What’s the fuss about “soaking” grains? Explanation and research shared

I know I have many new readers here at The Nourishing Gourmet. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to, once again, explain briefly and link to past posts done on fermenting or “soaking” grains. It’s something that I practice at home, and have had good success doing. It’s also something that I use in my recipes, so it needs explanation.

So what is “soaking grains”? Why do my recipes use this practice?

A simple, straight forward explanation is this: Fermenting grains is a traditional practice that helps make the grains more digestible, and reduces anti-nutrients for better nutritional value.

It’s done by soaking grains in warm water in a warm place with an enzyme rich addition like raw apple cider vinegar, whey, yogurt, or kefir for a period of time. Sprouting grains and legumes is another way to reduce anti-nutrients.

I personally have found that it improves the texture of whole grains, both whole and in baked goods. It makes them lighter in texture and softer on the stomach.

Here are my original two posts from way- back-when, based off of Sally Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions: Soaking Grains, Part 1, Part 2

Last year, I decided to research this topic for myself, to see if evidence really was in it’s favor. Here’s what I found.

Is Fermenting Grains Traditional?

Phytic Acid in Grains and Legumes

Phytic Acid in Nuts, Seeds, Coconut, and Cocoa

Reducing Phytic Acid in Grains and Legumes

Digestibility of Soaked, Sprouted and Fermented Grains and Legumes

Phytic Acid: Who should be the most concerned , the most important dietary change, decreasing phytic acid’s effect

And finally, this newly posted thought: Coconut flour and phytic acid: Does it need to be soaked?

As I said in the introduction to this series, I don’t claim to be an expert in this area. It’s complex and I know there is still a lot out there to learn about it. However, I am convinced that it is a helpful, traditional practice.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! If you are new, does it seem overwhelming? If you’ve soaked grains on a regular basis, what do you think about it? Do you personally find it helpful? Please share.

Photo Credit: followtheseinstructions

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

Comments

  1. says

    Doesn’t Nourishing Traditions also recommend parching grains before cooking? What’s the difference in terms of nutritional benefit? Is there any rule of thumb regarding when to do one or the other?

    Thanks!

    • KimiHarris says

      Leonard,

      I don’t recall Nourishing Traditions recommending parching grains before cooking. Do you remember where in the book that was discussed? All of her recipes that I’ve used didn’t use that method. Maybe another author recommended it, or Sally only recommended it for certain grains? When any grain is subject to high heat, it kills the enzyme, phytase which is what you need to reduce phytic acid. So normally, you wouldn’t use heat before soaking.

  2. Kurt says

    I’m surprised you don’t mention souring here. Sourdough baking has become my favorite way of including grain products in my diet. Although I sometimes have soaked oats or rice, most of my grain intake these days comes from a slice or two of my whole-grain (usually spelt or whole wheat) sourdough bread or other sourdough baked goods. Just this morning, in fact, I baked one batch of sourdough crackers and I am currently experimenting with a variation of that recipe to make sourdough dog biscuits for my dogs.

    • KimiHarris says

      Hi Kurt,

      I love sourdough myself, and it is my preferred method for reducing phytic acid. Sourdough is a fermented product, so it falls within the category of “fermented grains”. :-)

    • Karen L says

      recipes/procedures, please? I spent skads of time last year trying to perfect sourdough. It all went to the chickens (I can’t eat grains but I was trying to get a yeast-free bread the family would like). I’ve got GNOWFLIGNS (or however it’s spelled, lol!) book and took one of Wardeh’s classes online and felt I’d improved my method as good as i could yet the fam still did not like the taste/texture of the bread.

      I could no longer afford to invest that much time, energy and product in to this bread so retired my starter to the refrigerator! I’d love to be able to make a family-accepted loaf of sourdough.

      I did make, BTW, cinnamon rolls and ‘english muffins’ for the whole fam over christmas that went over well. using the same starter/flour… it’s just the bread that is a flop.

      • says

        I am NOT an expert on sourdough, but I do make bread constantly. Was it the sourness that your family objected to mostly? I would suggest trying to give your starter a generous feeding a few hours before using it so it is very active & bubbly. Then keep your rise time to the minimum- 6 hours. If your bread is not rising fast enough try a slightly warmed oven or other warm place in the kitchen? My go to bread recipe is this: 1 cup starter, 1 cup water (scant), 1/4 cup oil (coconut or olive), 2 teaspoons salt, 2 tablespoons honey, 1 egg (natural dough conditioner), 1 cup flour. Mix well then add enough flour to make the dough not sticky anymore. 1/2 cup at a time, usually about 3 cups. I find the more flour I work into the dough the better it can hold it’s shape when rising. I work as much in as I can without it becoming dry. Try lots of kneading too, to get a better texture. You can also try the envelope fold method (google it). Hope some of this helps you! I know how frustrating food failures can be!

      • Sera Ant says

        Sourdough cannot be made ‘yeast free’ that is what makes it sourdough, it’s a fermented bread.

      • Sera Ant says

        Can you eat beans, nuts, or seeds? It’s possible to make a bread out of flour made from these things as well. Though yeast free, and grain free it will be flat.

        • Karen says

          Please give recipe/directions for a wheat-free gluten-free sourdough bread! Or the same as a yeast bread. Preferably with nutritious ingredients rather than unappetizing/high-carb ones. Thanks!! Buying gluten-free baked products is soooo expensive!!

  3. says

    I’m interested in getting gluten free starter. Where should I start? My first attempt to make it with buckwheat flour didn’t work very well. I need to be more organized to soak my grains more frequently. I have such limited counter space in my kitchen, it quickly begins to look like a science lab! :)

      • Heather says

        Be careful with Cultures for Health. I noticed the Cultures for Health link on your page and decided to buy my Brown Rice Sourdough Starter through them. Everything on the site and the packaging of the product indicated a GF product. Imagine my horror after 4 days into feeding and caring for my new culture I come across one of the FAQ that states this product “may contain traces of gluten”. I feel disappointed and mis-led by this company. Nothing on the packaging indicates that cross-contamination is a great concern and it states that it is GF. In fact, on their website, they have articles about how this is safe for Celiacs and anyone who is gluten-intolerant. I just happened across that comment while looking up other questions on the FAQ page. I don’t always manifest with immediate outward symptoms when contaminated. But I definitely pay for it in the long run and it takes months to return my system to normalcy. I wonder how many others are being unknowingly contaminated by a falsely advertised GF product. I would never think to suspect something that was labeled GF. Anyone use it and have no problems?

  4. Annie says

    Hi, Kimi,
    I’ve been catching wind of some research of (Rami Niegel or a similar looking name) that talks about the bran of whole grains being problematic. And that traditional cultures did sift out the bran?! How does this relate to phytic acid and fermentation? I am SO overwhelmed and we’ve seriously just been doing white, unbleached flour for most of our baking recently. Not that I have a grain mill to work with fresh anyway but I was really considering that. I just feel like I can’t figure it out. I’ve not noticed that grains – or removing them – impact our health in any specific way but we do have allergy issues: eczema, not bad but present here and there; asthma for one child; not to mention that both my children when nursing reacted to my milk and despite my diet elims never pinpointed a problem so I suspect gut health issues for me… and them by default… Thanks for any thoughts esp re: Rami Nagel (Neigel? can’t recall where I read about him or even his exact name – sorry!)
    -Annie

    • KimiHarris says

      Annie,

      That’s a tricky topic! One helpful thing to look at it whether that grain was fermented in it’s whole form, or partially de-brained traditionally. For example, millet went through a process that took of part of the bran before being fermented. This is a good thing because it gets rid of a substance that is hard on the thyroid. Other grains are a little more tricky, for example rice. It has a more complicated history. Rye would have been used in it’s whole grain form. Wheat, it seems like, would have normally been used in it’s whole form too (that I know of, but others weigh in if you know other historical facts on the use of wheat and fermentation). I know that is not a simple answer to your question, but it is a bit of a complicated subject. I’d love to hear opinions from other readers too!

      • Annie says

        Thanks for the thoughts, Kimi. I didn’t know that about millet. Grains are seeming increasingly complicated! Thanks for all your articles – just read the quinoa one. Will have to re-experiment with quinoa. I think I need a better method for soaking/straining out the soaking water. It is *always* bitter to me :p I so wish I could like it!

  5. says

    Hi Kimi!

    I love your blog so much! I eat sourdough or sprouted bread (the traditional kind – without yeast, found in those super dense loaves) whenever I can and I know I feel much better doing than eating regular bread. I’ve also made a couple of batches of sprouted muffins and actually really liked them. They were VERY dense but I quite liked that – super moist and chewy :)!

    I’d love to have the discipline time and organisation to soak more – but to be honest my baking is often fairly spontaneous. I feel better baking a bit less – and using a bit more sweetener and not regularly soaking – than being organised and baking regularly – if that makes sense!? I’ve found including fermented foods really helps me to feel active and energetic and its much easier to have some saurkraut or fresh yogurt than to remember to always soak.

    I do soak my beans for longer now though, and also cook them for a longer time! xox

  6. says

    I don’t find it makes a significant difference. I did a couple week trial to see if I could notice a difference, but, honestly, the only change was that my rice cooked faster. Handy when you’re cooking in the mornings, but I didn’t observe any other difference.

    Caveat: I don’t eat gluten-containing grains or oats. Soaked oats might be more digestible, but experiments with oatshave not been successful enough for me to eat them in any form.

    I do, however, feel like eating lactofermented pickles regularly makes a difference. Perhaps because they aren’t cooked?

    • KimiHarris says

      Hi Stephanie,

      I wouldn’t notice a difference in a week’s time either. However, some people break down phytic acid more easily in their digestive tract than others. Even if you feel you don’t notice a dramatic difference, soaking your grains does make the grains and legumes more easily digestible, so less work on your body. :-)

      But if I had to choose between lacto-fermented vegetables and soaking my grains, I might choose the lacto-fermented vegetables too. ;-)

  7. Lynda says

    I’ve been soaking for almost two years now, and it has made a *huge* difference for me, plus I feel good knowing my kids may not have the issues I’ve had. Had chronic fatigue and for years couldn’t eat wheat at all (refined or whole).

    I’ve made a recent discovery and am interested in whether you or others have something to offer to this. My apologies if you’ve mentioned this and I missed it. Depending on the food, sometimes my husband and kids find the finished product to be a little too sour/acidic. It occurred to me to try baking soda in the recipes after the soak (or increasing what’s there). After all, an acid is neutralized by a base, and I figure the work of the acid is done once you cook. A couple examples: 1) hot cereal – 1/8t. baking soda per serving, 2) cookies – if recipe calls for 1t. baking soda, I do 1 1/2t.

    Which reminds me, I haven’t seen tips for converting typical cookie recipes for soaked flour. Other options aren’t convenient for me, so this is what I started doing… mix the flour with the butter and add whey (typically 2-3T) to soak overnight. Then add everything else the next day. (easiest in processor, not necessary though) Often I find I have to add a smidge of water to the final dough/batter to have the right thickness.

    Appreciate any thoughts/comments/experience. Thanks! And a continued hearty thank you for your site! ~L

    • Lynda says

      It occurred to me I wrote, on hot cereal, 1/8t. per serving, but it’s per 2 servings. For 1, I usually do a solid pinch. Sorry for anyone who may have tried this and had a bad experience!! (also, I drain the soak water off my soaked cereals first)

  8. says

    Hi! I cook with ratios and weight, and have been fairly successful thus far substituting my own GF blends in for the wheat flour. My question is…do you have any advice on timing? Should I try sprouting or soaking rice before it’s made into flour, or afterward?
    I use a bit of brown rice flour, and would love to squeeze some extra nutrients out!
    thanks :)
    (Also, if you suggest using whey or lemon juice, do you know what else I could use? I have heard ACV, but I dont know how much to rinse afterward. Should I scrub the rice to get rid of the taste?)
    I’m still so new to everything…it sometimes seems overwhelming!

  9. sheri says

    Hi! I’m new to your site, but love seeing the recipes you offer! My husband and I recently tried “the Maker’s Diet,” as he has problems with fatigue overwhelming him, and I suffer from headaches. After 40 days on the diet, (including soaking grains after deleting them entirely from our diet for a few weeks), we were feeling great! The problem is sticking to it – the holidays really got us off track again! I feel our main problem is sugar, but I have noticed that I get headaches now when I eat oatmeal that has not been soaked. I just don’t like the flavor as much after using kefir while soaking it – it gives it a somewhat sour taste. I wish I could try using sprouted grains, but we live in Africa and can’t even get wheat berries here! (But I think I did recently read something about the “myth” of eating sprouted grains – how it’s actually bad for you? I think it may have been on Dr. Mercola’s website – anyone know anything about that?) Thanks for these websited, though – I’ll be looking them up!
    -Sheri

  10. Claire says

    I recently harvested some wild dock seed and ground it into flour, and I was wondering if I should soak it before baking with it? Obviously, there isn’t much information on the phytic acid of dock seeds, since it’s a weed and isn’t grow commercially.

    • Debmom4ca says

      My understanding is the phytic acid is present in all seeds to prevent them from sprouting before they are planted. I am sure that different grains have varying amounts. I do know that seeds also very in the length of time they should be soaked. You will probably have to find a more known grain and use that for the length of soaking time.

  11. weejenwren says

    Hi NG,
    If you soak flour/grains don’t you need to ‘pour off’ the liquid after soaking? Surely this contains all the anti-nutrients? When soaking flour the extra liquid must affect the end product (soggy cakes?) how do you adjust recipes with wet flour?
    I’m from Scotland and I used to pull faces when an older man I worked with told me he soaked his porridge (oatmeal) the night before in salt and water, I presumed it was because he liked the taste and texture but now it makes perfect sense!
    Thanks for this

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