, 2010

super, i just bought some sprouted almonds last week at farmers. score!
also, i love these bio-related posts. i’m going to be studying biology in the fall and, though i like macro bio and marine biology a lot more, i find this all super interesting.
aaaand, i guess i should be soaking my garbanzo beans for my hummus?

4

Sarah

August 5, 2010

Thanks for this! I was putting off making more granola because I wanted to research soaking the oats first. My previous batches of granola didn’t always leave me feeling that great, and I was thinking this might help :)

5

Saundra

August 5, 2010

Very cool info! Definately googling and binging it I have never heard of antinutrients. I guess there is a reason other than gas to soak your beans ;) thanks for the great informative article!!

6

farmingtheburbs

August 6, 2010

That was a great intro, thanks, I need to start thinking more about this and how to incorporate this into my cooking/baking. I can see how a raw and or vegan diet would relish in these techniques of food processing.

7

Rachel

August 6, 2010

Would I be able to soak canned beans for the same effect, or do they have to be dried to start?

8

Sayward

August 6, 2010

@ Lily – Yeah, I find it’s easiest to start with the grains and legumes. Nuts can be tricky (I don’t like the taste of them after thy’re soaked so I only do it for recipes, not plain) and flour is the hardest. A good ‘intro’ is soaked pancakes. Just mix it up the night before if you know you’ll want pancakes in the morning. Great to test drive on a weekend!

@ erosan – VERY TRUE, all of it. And dude, I know you live in Mexico but are you actually Mexican? Because seriously, if English is your *second* language, I am majorly impressed. =D

Go google and wiki! Tell me what you find!

@ Kathryn – Were they sprouted and then dehydrated? I just tried tose too and they are SO good! Some day I will get my dehydrator and it will be GAME OVER, haha.

Yes, definitely soak garbanzos if you’re starting from dry beans! It’ll help reduce the gas-causing effects as well.

Where are you studying bio? ANd what will you focus on? Is it undergrad or graduate work? Yay bio! I was in a [mostly] marine ecology program though my specific work was on parasites.

@ Sarah – This would be a great way to start a batch of granola, totally. And it would make it a lot easier on the tummy. =)

@ Saundra – Yeah, check it out! Wiki has a pretty good straightforward introductory article on antinutrients, and there’s a lot more stuff if you google around. Just be discriminating ’cause as we all know, the internet is also full of crap ‘science’, haha.

@ farmingtheburbs – Yeah, it’s especially important in raw cuisine – that’s actually when I first got into it. Sprouting is huge in the raw community. For good reason! =D

@ Rachel – Canned beans are already cooked so there would be no benefit in soaking them. But definitely soak any dry bean you buy!

9

erosan

August 6, 2010

Aye, 100% Mexican and proud to be one, thanks ^_^

According to wiki, most common antinutrients comes in the form of phytic acid and flavonoids (includding some tannins)… Meaning, compounds that give the food their subtle flavors (specifically via the smell, which is very important in tasting) and the of course the color (tannins, wine… anyone?)

Alas, some of those same chemicals are antioxidants and also have anticancer properties… (e.g. the stuff in green tea)

Sigh, nutrition is such a complicated matter…

10

erosan

August 6, 2010

Oh also, I checked with my cooking science advisor (Shirley O’Corrier… go read “CookWise” and “BakeWise” if you haven’t) cuz I remembered something: acid actually helps proteins brown, but weirdly, too much acid and no browning will happen at all! (i think it messes up the maillard reaction).

And while the usual application for this bit of knowledge would be “marinating a steak is a good thing”… I don’t think that goes well with your lifestyle ;)

But I beans have proteins, and I’ve heard you can do some killer patties with beans… and with a quick soak, not only they could be more nutritive, but they could look awesome on the plate.

PS. sorry bout the huge comments that probably no one will read anyway… I get carried away easily when typing.

11

Sayward

August 6, 2010

@ erosan – Man, your English is so good! Damian and I were just talking tonight about how we’re so sad that Waits won’t be raised bilingual. We’re pathetic monolingual American’s. We’re actually thinking of getting a language program to try to teach ourselves so that we can teach him – Spanish of course! =D

Yeah the whole antinutrient/anti-cancer dichotomy is one I’m still figuring out. A lot more research and eventually I’ll write an article on it – hopefully!

And no apologies for your comments. I love them and I guarantee that other people read and enjoy them as well. So get carried away!

12

erosan

August 6, 2010

@Sayward: I can’t say the spanish course is good, but their Japanese podcasts has helped my Japanese a lot… And I think for what they offer, it’s mighty cheap (you can start with just the FREE podcasts)…

http://www.spanishpod101.com/

Might as well give it a go, right?

13

Kathryn

August 7, 2010

yeah, they were sprouted, dehydrated, and dusted with yummy. the ones i got had cinnamon! :D i get my almond butter from the same table. so good.
i’m definitely undergrad, haha. i’m going to be a freshman at university of puget sound in a couple weeks! ahhh! i’m so nervous! i’m planning on a biology major and an environmental policy & decision-making minor (it’s an interdisciplinary minor that they offer in place of environmental studies, etc.) i want to focus on marine biology the most at the moment. and i love ecology, but parasites weird me out, haha. it’s one of those topics i want to read about but i know i get seriously freaked if i do, yet i read anyway. sigh…

14

Sayward

August 8, 2010

@ erosan – Thank you!

@ Kathryn – Ooh, well good luck with starting school – that’s so so exciting! I remember being so nervous, but of course in that wonderful sort of way. Your major/minor plan sounds really awesome. LUCK!!

15

windycityvegan

August 10, 2010

@Sayward: Thanks for posting this – whenever friends and family ask me why I soak everything, I just get exasperated and say “Because. Because, because, because.” I’ve come across all of the information you present in the course of my own research, but I don’t have the patience to disseminate any of it. Now I can direct them to your very comprehensive article!

@erosan: Shirley Corriher’s BakeWise is my bible – I consult it not only for baking, but whenever I veganize a recipe. Take eggs, for example. They are not always in a recipe for binding, so glopping applesauce or mashed bananas into a recipe rarely works when replacing eggs. Also, I’m so glad you commented on the cons of soaking flour in some instances – because I didn’t know where to start with my own reply!

16

Kathryn

August 10, 2010

thank you, sayward!! :)

17

Sayward

August 10, 2010

@ windycityvegan – You’re welcome! Always happy to help get the word out!

@ Kathryn – You’re welcome! (not that you’ll need the luck, right?) =)

18

Leslie

August 12, 2010

Thanks for the post. This is something I have never heard about as far as soaking grains, nuts etc. Are they really that bad for you if you don’t soak? I practically live on brown rice, quinoa, almonds etc. but minus the soak factor. Now here is the question, after you soak the grains etc. can you store them in a soaked state or do you need to cook them right away. I am not a meal planner, its usually open the fridge and wing it with whatever is around (last night was guac tacos with homemade salsa and spouts) Hum, always more to contemplate!!!
How about we just clone Erosan and each have one of him!!!!!

19

Sayward

August 12, 2010

@ Leslie – Well, they’re not going to kill you if you don’t soak them! But, they could be leaching minerals from you, which depending on your diet and general nutrient intake, could be problematic.

If you want to store soaked grains you’d either have to dehydrate them (which is what raw foodists do) or freeze them. Yeah, it does take a bit of mel planning, but if you can remember to do it before you go to bed at night, that’s the best way I’ve found. A good overnight soak and then the next day you just make your meal work with that grain! =D

20

Leslie

August 12, 2010

Thanks!!! Your info is always great!!!

21

Meghan

August 24, 2010

Okay. So I just want to make sure I’m clear on all of this before I do something silly. You do this soaking thing to allllll beans and rice? So if I’m going to have some plain ‘ole long grain white rice for dinner, I should soak it in some water and vinegar? What about quinoa? Pasta? And all beans, including lentils? And then just cook normally? What’s the deal with oatmeal? Like… probably legit oatmeal, not quick oats, you soak that overnight too? I’m so confused ahhhhhhh!!!

Sorry for the probably dumb questions… I see myself as a pretty good cook (I had to learn ’cause I went vegan so young!) but I am seriously a food-science idiot.

Oh, and that recipe for vodka sauce back yonder calls for soaked nuts. So I soak it like this? For a long time in water and vinegar?

I’ll come back to flour later…

22

Sayward

August 24, 2010

@ Meghan – Not dumb questions at all! Yes, all beans and lentils and rices and quinoa and everything! I don’t do pasta since it’s already been processed (but I don’t think it would hurt . . . hmm, haven’t thought about that . . . ) Oatmeal too! It takes a little forethought, but you get used to it. And if you forget once in a while it’s certainly not the end of the world.

The cashews in the vodka sauce would ideally be soaked like this for 6+ hours (for the health benefits), but just make sure they get at least an hour (to soften them up).

23

Meghan

August 25, 2010

Okay, I just started some rice ‘asoakin for dinner tonight. 10-11 hours will have to suffice for my first rice soaking adventure.

So. Say I want to put some flax in some muffins should I:

A: Soak the flax seeds
B: Grind the flax seeds
C: All of the above

Also, for said hypothetical muffins, if I mix the flours (I usually combine white, wheat and some sort o’ bran or nut meal or something) with the soy milk + acid and let it sit overnight, it isn’t going to get rotty and poisonous? For reaaaals? ‘Cause you’re supposed to refrigerate soy milk once it’s open, right? *panics*

Thanks for being awesome, btw.

24

Sayward

August 25, 2010

@ Meghan – The great thing about flax is that it’s super low in phytic acid, so it doesn’t really require a soak. Plus it gets all gummy when you soak it! – can be good if you’re using it as egg replacer. If you ARE using it as egg replacer than a grind and a soak certainly wouldn’t hurt.

For the flour I’m under the impression that it begins to ferment (like milk/alt milk left out for yogurt) but as long as you don’t let it go TOO too long, it’s okay. If you were worried you could always try it in the fridge first to see how it goes.

Luck!

25

Leslie

August 26, 2010

Does soaking the grains change the cooking time, amount of water to grains etc. I did a soak on my brown rice and when I cooked it the usual way it came out a bit mushy. Could have been cause I doubled the amount to take on a camping trip……..Just wondering, as we all are!!!!

26

Sayward

September 2, 2010

@ Leslie – Oh, sorry! Yes, you should reduce the amount of water in the recipe. Unfortunately I don’t have an exact recipe . . I’d say I generally leave out 1/3 of the liquid if I’ve soaked. Hope that helps!

27

Minna

September 7, 2010

Wow… Soaking oatmeal does take a little forethought! Considering that I eat oatmeal porridge for breakfast nearly every other day.. that would mean a lot of soaking! :D

Ever since that post I’ve started to soak my nuts. So far I’ve tried raw cashews and hazelnuts. The latter were good but cashews turned a bit purple and looked like maggots. Haha. Is that normal or maybe they were bad quality cashews?

Now a random question. Do you usually just improvise when it comes to cooking or do you have something like a weekly menu/plan..? If you do, how does it work?

(I was also curious if flaxseed need soaking so I found this page: http://www.freedomyou.com/recipes/flax%20seed.htm – a pretty good summary about the benefits of flaxseed and a few recipes, too. I found it quite educative :)

28

Sayward

September 10, 2010

@ Minna – I think the purple-ish is normal! I get that in my yogurt sometimes . . . no idea what it is but it seems harmless! =D

For cooking I totally, totally improvise. It all depends on the produce I pick up at the market each day. I write a bit more about that here. But I have a lot of schedule flexibility that others may not have. I know that meal planing works really well for some people and saves them a ton of money – I just don’t have any experience with it.