August 04, 2012

Soaking and sprouting grains, nuts, seeds and legumes

Why is soaking so important?

I can't explain it much better than one of my favorite nutrition books of all time, Nourishing Traditions:

"Modern farming techniques prevent [seeds] from germinating before they reach our tables. The process of germination not only produces vitamin C but also changes the composition of grain and seeds in numerous beneficial ways. Sprouting increases vitamin B content, especially B2, B5, and B6. Carotene increases dramatically - sometimes eightfold. Even more important, sprouting neutralizes phytic acid, a substance present in the bran of all grains that inhibits absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc; sprouting also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors present in all seeds. These inhibitors can neutralize our own precious enzymes in the digestive tract. Complex sugars responsible for intestinal gas are broken down during sprouting, and a portion of the starch in grain is transformed into sugar. Sprouting inactivates aflatoxins, potent carcinogens found in grains. Finally, numerous enzymes that help digestion are produced during the germination process."

In other words, dormant seeds don't want to be digested!! They are holding onto their precious nutrients and doing whatever it takes to preserve themselves until the conditions are right for them to grow. They need to be germinated before they will release their nutrients and stop resisting our bodies' digestive enzymes. If you ever get stomachaches, I highly recommend you try soaking all seeds before eating them. It will definitely give you enormous relief!

Every isolated group of "primitive" people that Dr. Weston Price studied germinated all seeds before eating them.

How to start the germination process: soaking

  1. Cover seeds with warm filtered water, leaving plenty of room for expansion.
  2. Leave the seeds in a warm place (like next to a radiator) for the recommended time.
  3. Discard the water and wash the seeds very well.

How long should you soak the seeds for?

As a general rule:

  • Soak small seeds like quinoa, millet and sesame seeds for ~6 hours
  • Soak large grains and small legumes like rice, spelt, lentils, mung beans, etc. for 16-36 hours
  • Soak large legumes like chickpeas, kidney beans etc. for 24-48 hours
  • Soak nuts for 7-8 hours, except for cashews, which should only be soaked for 2-6 hours.

Using warm water and keeping the seeds in a warm place during soaking will make the soaking much more effective. If you're short on time or haven't planned ahead, any amount of soaking is better than nothing!! Even soaking grains overnight, for example, will make a tremendous difference! I know this to be true because I started soaking when I had constant stomach pain, and at first I only soaked everything overnight. It made a huge difference.

How I do it

Here are my two favorite ways of soaking seeds:

  1. Put the seeds in a glass jar and cover them with warm filtered water, leaving plenty of room for expansion. Follow instructions above. When they're done soaking, screw on a mesh lid, drain the water, and rinse (through the mesh lid) until the water runs clear. You can also use a small 3-inch-wide strainer to cover the top, if you can't find mesh lids.
  2. This method is especially good if you want to sprout the seeds too. Put whatever you want to soak into one of these fine mesh produce bags that I bought at a local grocery store (a "nut mylk bag" or hemp sprouting bag would work too). Put the bag in a bowl and cover with warm filtered water, leaving plenty of room for the seeds to expand. Follow instructions above.

    After soaking just drain the water, wash the seeds by running water into the bowl and swishing the bag around until the water runs clear, and give the bag a spin in the sink so it isn't dripping everywhere. You can use the seeds at this point or, if you want to take it a step further and sprout them, follow the instructions below.

    The best thing about using these produce bags is, when you're done soaking or sprouting something and you want it to be dry, you can just take the bag outside and give it a good SPIN! Yes, it is as fun as it sounds. Your room mates might think you're a little nuts though. Pun intended. Moving on....

Soaking pasteurized seeds?

Did you know that almonds labeled "raw" in North American grocery stores usually aren't raw? In grocery store terms, "raw" means "unroasted". We get our almonds from the US, and in the US it is mandatory to pasteurize almonds before selling them. Which is a real shame, because they've lost the majority of their beneficial enzymes, and they are no longer truly raw and able to sprout. If you want truly raw (unpasteurized) almonds you will have to go to a specialty food store and pay an arm and a leg for them, because they are usually imported from Europe which is a heck of a lot further away than the US.

Cashews, pecans, and brazil nuts are also not truly raw (unless specifically labelled) because steam is used to extract them from their shells which heats them up significantly. In the case of cashews, heat is also important for neutralizing the toxic urushiol on the inside of the shells, the same irritating chemical found in poison ivy. You can count on macadamia nuts not being raw either since they are dried at high temperatures during processing. And let's not forget hemp seeds, which are "denatured" so that us rascals can't grow them into anything smokeable!

Since these seeds aren't raw anymore they aren't able to sprout, but it is still very beneficial to soak them! One of the key principles of soaking is time, and these processes are done much too quickly to remove a significant amount of phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors.

Continuing the germination process: sprouting

Soaking seeds is enough to begin the germination process and take advantage of all the benefits mentioned above. If the seeds are raw, you will probably notice a tiny sprout beginning to grow from each one after soaking, and you have the option to continue sprouting them if you like, which will increase the benefits even further. Sprouted seeds will have a much different texture; they will taste lighter and fresher, more like vegetables than they did originally.

To sprout seeds, use the second method above to soak them. Put a clean, dry, folded washcloth or tea towel in the bottom of the bowl (it's important that the sprouts aren't sitting in water) and place the mesh bag with the damp seeds on top. Rinse and spin 3-5 times per day, so that the seeds are always slightly damp and never get dry, until they are as sprouted as you want them to be. Easy!

Sprouts will turn brown very quickly once you stop sprouting them unless you store them properly:

  1. Let the sprouts dry out
  2. Immediately wrap the mesh bag in a clean dry tea towel or paper towel
  3. Put that in a sealed plastic bag or container
  4. Transfer them to the vegetable crisper in your fridge.
This method is also great for storing herbs, greens, and other veggies that wilt and go bad quickly. It can easily extend the shelf life of your vegetables by several weeks!

Dehydrating soaked seeds

Dehydrating grains, nuts, seeds and legumes after soaking them will give them a much longer shelf life and cut down on your prep time significantly since you can soak and dehydrate all your seeds at once right after you buy them. You can also make nut/seed butters from dehydrated nuts and seeds in a food processor. Keep in mind though, that if you soak grains/legumes and cook them straight away, the cooking time will be drastically reduced - dehydrating them will extend the cooking time again.

To dehydrate, set your dehydrator to 150°F, spread the soaked and rinsed seeds out in a single layer on the dehydrator trays, and dehydrate them for 12-24 hours, until they're at least as dry as they were before soaking. You could use your oven too, if you're lucky enough to have an oven that goes down to 150°F, but it will use more electricity (costing you more money).

If you want to keep the seeds truly raw, so that all of their enzymes are still intact, start your dehydrator at 145°F and then lower the temperature to 105°F after 1 hour. Find out why here. If you're worried you'll forget to lower the temperature, just dehydrate at 105°F.

Roasting soaked nuts and seeds

Roasting nuts and seeds after soaking them removes even more phytic acid than if they were only soaked! To roast soaked nuts or seeds, just spread them out on a baking sheet and put them in the oven at 300°F. Check them after 30 mins or so, and continue checking them every so often until you start to smell them. Then taste them until they are perfect. Be sure to set a timer so you don't forget about them! If you have a dehydrator you might want to dehydrate them first, that way roasting will only take 10-15 minutes. They also tend to turn out better when they are dehydrated first.

Keeping the nuts or seeds in a single layer means they will roast much faster, so you might want to use several baking sheets to cut down on roasting time. If they aren't in a single layer, be sure to stir them a few times while they're roasting. Finally, keep in mind that any nuts/seeds near the edges of the baking sheet will roast faster, since the metal edges radiate heat, so if your nuts/seeds are spread right out to the edges you might also want to stir them a few times during roasting.

Cocoa Beans

Cocoa beans have just about the highest phytic acid content of any seed. This is why cocoa beans should ideally be turned into chocolate after undergoing traditional processing, which consists of several days of carefully controlled fermentation, followed by roasting. Unfortunately, many cocoa farmers ferment the cocoa beans only because that is what the market demands, without fully understanding how proper fermentation can benefit the final product. Mass-market chocolate companies tend to purchase cocoa beans without paying attention to the degree of fermentation or even how consistently fermented the beans are.

If chocolate, cocoa powder, or cocoa nibs give you a stomachache (or you just want to make sure they are providing you with optimal nutrition), you may want to find out whether the producer/distributor knows anything about the fermentation process the beans go through. Avoiding raw (unroasted) chocolate might help too.

Peeling almonds?

There is some debate about whether or not almonds should be peeled. Some say almond skins should be left on as they contain many beneficial nutrients (and I don't doubt it), and others will tell you they are toxic. All I know is that I was unable to eat almonds without pain and discomfort until an Ayurvedic consultant suggested that I try peeling them. Try eating almonds both peeled and unpeeled and see how you feel. I'm guessing that those with weak digestion (such as yours truly) simply don't have the capacity to break down the fibrous skins.

The aforementioned Ayurvedic consultant also told me that the almond skins tend to absorb environmental toxins, so whether or not almond skins aggravate a person may depend on what the almond has been exposed to.

Peeling almonds is actually quite easy - they will slide effortlessly out of their skins once they've been soaked long enough. The warmer the water, the easier they are to peel. If you don't have time to soak them for the recommended time/don't care whether they're raw/they are pasteurized, simply pour hot water over them and let them sit for a few minutes and peeling them will be a breeze.

Isn't it a pain in the butt to soak everything?!

Nope! Well, it can be at first, but after a while planning ahead becomes second nature. Eventually you'll get so used to it that you'll forget what it was like to eat grains, beans, nuts and seeds without soaking them first. Just keep at it and I promise it will get much easier the more you practice! You will eventually develop your own system for soaking things and once you get to that point it will barely take any effort at all. Soaking seeds is so important for good health, so it's definitely a skill worth developing! ;)

If you have a hard time planning ahead, the easiest thing to do by far would be to soak and dehydrate all your grains, beans, nuts and seeds right after you buy them. I do this with all my nuts and seeds; I prefer to cook grains and beans right after soaking them, since it makes the cooking time so much shorter. Do whatever is easiest for you!

Keep in mind also that you don't necessarily have to remember to soak everything the night before. If you think of something you want to make for dinner, you can start soaking everything for it in the morning.

What if I forget or don't have time?!?

So what? We can't be perfect all the time. Just wash the seeds and use them the way they are. If you're like most people, you don't need to soak seeds 100% of the time to reap the benefits. If you're like me, it's time to get creative and come up with a different meal or risk ending up in a world of pain. ;) Either way, obsessing over soaking is just as bad for your health as not soaking, so just do the best you can and have fun with it!!

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