Traditional cultures took great care to ‘deal with’ their legumes and grains with a long soaking before cooking. Soaking has been practiced by our ancestors in nearly every culture, from what I can find, around the world that has had beans and grains as the basis of their survival.
We Americans eat a lot of processed bread, pastries, crackers, corn chips, oatmeal, and buns. All these grains and beans contain enzyme inhibitors and toxins (ex. phytates, tannins, goitrogens) not meant for us to consume that way. The inhibitors and toxins are what allow whole grains and beans (actually they are seeds) to remain dormant and stored for long periods of time.
The enzyme inhibitors (which can be toxic to us) can be minimized, or eliminated, in as little 8-24 hours. We can achieve this by soaking grain and beans in warm water with an acid (ex. yogurt, whey, lemon juice~ See below). This simple step mimics God’s own germination process in the soil, causing the seed to think it’s time to sprout and activate its enzymes.
When we consume properly soaked grains and beans, their enzymes increase the availability of many vitamins to our bodies and allow more nutrients to be readily absorbed.
I love Mexican food but have learned to avoid Mexican restaurants for this reason. They don’t soak their beans before cooking them! Those ‘anti-nutrients’ such as phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors are going to be in your gut causing gas and whatever other digestive issues happen when you eat something that isn’t particularly digestible. Pretty much defeats the purpose of trying to eat healthy!
Downside of Not Soaking Grains and Beans
When consumed on a regular basis, un-soaked and un-germinated grains and beans can irritate the digestive tract – potentially leading to a variety of health conditions including:
- Food intolerances
- Gluten insensitivity
- Impaired Immune function
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Leaky gut syndrome
- Decaying teeth
- Chronic Inflammation
- Insulin resistance
- Blocked absorption of minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc
- Blocks protein absorption. This not only applies to the minerals and protein in the food that contains the phytic acid, but also the food you eat with it!
Reading Sally Fallon-Morell’s book, Nourishing Traditions, really expanded my thinking. Since devouring that book 12 years ago, we’ve gone back to the traditional ways of soaking our beans and grains. We always soak our oatmeal overnight, and we eat sprouted-grain bread or naturally fermented sourdough bread.
Our daughter used to ferment and make our breads. Now that she is married and far away in the PNW, since I am not a baker, we resort to buying sprouted bread. The go-to sliced bread of choice for us is the Ezekiel 4:9 family of organic (no GMOs) sprouted grain breads by Food For Life. Trader Joe’s also has their own sprouted grain bread that is essentially the same, but read the ingredients.
Both are delicious and great for impromptu sandwiches and cheese toasties, but, of course, are not gluten-free.
Ancient, Traditional Old Ways Being Lost
Soaking grains, fermentation (here and here), making herbal remedies (here and here), bone broth, and preserving foods are part of the ancient and sustainable old ways we don’t want to lose, but we are losing them.
Chances are if you are taking charge of your health you already know all about soaking, but for those who are new to it, below is a helpful little chart.
The acid medium (vinegar or whey) helps to neutralize the enzyme inhibitors (phytates), making beans and grains more digestible and nutrient-dense. Soaking them in water makes them swell and begin the slow process of sprouting which makes the nutrients available.
This chart is for approximate amounts (remember wet beans will swell 2, sometimes 3 times their dry size!
* due to low phytate counts, soaking is recommended but not necessary
** paradoxically, smaller beans need more soak time (source)
What you will need:
- a glass or stainless bowl 3-4 times the size of the dry beans to allow for swelling
- the acidic medium ( either apple cider vinegar, whey, kefir, plain yogurt or lemon juice) helps to neutralize the enzyme inhibitors (phytates)
- the time in the chart above corresponding to the bean or grain you have
- Place your beans or grains into the bowl, keeping in mind the swelling that will occur and cover with several inches of good water.
- Add the acidic medium. I use whey or organic apple cider vinegar. If you have an intolerance to lactose, use lemon juice or vinegar instead.
- Soak for the allotted time according to the chart.
- Finally, rinse your beans or grains well once the time is up.
For the tiny grains like teff and amaranth, you will need a cheesecloth lining a sieve. For some you can just rinse several time well in the soaking bowl, holding the beans or grains back with your hand as you pour the acidic water off.
Note on beans: Sometimes bubble scum will form on soaking beans; that is the gas formed in our gut when we consume them un-soaked and why people resort to artificial means such as Beano to decrease abdominal gas and bloating.
Just drain and rinse the beans until all the scum is washed away. You can soak a large pot of beans and then slowly cook them.
Later after cooling, I’ve frozen them for easy, quick meals when beans are required like homemade chili.
Saves time for you and discomfort for your family.
Before cooking, discard the acidic soaking water and use fresh.
Your plants or garden will appreciate the soaking water.
The general principal ~ long slow soaking and long slow cooking is best for beans.
Examples from my kitchen of soaking:
I keep several 3 gallon glass jars of dry beans within handy reach and also store our coconut oil in one.
It is a part of my food storage system. They will keep for many years if kept must be kept cool and dry. This crock is dedicated to mixed soup beans.
Red quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) finished soaking after ~18 hours (below, left).
You can see and feel the phytic acid poured off in the soaking water.
The kidney beans (right) have swollen up almost 3 times their size and absorbed all the water.
I needed a bigger pan or less beans to soak them properly. They must be completely covered with water for the proper length of time…
Yellow split peas…
Mixed soup beans soaking…they are so pretty on the counter and remind me that I am a steward of all we have been given to use it wisely.
Pintos make the best rustic chili with polenta in the world! (I just make it up slightly different each time, so no specific recipe.)
Rough recipe: It is just ground beef with sauteed, caramelized onions; a bag of my frozen summer tomatoes (cooked down); pre-cooked pintos; several cups of organic corn and left over wild rice. Add lots of your favorite spices and Himalayan sea salt! I added 1/2 package of Trader Joe’s organic corn polenta (found in a tube).
Say “Bye bye” to phytic acid; you can also say “Bye bye” to the old digestive aid from the grocery called Bean-o!
You won’t be needing it ever again!
“Phytic acid not only grabs on to or chelates important minerals, but also inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food, including pepsin needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar. Trypsin, needed for protein digestion in the small intestine, is also inhibited by phytates.” ~Dr. Ramiel Nagel (source)