Monday Mission: Let’s Tackle Those Soaking Grains Again!

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sourdough bread It’s been some time since I rocked the soaking grains boat, and after sailing pleasantly through summer, I’m ready to board again. Are you?

Today is a Monday Mission on Friday. I know, I know, I’ve got to get back on schedule. (My life feels a bit like this, too.) But next week is the Back-To-School Bonanza, and I’ve just got too many green lunch packing products, off-to-college products, and homeschool curriculum options to review and give away. It’s going to take all five days, for sure, plus on Friday I’m debuting at Green…Your Way, a channel at the new eZine Life…Your Way, and I promised my husband that when I write for them, it’s my post for the day. He apparently thinks I’m a bit busy. 😉

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is two-fold. Welcome back to the grind; there aren’t any bye weeks once we get going!

  1. Engage your brain. Read the previous soaking grains exploration pages, listed just below.
  2. Engage your gut. Join the “Test Your Grains Challenge” or report on what your family already knows to be true about the way your system interacts with grains prepared in various ways.

Katie’s Summary

Here is what I know, what I live by, right now, without even looking back at my other research or posts:

  • The theory that whole grains negatively impact digestion and mineral absorption has some legs to stand on. How many, I’m not sure.
  • Sourdough preparation is the healthiest way to prepare grains.
  • The soaking process suggested by Nourishing Traditions may also have positive effects on the digestibility and mineral bioavailability of grains; however, the exact process has not been well researched.
  • There is much evidence that grains were often fermented in traditional societies. This carries much weight. However, whether a Tablespoon of lemon juice for 12 hours can ferment grains, I am not sure. Is there a nutritional/digestive difference between soaking and fermenting?
  • Soaking doesn’t feel traditional because our grandmothers, largely, didn’t do it. Then again, they didn’t often use whole grains, either. Our century may not be a good indicator of “traditional” food preparation.
  • Anecdotal evidence from personal experience (of others) demonstrates that the soaking process certainly does something positive.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m not supporting soaking grains, or that I would dissuade people from treating their grains with care. My only goal is find out the nitty gritty of HOW it should be done, and if there’s research behind “IF” it should be done. When I ask the author of Nourishing Traditions herself here if she has sources on soaking, and all I get is a few studies (in French!) about sourdough, I find myself unconvinced.

Many have asked in the last six months what the Kimball household does with their grains.

We butter them, of course.

Sorry. Seriously, for my own family, I soak grains whenever I can and feel a little uncomfortable serving unsoaked whole grains, much like I do if I serve them a dessert with white sugar.

The Reading List

Here are some helpful links to get you up to speed (or remind you) what we’ve discussed so far, in little bytes of information, here at Kitchen Stewardship.

  • Primer: How to Soak Flour in Whole Grain Recipes
  • The Basics:  The Nutritional Value of Whole Grains – Benefits and Dangers
  • Historical and Biblical references: Is Soaking Grains Traditional?
  • What are Phytates and Phytic Acid?
  • Health Benefits of Sourdough Preparation
  • Health Benefits of Sprouting
  • What is the Role of Phytase?
  • Meet the 5 Soaking Grains Experts
  • The First Debate: Fallon Morell vs. O’Brien
  • More Fallon/O’Brien Debate
  • Three Expert Takes on the Value of White Bread
  • More information: Buy the Phytic Acid Paper at Rebuild Market
  • The End in Sight?

    Yes, this fall will see the end of the soaking grains issue. I’m bound and determined, in the midst of baking a new bread recipe every week while “Seeking the Perfect Homemade Whole Wheat Bread,” to find some uninterrupted, high brain power time to sift through the rest of the scientific journal articles that I have in my folder and write a few zingers about the soaking issue. I’ll either come to a conclusion (which, at best, will be educated guess, i.e. a pile of sorted research) or call “Uncle!” but either way, the series will be finite. Again, you’ll know that we’ve reached the end when the post is titled “To Soak or Not to Soak!”

    I feel a bit sheepish when I read the posts from February, where I was already apologizing for stringing people along in multiple posts and promising “more to come.” And then March and April passed with a few soaking recipes, and May, June and the whole summer strode by with nary a mention of soaking grains (other than the reader survey, during which “Katie’s a lifer” Was the most popular answer to “Will the soaking grains series ever wrap up?”).

    I admit. I got distracted. I launched Healthy Snacks to Go in late April. I got to give away a dehydrator and had to talk food preservation for a few weeks in June, finally published my camping eBook and desperately wanted to test natural sunscreens in July, and got tired of thinking and took vacations in August while rambling on about myself, my birthday, blogging, and in-season recipes I was enjoying. It was fun. I hope you enjoyed some of it, or perhaps you spent more time outside and less on the computer. That’s a good thing, too.

    But now, good kitchen stewards, it’s time to get back to business. It’s time to tackle the soaking grains issue, once and for all (at least, for now).

    Will you help?

    The Challenge

    test your grains challenge I’m issuing a “Test Your Grains Challenge” in an attempt to gather some not-very-scientific but fabulously anecdotal data on how various forms of grains affect people:

    • Refined grains (like white bread, white rice)
    • Whole grains, unsoaked
    • Soaked whole grains with acidic medium (lemon juice, vinegar)
    • Soaked whole grains with a cultured medium (yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, whey)
    • Sprouted whole grains
    • Sourdough preparation
    • No grains at all

    Now some of you certainly have already conducted this experiment in your own homes, within your own bodies, as a result of a negative reaction to some sort of grains that you realized did not occur with another preparation – an epiphany to be sure! For example, Wardeh at GNOWFGLINS and her family have reversed food allergies by eating nourishing foods, one key factor being soaking and souring their grains. Other readers have noticed behavioral changes in their children after eating different types of grains, still others get physical pain when eating grains improperly prepared.

    Many of us, like myself, have never noticed a “grain issue.” We think we’re tooling along just fine, thank you, and would you please pass the bread? I’d like some with my spaghetti.


    I gave up all unsoaked whole grains for Lent this past spring, and I was surprised to notice a real difference. I’m not going to tell you what (or where) it was yet, but I will eventually. I just want to drag you along for the ride. I did gluten-free for holy week, and my husband and I also gave up all grains for a spell, but only a quick 5-day hiatus. It wasn’t enough to really notice anything, but it made me curious. Curiouser and curiouser, in fact.

    Would you join me in digging into the issue of grains?

    UPDATE: Sign up officially HERE.
    UPDATE: Here are the surveys: BEFORE and  AFTER

    1. What is the best type of grain preparation for digestion?
    2. What grains are better for energy? Mood? Focus?
    3. Are humans created to eat grains at all? Are some and not others?

    Clearly, we won’t be able to test out the second issue with soaking grains, that of mineral absorption. Alas, I don’t have a lab in my home to run blood tests before and after, nor access to one. Someday I’ll convince a university to take our little project on, but until then, I’m kind of jittery excited to see what comes of the “Test Your Grains Challenge.”

    Here are the basics:

    1. Participants commit to trying out at least two (but as many as they’d like) methods of grains preparation exclusively for 7-10 days. In other words, you’d eat only grains prepared in one of the following methods for that amount of time:
      1. Refined grains (like white bread, white rice)
      2. Whole grains, unsoaked
      3. Soaked whole grains with acidic medium (lemon juice, vinegar)
      4. Soaked whole grains with a cultured medium (yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, whey)
      5. Sprouted whole grains
      6. Sourdough preparation
      7. No grains at all


    2. Participants keep track of various indicators of digestive health, including overall feeling in the gut, energy, focus, and bowel movements.
    3. Participants take a survey with the results of their personal experiment, once for each 7-10 day period with a certain grains preparation.
    4. For those who have already come to the conclusion that grains/unsoaked whole grains/etc. truly negatively affect them, you could still absolutely participate simply by taking the survey with the information you noticed previously. All data is unique and interesting data, in my book! (That’s why I’m a teacher and a writer, not a scientist. I just play (a mad) one on the Internet.)
    5. I don’t expect this to be easy, especially if you’re traveling or visiting friends. My advice would be either to turn down grains if not served the way you’re seeking that week, or politely accept and start over with the 7-10 days. A little cheat, when we’re talking such a short time, doesn’t really fit into the data. But it’s no big deal!

    I want you to consider this over the weekend. Talk to your spouse. Inquire with your teen children whether or not they want to participate. Pray about it, if you think it’s that important. I’m not exactly sure which options I’m going to try, but I’ll tackle a few. My own house will be full of bread as I “Seek the Perfect Homemade Whole Wheat,” so it will be a tricky balance.

    Feel free to begin immediately, if you like. I’ll post an actual survey sometime next week, I think, even in the midst of the Back-to-School Bonanza. The initial commitment will just be “What are you going to tackle?” plus a little peek at the kinds of questions I’ll ask you to answer. Just pay attention, to everything. In short, you can get a move on if you’re so inspired.

    I’d love some early encouragement with a comment on the post about:

    • How you will participate
    • What you hope to learn
    • Ideas on what will be important to include in the survey questions
    • Did I miss anything so far?
    • What questions do you have?

    I can’t wait!

    Remember that Amanda Rose, author of Rebuild from Depression, has a research paper all about phytic acid available for purchase. You can also pick up some excellent soaking grains practices if you check out GNOWFGLINS Fundamentals eCourse, a 14-week class on basic traditional cooking skills.

    And yes, my Healthy Snacks to Go eBook has a bunch of soaked grain recipes, as does the Family Camping Handbook

    Have you seen The List: What to Eat, What to Avoid, How to Compromise? Three columns of real food necessities for you!

    Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Amanda Rose, but also a colleague who uses her information, and I teach for GNOWFGLINS eCourses. Would I recommend these resources anyway? For you, my dear readers, of course I would. See my full disclosure statement here.

    I’m entered in Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade. Head on over for amazing links from many other bloggers.

    Click here for my disclaimer and advertising disclosure - affiliate links in this post will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price.

    51 Bites of Conversation So Far

    1. says

      I am hoping to do the sourdough preparation and the unsoaked grains. I switched to whole spelt flour (ground at home) and occasional unbleached (wheat) flour recently and I have noticed a difference versus whole wheat. I lose weight. I am interested to see if sourdough preparation changes how I do with whole wheat. This should be an exciting experiment!

    2. says


      This post is excellent. I’ve skimmed Nourishing Traditions but haven’t read it in full and so I know very little about soaking grains. What little bit I do know is from one of Sue Gregg’s cookbooks. Not very in depth. I look forward to learning what you learn.

      I appreciate your blog! I just started a new food blog but so far the recipes on there just aren’t. . . very healthy. :-) I’ll slowly be introducing more and more healthful alternatives but until then, I’ll look to your blog for more ideas for my own family!
      .-= Kelly @ A Full Table´s last blog ..Summery Pasta Salad =-.

    3. says

      I’ve been on a plan called the Whole30 for the last 20 days. It’s grain-, bean-, dairy-, and sugar-free. When I wrap up on the 20th of this month, I’m going to spend a couple days adding back things (dairy one day, grains another) and then move to a full month of eating all my grains whole and soaked. I’ll be sharing my personal results (along with any “cheats”) on my blog, if you’re interested.

      I definitely notice a difference between roasted versus raw nuts, and I know that I feel better after eating soaked oatmeal. I’ve also found that the original No-Knead Bread (not sourdough, but risen a long time at room temp) seems easier to digest than quick-rise wheat bread.
      .-= Jenn´s last blog ..Nutrients and Food Cravings =-.

      • Katie says

        A fascinating start! Be sure to leave a link over here when you’re posting your results, if you would, or email me and I’d be happy to link to you from a soaking grains post. :) Katie

    4. Shannon says

      Woo hoo! I’ve been waiting for you to get back to this. I like that you research it so much so I don’t have to :). No, seriously, I’m kind of a nerd like that but once I start researching something, especially something like this, I just can’t stop. I’ll end up having 20+ tabs open in my browser! And still not have a conclusive answer…

    5. says

      A very quick summary of the issue by Dr Weil is a nice one I think for overviewing some of the points folks are concerned about here:

      I tend to think along the same moderation lines he alludes to. Especially since evidence seems to be the phytic acid is a concern for THAT food’s mineral depletion, not your own body’s stores.

      Perhaps our larger picture question should be “Are you over consuming wheat in general?”

      If wheat is the only grain you consume, or your primary one, then one way to think through the issue is simply to enter more variation of whole grains in addition to making sure the wheat you eat is best prepared for human digestion.

      Just my humble two cents to the wonderful conversation.

      Katie– I’ve learned so much from your thorough discussion of this topic already– very excited that you have even more for us!
      .-= Lisa @ WellGrounded Life´s last blog ..How To Handle Seasonal Transitions Gracefully =-.

    6. Esther says

      I’m so glad you’re continuing this series! I have a question for you though. While you’re on the journey of making the perfect loaf of bread, will you cover the topic of how much flour one would use when it’s store bought, pre-ground vs. home-milled flour? It seems as though it takes substanially more home-milled flour, but it would be nice to have your thorough investigation of the matter. Thanks!

      • Katie says

        I’m not sure I completely understand your question. Do you mean the monetary cost of the various ways you might get bread? Sorry I missed your point, but I’m sure we’ll get there with a little more explanation. :) Katie

        • Stephanie M says

          I think she is talking about cups of flour. If you grind your own flour, do you have to use more cups of flour than if you were using store bought flour?

          • Sarah W says

            There is a good little article at about “What is a cup?” There is a lot of variation in the weight of a “cup” of flour when it is scooped or sifted (or freshly ground) or whatever. I really prefer to do bread recipes by weight for this reason.
            I also find weighing ingredients to be more efficient in general as well as saves dishes!


            • Esther says

              I’ll have to check out the link you referenced. As Stephanie suggested, I was talking about cups of flour–sorry I wasn’t clear. I haven’t found a definitive resource or answer regarding this, so I’m looking to be pointed in the right direction.

              • Katie says

                Got it. I was just confused by the store bought bread part of the question, since I wouldn’t know how much flour they used. :) I do hear it’s different with freshly ground and store ground, but I am just not that observant myself…
                :) Katie

    7. OaxacaJulie says

      I have some questions about soaking grains… I thought that phylates are an antioxidant. Wouldn’t that make them a good thing?

      I tried making the soaked whole wheat bread maker recipe using lemon juice and it turned out really sour in flavor (but not sour in a good way–I’m from the SF area and I love sour dough). The sour taste was more like when my store-bought wheat bread gets too old. The rest of my family refused to eat it. Did I do something wrong, or is soaked bread supposed to taste like that?

      As far as traditional methods of preparation, my husband is a Zapotec Indian from Mexico and much of our diet is the same as what his ancestors have been eating for thousands of years. Contrary to popular belief, Mexican Indians do not soak their beans, they just cook them over a low fire so it takes most of the day. Does that do the same thing as soaking them would? The corn in tortillas is boiled in lime (the mineral) water. That process, ‘nixtamalization,’ is known for making corn much more healthy–places that have a corn-based diet that don’t practice nixtamalization suffer from pellagra, a disease caused by niacin deficiency. But how is nixtamalization like soaking as corn that has been soaked in lime will not sprout? And isn’t lime an alcali? I though grains are supposed to be soaked in a mildly acidic solution?


      • Katie says

        I think the answer to the phytates question is in this post: What are Phytates and Phytic Acid? I know I addressed it somewhere already.

        I’ve never found soaked recipes to taste any different than normal bread, but I almost always use whey from my yogurt, which adds almost no flavor, even to oatmeal *unless it’s been a full 24+hours or is very warm. You should be able to get a good flavor even w/lemon juice, I think. How long did the dough soak?

        Nixtamalization is a perfect example of “soaking” grains, at least for corn. I didn’t know lime was alkaline, but it may be – what matters is that is neutralizes the phytic acid in the corn and releases minerals, and it’s a traditional way of food preparation. Corn is an anomaly among grains!

        Great questions – :) Katie

      • says

        If I’m not mistaken, nixtamalization is also used to produce hominy… MMMM! I found a website that explained how to do it at home, but when I went back to check it out again, the page was gone. Do you know how it’s done, Julie?

        PS – I’ve visited Oaxaca – it’s beautiful there!
        .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Daybook for September 7- 2010 =-.

        • OaxacaJulie says

          In Oaxaca, people use cal–the lime powder stuff that gets mixed with cement when making concrete. It’s hard to know exact measurements because the strength of the cal varies. If too much is used, the tortillas come out yellow, too little, they go bad really quickly. Here’s a recipe from The Food and Life of Oaxaca by Zarela Martinez…

          2 pounds dried “dent” corn (the starchiest type available, the kernels have an indented shape)
          3 quarts water
          1/4 cup cal (slaked lime) available at pharmacies and building supply stores

          Run cold running water of the corn to wash off the dusty chaff. Combine water and cal in a non-reactive saucepan. Stir well to dissolve and add the corn, discarding any kernels that float.

          Bring to a boil over high then reduce to low. Cook for 15 minutes then remove from heat and let cool to room temp. Let the corn soak, covered, for 4 hours at room temp.

          Pour into a colander and rinse under cold while rubbing the kernels between the palms of your hands until the coating rinses off and your left with the kernel and the corn germ. Grind and use as needed.

          Good luck!

    8. Sarah W says

      I am kind of interested in seeing what it would be like to give up grains all together since I think this would be the most drastic and most difficult for me to do. I’m not sure I could just do it for my *own* curiosity, but maybe if I make a committment to someone else’s curiosity, and in the name of science, I could do it.

    9. Stephanie M says

      My son was just diagnosed as being allergic to both wheat and yeast (among other things). Any advice on sourdough with alternative grains?

    10. Sonia says

      This is actually good timing. We were already planning on testing going grain free this week. I’d definitely be willing to fill out a survey about it. Another quick, random sort of unrelated question … are you about to make sourdough with all, or any GF flours?

    11. Amy Clark says

      I’m in! I’ve been grinding my own organic ww flour for about a year now. Started out soaking everything, then dropped off, then on, then off – I’m sure you know how it goes. Anyway, I’d like to get back into it again (soaking, that is), and I’d be willing to let you know how it goes. I’ll do whole wheat unsoaked first, then whole wheat soaked. Will you have a thread to sign up, or do these comments count?

      On another note, do you personally or do you know someone who has any experience with headaches caused by food allergies? My 7 yr. old has “early onset migraines”. I make almost all of our food from scratch. No MSG, no food dyes, no preservatives, no pesticides, etc. The doctors want to put my son on meds, but I’m opposed to it. The poor thing suffers daily with debilitating headaches, and I’m at a loss as to what to do. If you know someone who could help me I’d be much obliged.

      Amy Clark

      • says

        We had my son stop drinking milk for a few weeks (store bought). After one week my husband asked how he felt and he said “my stomach doesn’t hurt all of the time and my head ache is gone.” He didn’t know he could feel this good! Apparently 30% of kids are allergic to milk (not sure about raw milk).

        He used to love milk and doesn’t care if he drinks it anymore. He can drink pasteurized cream (not ultra pasteurized) without a problem.
        .-= Johnlyn´s last blog ..Feed Your Freezer Day – Menu Plan Monday =-.

      • Katie says

        I will include a linky sign up in a week, but I did want to give folks a heads up. I wish I had more info on headaches and allergies, but Sarah has a good suggestion. I can’t remember Wardeh’s experience at GNOWFGLINS, but her family has a lot of food allergies. I sure hope you can figure it out w/o meds! Katie

    12. Amy Clark says

      Thanks for the replies. I actually just took Wardeh’s ecourse – I can’t believe I didn’t notice a mention of allergies in poking around her blog! I’ll ask her the same questions. I did just take my son off of dairy today. Can I replace with coconut milk? Thanks!


      • Katie says

        If you mean replace with coconut milk b/c c. milk is non-dairy, yes. For soaking, folks usually use an acidic medium like water kefir, vinegar, or lemon juice. Best of luck! :) Katie

    13. says

      Hi! I’m taking part in your experiment. On my “journey to wellness” I first eliminated wheat from my diet. Then I added spelt back in. Then I discovered soaking. I had trouble with a lot of recipes, so I tried buying sprouted flour. Then I did sourdough. Eventually, I ended up back at regular (white) spelt. The only time I felt really well and lost weight was when I eliminated grains completely. I’ve been trying off and on to do so again, but end up failing. It’s hard to live without them!! I’m very careful about what we eat: raw milk, free-range chicken eggs, grass-fed meat, non-processed foods, etc. Since I had gone a few days without spelt, I’m starting out the week by having them unsoaked and unsprouted. (It doesn’t take much of an excuse to add them back in!) Then I’ll go to sprouted or maybe sourdough for a week. Lastly, I’m going off them. I hope it’s for a long time. I really think my body does not like them and I’m getting desperate trying to get my husband’s diabetes under control. Since I need to go back and reread your info on all this (and because this reads like a mini-novel), I’ll stop for now. I may come back in another comment and address some of the other things you asked us about. :) Thanks for your hard work! ~Karen
      .-= Karen´s last blog ..Spelt Flour Tortillas =-.

    14. says

      This is perfect timing for us-my husband and I have been discussing doing GAPS and so I was going to start trying more grain-free recipes. I went low-carb in June and felt great, except when I cheated-I could tell there was a difference! I already make most everything with sourdough or sprouted flour, but it will be good to really cut back and see the effects.

    15. Sally says

      In soaing grains, you use an acidic medium. Does the temperature matter? Do you have to soak in a warm place? You can’t do the soaking in the fridge, right?

      • Katie says

        You’ll definitely want to follow some of the links in this post for the “how-to”, but basically, not in the fridge. Optimal is about 110 degrees or so, but “room temperature” is what most people achieve. :) Katie

    16. Sarah W says

      What’s the time frame on this project? DH will go grain free with me, but I think it’s going to best for us to wait until the beginning of October d/t some traveling and birthdays coming up. :)

      • Katie says

        You’ll have time! You know I stretch things out – ha! You could always try unsoaked whole grains, or even white flour only for a week to see what happens before then if you want to try two things.
        :) Katie

    17. says

      Not sure if I’ll participate, but I wanted to comment that after eating baked oatmeal made with soaked oats nearly every day this summer, I reached a point where even soaked oats gave me tummy troubles. I’ve mostly quit eating them, and will try again after a couple months or so to see if there’s any difference.
      .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Daybook for September 7- 2010 =-.

    18. says

      You saw this on my blog, too, but I figured I could mention it here as well — we’re going completely off grains for awhile. We normally eat storebought, white bread and pasta. Not a ton of either, but at least several servings a day. I also eat whole wheat bread from time to time. As of yesterday, we’re going grain free for at least a week!

      The earliest reports are positive — I asked my husband how he was doing at work today, and instead of “Okay” or “meh” like I usually get, he said “Pretty good, actually”! Hope it lasts. :)

    19. says

      I don’t eat any grains as they just don’t sit well with me. I think I’m a fructose malabsorber aswell as being a coeliac and many grains are too high in starches for me.

      However, my boys do well on soaked grains – less well on rice though – and I tend to favour soaking them in whey, over vinegar or lemon juice. Flavour-wise it seems to work better and seems to make the grains more digestible.

      If I’m making a pancake batter or non sourdough bread, I just soak the mix with some yogurt or whey in for 12-24 hours at room temperature.

      I also really notice a difference for myself with soaked and dehydrated nuts and seeds.

      x x x

    20. says

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