The reason why we must soak all grains, nuts, seeds and legumes the night before we use them is that they all have phytic acid in the outer or bran layer, as well as enzyme inhibitors to prevent them from sprouting when conditions are not suitable. This is nature’s brilliant way of preserving genetic plant material until it has a viable chance of producing a plant.  Nuts, grains and legumes are all seeds, and as such, can be stored for fairly long periods of time without them going bad. When they do go bad, it is the polyunsaturated oils in them that tend to go rancid, especially in nuts and seeds as unsaturated fats are much less stable than saturated fats (something we will discuss next time!).

The phytic acid acts as a barrier preventing absorption of the nutrition in the seed. In particular, they bind to calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc in the intestinal tract, and block their absorption. This has implications for those that are losing bone mass, as diets high in improperly prepared grains can lead to mineral deficiencies. Those that are sensitive to grains often do much better if the grains have been soaked or fermented first.

As Sally Fallon points out in her cookbook “Nourishing Traditions” (a great book by the way!), our ancestors from all over the world soaked or fermented their grain before consuming them. Indians ferment rice and lentils before making dosas; Ethiopians ferment the grain teff before making their distinctive sour flat bread called injere; in Mexico, corn is fermented before making pazol corn cakes; in Europe grains were soaked sometimes for many days in sour milk or water before porridge was made.  These practices “predigested” the grains and made the B vitamins, vitamin E, and all the minerals available for assimilation in the digestive tract. This is a far cry from what we tend to eat today; quick-rise breads, quick rice, quick oats, etc. The other great thing about soaking is that it vastly increases the protein content of the grains, as the seed thinks it is time to sprout, so the enzymes are activated starting the germination process. Sprouted seeds have almost double the protein content of unsprouted seeds.

So what do you do? With whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, soak them in filtered water with a bit of unpasteurized apple cidre vinegar (Omega Nutrition is a good brand) or organic lemon juice for 7 or 8 hours, pour off the soak water, rinse and cook.  Usually this will reduce the cooking time considerably.  With steel cut or rolled oats, rinse first, then soak as before, but cook in the soak water as oat water has tremendous healing properties. With nuts and seeds, spread them on a cookie sheet after soaking, and put them in the oven under the very LOWEST bake setting, and dry them so they don’t go moldy. Baking at high temperatures will cause oxidation of the polyunsaturated oils in the nuts so keep the temperature low. When you store the nuts or seeds, I suggest you do not put a lid on the jar, because if all the moisture has not been removed they will go moldy very quickly. Don’t forget to store them in the fridge, as those polyunsaturated fats are delicate.

Pre-soaked grains, nuts, seeds and legumes do not exist on supermarket shelves, so it is up to you. You are probably thinking that you don’t have time for this kind of thing.  I thought so too for a long time, and didn’t bother.  But really, it doesn’t take any time to fill a jar with water. It’s just remembering to do it. I soak my grains before going to bed, and they’re ready to cook in the morning. Soak your brown rice or any other whole grain before leaving for work. And if you forget, even a half-hour of soaking before cooking is better than nothing.

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