No matter who you are or where your ancestors came from, I bet someone in your family lineage once soaked and sprouted their grains and seeds before cooking. It was not only a common practice, but it was also common wisdom. I don’t know when this simple kitchen act fell out of favor in American culture, but it did, and it’s time to bring it back fully to showcase the power of soaking and sprouting grains and seeds. At some point, I will write about all the world’s brilliant culinary traditions of soaking and sprouting, but that will be for another day. Today, I want to get you jazzed to try soaking for yourself. Here’s why grain and seed soaking is such a health bonanza for you and your family. What are the health benefits of soaking and sprouting? Every seed has its own measure of protection, so that it germinates and becomes a plant when the perfect set of conditions (moisture, soil, oxygen, light, season, etc.) are just right. One of these seed protectors is called phytic acid, also known as a cluster of acids called phytates. Phytic acid can be soaked off, and it’s important to do so because phytic acid is an anti-nutrient, which very simply means it prevents the metabolism of other nutrients. While soaking for the sake of leaching the phytates is reason enough to do it, there is a second very important reason to take this seriously, and it is soaking for the purpose of sprouting, or germinating the seed/grain. All grains, cereals, beans and seeds can be sprouted with just a few exceptions including flax, rolled oats or any seeds that are sold as spices. To understand this better, let’s revisit the seed. If you were to look closely or have a recollection of an enlarged drawing of a seed, you might remember the largest part is the carbohydrate-packed endosperm. As the seed encounters the perfect conditions for sprouting, this sugary carbohydrate becomes the fuel for the seed until it develops a root system to bring nourishment from the soil and leaves, which feeds the plant from the sun (photosynthesis). As the seed "germ" grows and consumes the carbs, it transforms itself into protein, some fat and some carbs. When we eat a grain, cereal, bean, legume or seed that has not been soaked or germinated, not only are we consuming the anti-nutrient phytates, but we are also consuming a carbohydrate instead of a protein. No wonder so many people have "trouble with grains!" How do you pre-soak your grains and seeds to turn them into an easily digested and supercharged health bonanza? A full 24-hour soak for whole grains is usually enough to bring most seeds and grains to the verge of germination, and it’s long enough to inactivate the anti-nutrients (the enzyme inhibitors and phytates). It also hydrates the grain, so that it doesn’t need to hydrate itself in our belly. The breakdown of those carby starches makes it ready to cook so that our own enzymes can finish the digestion process. However, there are some exceptions to the 24 hour rule:
- Some grains benefit from a longer soak including barley, rye and wheat. These are better digested when they soak for 3-4 days, swapping out the water each day.
- Quinoa* and teff need only 12 hours, so you could start that soak in the morning, swap the cook water and enjoy them for a dinner.
- Amaranth, buckwheat, millet, oat groats and rice can be soaked for 24 hours, but 48 hours is ideal, again swapping the water in between the days.
- If it’s a bean or legume, soak until you just notice the sprout. Learn more about how to supercharge the nutrition in your beans and legumes in "Beans: The Protein to Ensure Health & Energy." (Quick hint: add a piece of kombu to your cook water.)
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