It is said that traditional cultures almost exclusively soaked or sprouted their grains before baking with them. I have briefly mentioned the process of soaking whole grains when I shared this pancake recipe and the homemade tortilla recipe. Today I’ll tell you why and how to soak grains.
The Basic Science Behind Soaking Grains
- Grains are seeds. (All this information therefore, pertains to legumes, nuts and seeds as well.)
- Seeds are meant to pass through the system relatively undigested so they can be planted elsewhere (think in nature).
- To make it possible for seeds to pass through undigested, there are some anti-nutrients built in to make them difficult to digest.
- Seeds also need to be preserved until the time is right for sprouting, so they have certain compounds that stop the active enzyme activity of germination.
- These compounds also serve to hinder active enzyme activity in your digestive system.
- Beginning the sprouting process makes seeds more digestible and help your system obtain all the nutrients in the food.
- “Soaking” grains is one way to mimic the sprouting process.
Enzyme Inhibitors in Whole Grains
Normal digestion depends on enzymes working to break down food, starting with your saliva and running the course through the entire digestive system. Enzyme inhibitors, found in whole grains, interfere with normal digestion by…well…inhibiting it. They stop the enzymes from doing their jobs properly and stress out the pancreas.
What is Phytic Acid?
Phytates bind phytic acid along with phosphorus and is found in the bran part of the whole grain. Its role for the seed is to prevent premature sprouting. A seed needs to be preserved until the conditions are right for growth.
When we eat foods containing phytates, the minerals we think we’re getting from them simply aren’t bio-available. We can’t make use of them and they pass right on through. Consuming too much phytic acid can cause mineral deficiencies and poor bone density. It’s awfully ironic that when we pat ourselves on the backs for eating more whole grains over white flour, we’re opening ourselves up for another problem.
How Do we Counteract the Phytic Acid in Foods?
Phytase is the name of the awesome little enzyme that will go to work for you to break phytic acid apart and free the minerals in whole grains and legumes. Phytase requires simple conditions to be “activated”:
- Slightly acidic environment
Soaking your whole grains…
- in water (warmer than room temp, ~100-110 degrees or so)
- with an acidic medium added
- at room temperature or above
- for 12-24 hours
…fulfills all the requirements. Properly soaked grains are easier to digest and allow your body to absorb more minerals and nutrients from the whole grain and other food sources at the same time.
For an in-depth exploration of the health benefits of soaking grains see my post here.
Added Bonus: This process begins to pre-digest the grains, including breaking down complex starches and tannins that can irritate your stomach, as well as beginning to break down proteins like gluten. For some, this reduces gluten sensitivity.
Mimicking good growing conditions may also neutralize both phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Seeds only need moisture, warmth and time to sprout, so some might omit the acidic medium that activates the phytase when soaking intact grains that could still germinate. Some amounts of phytic acid are blasted away and enzyme inhibitors are tackled when seeds or legumes are sprouted as well. For more on that, read the health benefits of sprouting and how to sprout legumes and whole grains.
Why Does Soaking Make Grains Healthier?
Soaking the grains begins germination, rendering the enzyme inhibitors unnecessary since they exist to protect the seed and prevent early sprouting. They are neutralized so that the seed can sprout, making everything more accessible to our bodies. Levels of phytates are also reduced in soaking because the acidic liquid helps to break the bonds they form with minerals.
How to Soak Grains
Start with soaking oatmeal, because it’s easy.
The basic “recipe” is:
- Mix the grains – whole or flour form – with whatever liquid is called for in the recipe, along with the sweetener and fat. (Add 10% wheat flour if using oats, because oats are too low in phytase.)
- If the liquid is water or milk, replace 1 Tbs per cup with an acidic medium:
- vinegar, lemon juice, whey
- If the liquid is something cultured already, you can just mix it up with the grain: yogurt, buttermilk, kefir
- Allow to rest at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
- Add remaining ingredients and proceed with recipe.
- Further instructions for adapting recipe with flour for soaking here.
Benefits of Phytic Acid?
There are some benefits of phytic acid, including its role as an antioxidant (cancer fighter). It is also possible that the chelating (cleaning out/binding to minerals) property of phytic acid is useful to reduce toxins in the body. In Scripture, there are times when people were supposed to consume unleavened bread. Leavened bread at this time would have been fermented, i.e. with reduced phytates. It is thought that the time to eat unleavened bread may have been a sort of cleanse for the system.
There are several other ways to neutralize phytic acid, including sprouting seeds/grains/nuts, fermenting, and lacto-fermentation.
This dietician says soaking isn’t important.
An in-depth rebuttal of the process is in my inbox from a doctor. Want to see it? Coming soon…
UPDATE: Get caught up with a handy list of all the soaking grains information.
Grab the FREE eBook “Is Your Flour Wet?” with soaked grains recipes from all around the blogosphere HERE.
Read what other bloggers have to say:
- The Nourishing Gourmet
- Life in Cincinnati
- Heavenly Homemakers
- Passionate Homemaking