Last week I wrote a little about phytic acid and sprouting/fermenting grains in the context of the paleolithic diet. Today, I’m writing some general tips and instructions for how to sprout and soak grains. Soaking grains is like fermentation shorthand, I think you’d have to leave the grains for longer to achieve true fermentation. Soaking is a good first step.
Something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of implementing this (or any change to your diet/lifestyle, really) is to try one thing at a time. Take it slow: it gets overwhelming really fast. It has taken me almost 3 years to get to where I am now and I had a serious motivator in the form of hypothyroidism. I am really reluctant to put synthetic things in my body, so I sort of jumped in with both feet in an effort to avoid needing synthroid even temporarily – not to mention that taking synthroid for postpartum thyroiditis (which is what I probably had) could potentially increase the likelihood of needing it for the rest of my life and I was so not down with that. I’m also selectively super stubborn and that helped me stick with it. Although I do eat grains again I am completely gluten-free and I try to soak and sprout as much as I can.
On to soaking!
Soaking is usually done overnight though there are a few exceptions: according to Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon cashews shouldn’t be soaked overnight because they are a softer nut that has already been steamed (yes, even the “raw” ones) to neutralize the urushiol which is a resin that is toxic, and the result will be unpleasant. However, I have seen plenty of Raw Food recipes calling for cashews to be soaked overnight so I suppose it’s really your call.
To soak grains properly you need a large bowl, preferably glass; cloth for covering, cheesecloth, muslin or a kitchen towel all work; grain to soak; enough water to cover the grain; an acidic medium such as vinegar, lemon juice, whey (the yellow stuff that you sometimes find on top of yogurt). I have used water kefir and kombucha and I seem to get good results with those. Alternatively you can use another grain that is high in phytase which is an enzyme that breaks down phytic acid like rye or buckwheat. The catch to this method is that since phytase is an enzyme that is susceptible to degradation as soon as the grain is milled into flour you’ll need to use freshly ground grain for this to be most effective. Here is a great article explaining some of the process.
To soak your grain you simply combine the grain with the water and acidic medium to the tune of 1 tablespoon acid per cup of flour. If the recipe you’re making uses buttermilk as liquid (like pancakes or waffles) feel free to use that, but know that the presence of calcium will reduce the amount of phytic acid neutralized by up to 50% in some grains. So, while it’s counter intuitive, adding a dollop of yogurt or milk kefir does more harm than good (whey is debatable as well). I’m not sure about using dairy to ferment grains and the impact that has on phytic acid, but my hunch would be that if you left it long enough you might get comparable results to soaking with something like vinegar or lemon juice if you don’t mind sour foods.
I use just water and salt for soaking legumes, but I do know a couple people who use vinegar or some other acid.
Sprouting is very similar in that you start by soaking the grains overnight but you’re just using water. There are all sorts of grain sprouting kits and pieces of equipment you can purchase, but I just use a bowl and a strainer with a cloth to cover in the summer when fruit flies are a problem. Basically you soak your grains/legumes overnight and drain them in the morning. Rinse and return them to the bowl to sit. Every two hours or so put them back in the strainer and rinse, also rinsing the bowl, then stick them back in the bowl. In 12 hours to 3 days you’ll start to see sprouts on most grains/legumes. Quinoa takes the least time to sprout in my experience. Usually there are sprouts on the majority of the grains by mid-day after soaking.
Sprouting grains activates the phytase enzyme so souring them after sprouting will remove even more of the phytic acid content. I haven’t done this yet myself, but I plan on giving it a shot soon and I will certainly write about what happens!
And there is my crash-course on soaking and sprouting grains and legumes. I hope it was helpful!