Soaking Grains: Top 5 Reader Questions Answered

Soaking grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds is a traditional practice that can positively impact the nutritional qualities of these foods for those who consume them. Grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds can all add great value and variety to the diet, yet they contain antinutrients – particularly phytates and enzyme inhibitors – which detract from their nutritive value.  Traditional recipes for oatmeal porridge, cakes and even breads call for soaking grains or flour ahead of time, as do recipes for bean- and legume-based dishes.  These foods should be prepared in a manner that maximizes nutrient density by mitigating the effects of these antinutrients.  Soaking grains overnight seems to be an effective, traditional method of enhancing the nutrient profile of these foods, and it is one method consistently used among peoples who adhered to time-honored, traditional methods of preparing native, unprocessed foods.

Focusing exclusively on traditional foods, all of the recipes featuring grains, beans and legumes at Nourished Kitchen call for either souring, soaking or sprouting. A few recipes consistently pop up.  How do you effectively use the process of soaking grains, beans and legumes?  Do you need to soak almond flour? How do you find time to soak grains? Does phytic acid fight cancer?  Do you need to rinse your grains after soaking? Home cooks who wish to treat their family to healthier foods are left to stumble their way through the process of soaking grains, nuts, beans and seeds, so here are some of the most frequently asked questions on the subject of soaking grains that Nourished Kitchen readers submit.

Grains and legumes do not fit into an optimal diet for everyone; indeed many, and some might say most, people thrive on a grain-free diet.  If you choose to consume them, you must master the practice of soaking grains, nuts, beans, seeds and legumes.

1. I want to start soaking grains.  How do I do it?

Grains, beans and legumes contain phytic acid – an antinutrient which binds up minerals preventing your body from fully absorbing them. Phytic acid can be effectively mitigated through three different traditional processes: 1) sprouting, 2) soaking and 3) souring.  To effectively begin soaking grains, beans and legumes you need four components: 1) liquid, 2) acidity, 3) warmth and 4) time.  Each different grain, legume and bean contains a different level of phytic acid, and also a different level of phytase (an enzyme that neutralizes phytic acid), for this reason they all require different amounts of soaking time; however, I don’t believe that cooking ought to be scientific or painstakingly methodical and, instead, believe that simple methods should suffice in most kitchens and for most people.

In our kitchen, when we begin soaking grains for porridge or other dishes, I simply combine a tablespoon or two of yogurt, buttermilk or kefir with filtered warm water and pour this mixture over whole grains.  After combining the whole grain with warm water and an acidic medium, I place this combination into our dehydrator or another warm space in our kitchen.  For soaking flour, we combine an acidic medium such as buttermilk, yogurt or kefir with flour, cover it well and set it aside to soak in a warm spot in the kitchen overnight.

Some research indicates that beans and legumes are best prepared when soaked in very warm water (about 140° Fahrenheit) for at least overnight, or longer.  In our home, we soak beans and legumes for upwards of 48 hours, changing the soaking water frequently as the beans begin to ferment.  Similarly, some beans are better soaked in a slightly alkaline solution rather than an acid one.

2. I’ve been soaking grains, but do I need to rinse them prior to cooking?

Not necessarily.   Soaking grains degrades phytic acid, meaning that your soaking water should not contain an overly large amount of phytates.  If you’ve soaked your grains overnight in an acidic solution to help mitigate the effects of phytic acid, an antinutrient which binds up minerals preventing your body from fully absorbing them, you do not need to discard the soaking liquid or rinse your grains; however, I recommend doing so because I find that rinsing grains, beans and legumes after the soaking process improves their flavor.  Similarly, the Weston A Price Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to nutrient-dense diets and founded on the principles of Weston A Price, recommends that if you’ve finished soaking grains, you rinse them well.

Beans, however, are another story: in order to maximize the nutrient value and the digestibility of beans, they’re best when soaked, drained, rinsed and soaked again repetitively for upwards of a day or two.  T

3. I’ve been soaking grains, but have recently become grain-free. Do  I need to soak almond flour?

No.  Blanched almond flour, the kind most widely available, does not need to be soaked prior to using it in the kitchen, there is an element of disagreement on this matter, but soaking almond flour does not appear to offer the same effects as soaking grains.  Enzyme inhibitors and tannins are found in the papery brown skin surrounding the nutmeat of the almond.  The process of blanching and grinding almonds into almond flour necessitates the removal of this papery skin, and with its removal the almond flour has been effectively “pre-treated” thus eliminating the need to soak the almond flour.  If you are not using blanched almond flour, and are just using plain ground almonds, you will first need to mitigate the effects of antinutrients, including enzyme inhibitors, found in the almonds by soaking them overnight in slightly salty water, dehydrating them and then grinding them into flour.

Blanched almond flour is easy to work with, low in carbohydrates and rich in vitamin E; moreover, it has traditionally been used for confections and sweets for some time.  Many historical cookbooks may include almond flour in cake recipes as well as other confections, but do not call for soaking it as they do for flour- and grain-based dishes.  (Check out the recipe for Portugal Cake in my 18th Century Menu.)

4. If soaking grains degrades phytic acid, should I bother? Doesn’t phytic acid fight cancer?

There’s some evidence that food phytates may be beneficial under certain circumstances – and the evidence is mounting that food phytates may act as antioxidants and help the body to fight cancer.  It is their very nature – their ability to prevent your body from fully absorbing minerals (the very reason traditional people practiced soaking grains, nuts and legumes) – that may also play a role in the fight against cancers.  But while phytates deprive cancer cells of minerals they need to survive, they also deprive non-cancerous cells of the very minerals they need to thrive.  In our home, we prefer to adhere to time-honored traditions in preparing our foods – and that means maximizing nutrient density by soaking our grains when we consume them.  As for eating with a mindful eye toward the fight against cancer, we choose to consume foods rich in conjugate linoleic acid, vitamins, food enzymes and nutritive antioxidants  – components of food found in meats, milk, fruits and vegetables.

5. Okay. I understand the value of soaking grains, but what about all that time?

At first glance, soaking grains to make porridge and flour to make bread seems time-consuming; however, good food takes good time – and it’s worth it.  Either you value the nourishment achieved through traditional, real food and you’ll take the time to make it happen, or you don’t. Soaking flour for bread, as in the famous no-knead bread made popular in the New York Times, requires about five minutes of active time.  Similarly, soaked oatmeal porridge requires about two to three minutes of preparation and only about five minutes of cook time.  While preparing soaked flour recipes requires forethought and planning, it does not require greater time constraints or effort.  Learn to plan your meals ahead of time in that you must begin preparing foods the night before you plan to eat them, or earlier, they do not, as a rule, require greater amount of cooking time.

For Further Study on Soaking Grains, Nuts, Beans and Legumes:

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