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Soaking Grains vs. Sprouting: Which is Best?

In our quest for the healthiest possible grains and legumes, so far we’ve wrassled yeast into a jar and learned to feed it, coaxed things to sprout in our kitchens, and fiddled around with soaking oatmeal or flours. I hope you are convinced that sourdough preparation is proven to increase nutrients, improve digestibility and neutralize phytic acid in grains. Now for sprouting.

As with most nutritional questions, there are approximately 5,390 sides to this question, many of which are individual to each person, which multiplies that number by 7 billion.

Let’s amble through a little pro/con list, and then I’ll do the evil ending of letting you decide for yourself. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Why Sprout Grains (and Legumes and Stuff)?

Sprouted Lentils

Of the potential issues with consumption of grains, the most widely recognized is the carb problem. Carbohydrates can be stored as fat too easily, and many would say that carbs don’t give very well-metabolized energy, even whole grain kinds.

Sprouting cuts the carbs. Sprouting also increases Vitamins C and A immensely.

When a seed begins to sprout, many systems kick into place:

  • Enzyme inhibitors, there to prevent the seed from germinating (beginning to grow) while in storage, are neutralized and done away with by the soaking action.
  • Once the inhibitors are gone, the new plant is able to begin consuming the stored food (in the endosperm – the starch!) and using that energy to grow a sprout.
  • Some energy is used in this process, which is why it makes sense that sprouts have fewer calories than the legume or grain in its whole form.
  • The growing plant also activates phytase, an enzyme that will help break the phytate bond and dissolve phytic acid. This releases phosphorus, calcium, iron, and other good minerals from their bondage inside the seed.
  • Destroys lectins, which trigger inflammation and related problems

Disadvantages to Sprouting

  • Some sources say the phytate content is not affected as much with sprouting as soaking
  • It takes more pre-planning and a smidge more time than soaking
  • If you don’t have at least a grain grinder and preferably a dehydrator, you can’t sprout your own grains for baking
  • Sprouted flour, when purchased, is very expensive – so if soaking works for flour, it may feel like a better option

Why Soak Grains?

soaked oatmeal
  • Also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors
  • May reduce phytic acid’s effect on bonded minerals, more so percentage-wise than sprouting, but still less than sourdough and far less than 100%
  • Although using the accelerated fermentation for brown rice can reduce phytic acid by a whopping 96%
  • May begin to break down the gluten proteins, helping some people tolerate gluten better
  • Some individuals find that soaking really makes a difference in their tolerance and digestion of grains. Some also find that sprouting is the only thing that works! (Perhaps the difference is whether the original problem with grains for that person is phytates, gluten, or lectins.)

Why Not Soak Grains?

  • Some sources say phytic acid is actually helpful to our systems
  • May break down fiber, which may or may not be healthy (talk about confusing!)
  • Doesn’t touch lectins
  • May not be as effective when already flour, especially if not freshly ground

Sprouted and Soaked vs. “The Norm”

I would love to find some science that compares the nutrition, enzyme inhibitors and phytates in an amount of beans, and then that exact handful examined after soaking and after sprouting. It’s hard to compare one cup of dry vs. sprouted beans or even one ounce, because I know that sprouting makes beans feel lighter and increases their size simply because they’ve begun growing.

To make the following comparison list, I compared Hard Red Winter Wheat with Sprouted Wheat (both uncooked, I assume) and cooked kidney beans with sprouted cooked kidney beans at Nutrition Data. Here is what I found:

Sprouting kidney beans increases:

  • Vitamin A and C (C is incredible – from 2%DV to 59%DV)
  • Sodium (4x)
  • Protein (by ½)
  • Fats (5x)

Sprouting decreases:

  • Carbs (by 2/3)
  • Fiber (almost to nothing)
  • Folic acid (by half)
  • Niacin
  • Vitamin K (to zero)
  • Vitamin E (to zero)
  • Vitamin B6 in half
  • Choline (to zero)
  • Total calories (by 2/3)
  • glycemic load (by 2/3)
  • inflammation factor (considerably in wheat)

The decrease in carbs makes perfect sense, since initiating the sprout effectively changes a seed full of starch into a baby plant, which begins to consume that starch. This may make sprouted beans a better option for diabetics:

When a dormant seed sprouts, its starch is converted into simple sugars, and long chain proteins are split into smaller, easily digestible molecules. Sprouted beans and seeds are like a pre-digested food, one of the most enzyme-rich and nutritious foods known . (source)

In wheat, unlike kidney beans, the protein and fats both decreased by 2/3.

Perhaps although the total amounts of minerals and vitamins seem to be decreased, they are more bioavailable to us post-sprouting?

Here’s what the real researchers found:

One study out of the University of Minnesota found that the nutrient density of sprouted wheat was in some instances hundreds of times higher than in whole wheat, specifically in vitamin C, folic acid, niacin and riboflavin (vitamin B2). (source) These studies have also demonstrated a significant increase in various enzymes, including amylase, protease and lipase. (source)

Handy! Sailors who knew better wouldn’t worry about eating their citrus and saving the rest for later. They could just sprout grains to get their Vitamin C.

UPDATE:  I just read this: “Soy and kidney bean sprouts are toxic and should be avoided. Sprouted lentils, black eyed beans, partridge peas, peanuts and vetch retain phytates which cause poor digestion and gas,” here, and although the author doesn’t source his post, he’s right about many of his facts. Besides that, these sprouted lentils DID give me awful gas! (Bet you wanted to know that, right?)

UPDATE:  Readers chime in with helpful info! Check the comments, but here’s a highlight: “Kidney bean sprouts may not be eaten raw, due to a high level of phytohemagglutinin. Boiling for 10 minutes destroys this protein structure and makes them safe. (Meaning, probably not the best bean to cook on low in your crockpot.)”

What is Germinated Brown Rice (GBR)?

germinated brown rice

In my eyes, GBR is the link between the proven benefits of sprouting and the practice of soaking grains that I’m exploring.

To germinate rice, you simply soak in warm water overnight, drain and continue to kep moist for a time. Sounds just like sprouting for me!

ABC Science says that “Germinated rice contains much more fiber than conventional brown rice, say the researchers, three times the amount of the essential amino acid lysine, and ten times the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), another amino acid known to improve kidney function.”  It also may fight Alzheimer’s and pumps up the zinc in the wheat.

Because of the relatively low phytase content in brown rice and the necessity of phytase to neutralize the phytic acid, you need to make sure you’re finding some phytase somewhere. With my morning oats, I just add a scoop of whole wheat flour. Here is a new way to soak rice. It calls for saving just a bit of the soak water for the next batch of rice, whenever that may be!


Your Call!

The information for this post pretty much comes from my own former posts on the subjects as found in my exploration of soaking grains. They’re all cited well within those individual posts.

I still remain convinced that sourdough is the best way to go for healthy grains, but there’s a big commitment to sourdough, and although the teachers at GNOWFGLINS eCourse can show you how to make (seriously) just about everything with sourdough, there are still some grains (oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa) that you’d eat differently, without sourdough.

So. Maybe a mixture of both is the way to go.

Will you be soaking, sprouting, or souring your grains?
Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

35 thoughts on “Soaking Grains vs. Sprouting: Which is Best?”

    1. Carolyn @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Thanks for pointing that out Stacy! I’m sorry to say that resource is no longer available.

  1. Pingback: Simplifying Grains, Nuts and Beans: Fuss Free Kitchen Series

  2. Soaking doesn’t stand vs. sprouting, but it is the first step in the process of sprouting. Dehydration is not needed at all. The phytic acid has an advantage only in case you already have a cancer, cause it prevents the minerals from the carcinogenic cells.
    Steaming is needed to kill all unwanted yeast and molds.
    The next steps are wet grinding and anaerobic (lacto-) fermentation with airlock. baking is the last step.

    1. Hi, Yosi. Do you recommend steaming after sprouting, then, to rid the sprouted grains/nuts of yeast and molds? I’m not clear on when the steaming needs to occur, or if steaming is an option in place of sprouting. Can you provide more insight? Thanks so much!

      1. Yes. There is no dry flour in my steps: soaking, sprouting, steaming, wet grinding, and fermentation. The aims of steaming are additional reducion of phytic acid and killing bad yeast and molds before the beginning of wet grinding. Also, steaming, but not cooking, keeps the grain hard enough to be ground by wet grinder. Grinding increases the surface area and eases the lacto fermentation process. Fermentation also reduces the phytic acid and makes it more digestible. It is possible to bake flat breads, and to make pancakes with the fermented product.

    2. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Thanks for chiming in – I’m hoping you come on back to answer Pamela’s questions, because I’m a little unclear, too. It doesn’t sound like there would be any possibility for FLOUR in your steps…most recipes would be impossible with already wet grains…right? Or am I missing something?
      🙂 Katie

      1. Yes. There is no dry flour in my steps: soaking, sprouting, steaming, wet grinding, and fermentation. The aims of steaming are additional reducion of phytic acid and killing bad yeast and molds before the beginning of wet grinding. Also, steaming, but not cooking, keeps the grain hard enough to be grind by wet grinder. Grinding increases the surface area and eases the lacto fermentation process. Fermentation also reduces the phytic acid and makes it more digestible. It is possible to bake flat breads, and to make pancakes with the fermented product.

  3. Hi, Katie,

    Just discovered your blog and LOVE the info, resources, etc – THANK YOU!

    Question regarding this post of sprouting vs. soaking – I find it interesting that while gliadin, a lectin that is suspected as the culprit for those with gluten sensitivity, is only removed from the grain through sprouting, it is actually soaking that you say seems to work better for those with gluten intolerance. Why do you suppose that is?
    Your insight would be appreciated.

    1. Apologies, Katie. I just reread this part, which answers my question: “Some individuals find that soaking really makes a difference in their tolerance and digestion of grains. Some also find that sprouting is the only thing that works! (Perhaps the difference is whether the original problem with grains for that person is phytates, gluten, or lectins.)”

  4. Thanks a lot for the info. I agree that there are thousands of different opinions depending on who is answering the question but I appreciate the pros/cons.

  5. Diana@Spain in Iowa

    Once again, thank you Katie! You are a rock star at demystifying all of the issues surrounding soaking/sprouting/none at all. For me, I’m off to make a new sourdough starter and attempt a loaf of sourdough bread!

  6. If you wait for research you will never make bread. I make sprouted hard wheat/soaked oatmeal sourdough bread and it is super light and yummy. Same recipe without the sprouting and soaking makes super heavy bread. Conslusive research as far as I am concerned. Pass the raw butter<3

    1. Jamie,
      Whoa. You do it all in one recipe. Amazing! May I see the recipe? Love your attitude, well done. 🙂 Katie

  7. I make sprouted wheat and soaked otatmeal sourdough bread to cover all bases. Super yummy and light bread.

  8. The list of pro’s and con’s seems to intimate that sprouting is a nutritionally better choice, but beyond the reach of many including myself (I want a dehydrator!!!). For now, I am soaking what I can and just started my first sourdough yesterday 😉

    By the way, we like frugality and nutrition…so…all this dehydrating…how much will it run up my electric bill? I do not know how those machines work 😉 Perhaps because it is a low temperature it is not too costly? No idea, but ’tis a concern of my mother’s.

    1. Jenn,
      Totally a great question! I figured it out at some point…it’s maybe 10-15 cents per hour? That does add up to at least a buck per batch of stuff, sometimes more, so you want to fill it when you use it. I have a post on how to figure out how much money appliances cost right here:

      Sourdough is definitely frugal! Love it! Enjoy – Katie

      1. Oh, thanks! You are so on top of things.
        My sourdough is going, but I was wondering if I mix in the added flour and water every time or do I just dump them in?

          1. Yes!!! I did it correctly! I have made two batches of your sourdough crackers in two days and they are gone. Vanished. YUM.

  9. This is why I just can’t get started on soaking or sprouting. It is so confusing and I don’t know if it is worth the time. Megan’s comment of after 36 hours I add this…. Yikes! With work I just don’t know about all that time…

    1. Jen,
      One of the great things about soaking at least is that it doesn’t really take more time. The food sits around for 24 hours, but you don’t have to do anything to it. It’s more like moving the times you work on food – a little bit the night before, then the rest when you’re baking. It only takes an extra minute or two to soak most recipes. For example, I love just being able to throw some water in my pot in the morning and turn it on, and then the oatmeal is ready! All the hard work is done the night before.

      Sprouting is a little more complicated, which is one of its major drawbacks for me. Trust me, it’s worth a try at least to see if you feel better with soaked baked goods. If nothing changes for you, go back to normal! Good luck! 🙂 Katie

    2. I’m echoing what Katie said, it really doesn’t take more time to soak grains, just a change of schedule. The baked oatmeal sounds complicated but in reality it’s just a matter of one night when I’m making dinner I mix up the oats and some liquid. Then for breakfast 2 days later (36 hours) I add some eggs, baking soda, and baking powder and bake. I then have enough baked oatmeal on hand for 12 breakfasts (I keep it in my freezer) You can’t hardly get more convenient than that! I used to feel the same way you do when I started looking into some of this information. My advice would just be to jump in and start trying some of these things, figure out what your family likes and then cook in large batches, it is *so* wonderful to have a freezer stocked with homemade bone broths, sourdough breads, etc. It really doesn’t require living in your kitchen. 🙂

    3. I do think sprouting is good. The bad information or confusion about it is more to do with people or companies that benefit from us not being healthy.
      They can also post here or have their own web pages packed with negative stuff.
      If we don’t get sick most pharmaceutical and bio tech companies go bust or see their billions of profit vanish.
      To me it all makes sense: a seed, was not created to be crushed and eaten by us, so mother nature provided the plant with mechanisms (poisons, bondings) to protect that seed at all costs, just like a lioness would protect her cubs to ensure the future generation will grow. An example of this is the fact that most seeds are like a rock too. They can even break our teeth if we chew them.
      Sprouting tricks them into thinking they are in the safest environment to grow and the seeds unblock and become more accessible.
      The initial process of soaking the seeds in water also takes away some of the toxins, after we pour the water out and continue to rinse.

      But the most important thing is the transition from grain to vegetable, thus making their ph more appropriate for our bodies, more alkaline.
      Grains are very acid forming. Sprouting balance things up. It even helps our pockets by not having to combine grains with veggies that much, where we end up spending a lot of money on vegetables at the supermarket.
      I do think sprouting is worth it.
      Sprouting works for me! 🙂


  10. Thanks for all the info! I have really been thinking about all this, and experimenting with this lately… Have you sprouted and ground your own grains? I would like to, but am nervous about not getting them dry enough!

  11. Lanise Boyer

    I think that the only way you are going to figure out which is healthiest for you is to experiment with the different techniques. Some may respond better to soaking, some to sprouting and some best to Sourdough. Unfortunately I do not think this is a one size fits all.

    1. Lanise,
      Yes! My thoughts exactly. We all have different needs, for sure. Thank you! 🙂 Katie

  12. How could sprouting not reduce phytates as much as soaking? Isn’t sprouting just soaking carried further?

    Maybe the answer to the original question is to do what you can, but not sweat it? I definitely don’t like falling into fad food trends and then finding out a year later it was all nonsense (remember how eggs used to be unhealthy?).

  13. My personal opinion is that neither one is worth the nutritional benefit, especially since it seems no one really seems to know how much, if any, nutritional benefit is gained. The “experts” all disagree and the information is conflicting. I also don’t see strong enough historical evidence to support it. I tend to agree with your conclusion that sourdough is the way to go… now to master sourdough!

    By the way, I just want to say thanks for all your diligent research and your honest questioning! Your blog is one of the most compete resources on the subject that relies on information from more than one source. You’ve done some great research, and we all benefit from it (even if we all come to different conclusions;).

  14. Hey, just a quick note about the sourdough. I prepare all of my grains sourdough style now- including oatmeal, rice, etc. For the oats I just stir a good sized scoop of sourdough starter in when I’m mixing up my baked oatmeal and after about 36 hours I stir in a tsp of baking soda when I am adding the baking powder and salt before it bakes. For rice, barley, etc I just soak them in a mixture of water and sourdough starter. It works great and I don’t notice any difference in taste and I feel better knowing that now all of our grains have the benefit of a sourdough soak!

    1. Megan,
      Very cool! I tried the sourdough in oatmeal, and it was just too sour for me. Could hardly choke it down. I wonder if the baking soda is the trick. Think it would work to add baking soda to regular (not baked) oatmeal? Great idea! 🙂 Katie

      1. In my experience, the baking soda makes a huge difference when preparing sourdough grains, I would definitely give it a try with the oatmeal!

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