How to Soak Grains and Legumes Properly
When you soak a grain in warm water, you initiate the sprouting process. This activates phytase, the enzymes within the seed that break down phytic acid. Phytase also partially breaks down proteins, such as gluten, into simpler components. This breakdown makes them easier to digest and the nutrients more likely to be absorbed by the body. Soaking also pulls out certain chemicals like tannins from the grain into the soaking liquid and, at a certain point, the grain begins to ferment. (This is a good thing!)
There are three methods for activating phytase and cultivating microorganisms, which break down phytic acid and increase the digestibility of grains.
- The first method involves soaking in water with-out any added ingredient.
- The second method involves adding an acid medium to the soaking liquid
- The third method involves sprouting.
You can use the following instructions with any grain, legume, seed, or nut. Some people recommend a tightly closed Mason jar, which allows the grain to retain the heat it generates during the sprouting process. I find a simple glass bowl in a warm location works just as well. Use warm, non-chlorinated water for soaking and keep the mixture at room temperature while it is soaking. Use the same amount of water you would normally use to cook the grain.
Here is an example of how to soak brown rice without adding anything to the soaking liquid.
Soaking in Water Alone
This is an old school method that ancient cultures and grandmas have used for generations. Soaking grains in water alone will break down roughly 50 percent of the phytic acid and increase the absorption of iron by up to 53 percent. These results explain why so many cultures soaked their grains for days and saved some of the soaking medium, rich in enzymes, to jump-start the next batch. Sourdough bread starter is made this way. If you enjoy making rye bread, then this is the method for you.
Serves: 6 Total Time: 35 minutes, plus 24 hours soaking time
1 cup brown rice
2 cups warm water
1. Soak one cup of brown rice in two cups of warm water for 24 hours. Keep the rice covered and at room temperature without changing the water. After 24 hours, set aside 10 percent of the soaking liquid, which will keep, refrigerated, for about a month. Discard the rest of the soaking liquid and rinse the rice.
2. Cook the rice as you would normally in water or mineral-rich bone broth and butter for 35 minutes. Serve.
The next time you make brown rice or any grain, use the same procedure, but add the soaking liquid you reserved from the last batch to the new soaking water. Repeat the cycle. The process will gradually improve until 96 percent or more of the phytic acid is reduced at 24 hours.
Note: Bone broths are typically made utilizing bones instead of meat and are very similar to stocks in everything except that they are simmered for a very long period (often in excess of 24 hours). Simmering pulls nutrients from the bones into the liquid, increasing the nutrient content of the broth dramatically. The way the bones crumble between your fingers when the broth is done and the thick gelatinous quality of the broth make it worth its weight in gold. The absorbable calcium from bone broths, cultured dairy products, and vitamin D from certain animal fats can also compensate for any adverse effects of phytic acid if some still remains after soaking. These are a great way to add flavor and bone-building nutrients to any grain dish.
Soaking With an Acid Medium
If saving some of the soaking liquid is not your cup of tea, this next method is for you. I love this method and use it on a regular basis. When you add an acid medium to the soaking liquid, not only do you initiate the sprouting process, but you’re adding cultured yogurt, buttermilk, vinegar, lemon, or even a starter culture to the soaking liquid to cultivate lactobacilli and other helpful organisms that secrete phytase to aid in the breakdown of phytic acid and predigest gluten.
Acidic ingredients encourage the ideal pH for phytase to do its work. Methods of soaking whole grains in an acid medium, such as lemon or yogurt, significantly improves protein digestibility and in some cases almost doubles it. It’s exciting to learn how much you can improve your health by simply taking the time to soak your grains.
Soaking is not as difficult or as mysterious as many make it out to be. You don’t have to chant or perform any rituals (un-less you wish to) in order to get great results. Soaking is especially useful for anyone with a history of digestive problems, such as gluten intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome.
Here is an example of how to soak brown rice with an acid medium. Again, you can use these instructions with any grain or legume. The only thing that may change is the soaking medium.
Serves: 6 Total Time: 35 minutes plus 24 hours soaking time
1 cup brown rice
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons of one of the following: cultured buttermilk, yogurt, kefir, lemon, or vinegar
1. Combine brown rice and warm water. Add 2 tablespoons of one of the culture mediums of your choice. (Contrary to what others have experienced, I find that using lemon does not result in a sour-tasting grain. Lemon can also be used by those who have problems with dairy.) Cover and soak for 24 hours. Drain and rinse.
2. Cook the rice as you would normally in water or mineral-rich bone broth and butter for 35 minutes. Serve. None of the medium need be saved. The great thing about soaking grains is they cook faster, are tastier, and tenderer than when they have not been soaked.
How to Sprout
Sprouting, like soaking is easy, and it can be extremely fun for children. If you wish to sprout your own grains and seeds at home, there are many fun ways of going about it. I love my sprouting jar with the green mesh top. It is simple, inexpensive, and very easy to use. It doesn’t take up too much counter space and always yields wonderful delicious sprouts.
In nature, when the conditions are right, the seed has enough moisture for it to germinate and grow into a plant. Soaking seeds encourages them to release toxic inhibitors and sprout into life. Soaking also encourages the production of beneficial enzymes that increase the amounts of vitamins, especially the B vitamins that your body can absorb. Sprouting is also done to activate phytase within the seed, thus reducing phytic acid. Almost any grain or seed can be sprouted, including barley, dried beans, chia seeds, alfalfa, mustard, onion, mung beans, broccoli, clover, chick peas, almonds, pumpkin, sunflower, and lentils.
A good resource when looking for seeds to sprout is sproutpeople.org I recommend starting with red clover, red lentils, and brown mustard seeds to give you a variety and build your confidence.
Sprouted Brown Rice
Serves 6 Total Time: 24-48 hours
1 cup brown rice
1. Rinse 1 cup (or more if desired) of brown rice several times until the water is clear. Place the rice in a bowl and cover well with warm water. Cover the bowl with a towel and let stand 12 hours or overnight. Pour rice into a strainer and rinse well. Set the strainer over a bowl to drain (out of direct sunlight). Cover with a clean dishtowel and place in a warm location. Rinse rice twice a day; be sure it drains well. After 24 to 48 hours, small sprouts will appear.
2. At this point, you can cook the rice as normal, using slightly less water and cooking it for a short-er period of time, or you can continue to sprout it to increase its nutritional value. If you choose to continue to sprout, be sure to rinse and drain the sprouts twice daily. In one to four days, depending on what you are sprouting, the sprouts will be ready.
3. To harvest your sprouts, rinse them well and shake out any excess moisture. Remove the sprouts carefully by gently pulling ripe ones from the rest. Removing only the ripe sprouts allows less-developed sprouts to continue to grow so you’ll get several harvests of delicious sprouts. Store them in a plastic bag with a moist paper towel in the fridge and rinse them every two to three days.
Most sprouts will keep at least a week like this and often longer. Eat the sprouts at any time. (The longer the sprouts, the more bitter the taste.) Some larger seeds require more time before you begin to see them sprout. Do not leave the sprouts in standing water, as this causes the sprouts to rot. If you don’t want to sprout your own, and all this sprouting business is not for you, simply buy them already sprouted! One brand I love is TruRoots®. Pre-sprouted products are delicious, and handy to have on hand if you have forgotten to sprout your own grains or legumes and need something quick in a pinch. Their products can be found online and in some markets.
There are many different mediums (substances) in which to soak your grains.
Lemon and Apple Cider Vinegar
Fresh-squeezed lemon juice (don’t use the stuff in yellow bottles) and organic raw apple cider vine-gar will work well at encouraging the ideal pH for phytase to do its work. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can also reduce phytic acid’s effects on iron. Adding a little bit of lemon to your soaking medium can have big payoffs. I use this often when I am creating recipes for my clients who have sensitivities to dairy.
Probiotic lactobacilli and other microflora found in cultured buttermilk, kefir, and yogurt also en-courage ideal pH and are great soaking mediums. They secrete and are an important source of phytase, which speeds the release of phosphate from phytic acid, rendering it more soluble and thus improving and facilitating intestinal absorption.
If you are sensitive to dairy, you can use a sourdough culture to get the same, if not better, results. These cultures are often made from rye, a grain known for its higher level of phytase. Sourdough cultures are best used when soaking low phytase grains such as oats, brown rice, and millet.
Whole grains, such as rye and buckwheat, are powerful sources of phytase. When these grains are ground and added to other low-phytase grains, complete degradation of phytates occurs in a short-er time, which changes your soaking time from days to hours. To do this, add freshly ground whole grain rye flour or buckwheat flour to your low-phytase grains; then soak as usual in a warm place. Rye contains gluten; buckwheat does not.
Take heart! This may sound complex, but don’t be intimidated. It’s not an exact science. All you really have to do is put some grain in warm water and let it soak! Even getting the exact amount of the acid medium is not necessary. The beautiful thing about soaking grains is that it is easy. The fact that it makes grains more flavorful and nutritious is an added bonus!
Soaking Liquid Temperatures
The soaking water temperature should technically be between 113°F and 131°F, and the grains placed in a warm location to soak. Again, this is not an exact science, and your grains won’t retain phytic acid because your water temperature wasn’t just right. In fact, most of the time your grain will be soaking at room temperature anyway. The only thing you need to be cautious about is not using water that is too hot, as phytase is destroyed at 131°F to 149°F.