Sprouting and Soaking Grains.

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 sprobeansuting 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!

Paleo. Is it Really the Diet of Our Ancestors?

I am reading two fantastic books right now. Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel and A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tony Sandage. Both of these books focus on what our ancestors ate (and both are fantastic so far). According to these two authors and at least one person on the internet grains have been a part of our diet for a long, long time. So, what does this mean for the paleo diet? Is it a fraud? Not necessarily. Though our paleolithic ancestors most likely ate grain, they ate it in a far, far different way than we eat it now.

Grain helped humans shift from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more settled way of life. Something that allowed people, for the first time, to have free time. This fostered all kinds of advances in society and technology like writing and even bureaucracy (lol). The catch here is that grain was always consumed sprouted and fermented. Beer was a staple foodstuff even being used as currency. According to ancient documents the workers who built the pyramids in Egypt were paid with beer and sometimes bread. That has nothing to do with paleolithic humans, but it’s a really interesting factoid.

Sprouting and fermenting grains unlocks the nutrients they contain which are otherwise unavailable to our bodies. Whole grains are the worst offenders in this case as they contain all of the phytic acid and lectins. This includes nuts. So that paleo nut butter? You’re not getting everything that the nutrition label says it has to offer. You’re not even really eating it the way a paleolithic person would have eaten it.

Luckily, sprouting and fermenting grain is super easy, it just takes some time. In my opinion grains that have been sprouted/fermented taste much better so I am quite happy to ferment them or sprout them. I haven’t combined the two methods yet, but I will. I’m also very strongly considering investing in a grain mill.

All of that being said, I am of the opinion that the paleo diet is another fad diet. I say that with an immense amount of respect for the diet itself because it helped me turn hypothyroidism around and improve my health in general. There are merits to “eating like a caveman” for sure, but I think it’s a bit hasty to cut out all grains for the rest of your life because a diet that claims to be what our ancestors ate told you to. The important thing to know is how to properly prepare grains to gain the most benefit from them and the least harm.

It just goes to show you: in this day and age you really, really, have to sift through all of the information available to find the truth. Yes, humans were hunter-gatherers exclusively for a long, long time. But the cultivation of grain increased our intellect and gave us a more stable life. Are grains the villain they’ve been made out to be? Absolutely, in the form that we are consuming them. But once they are properly prepared, grains are not the enemy.

Make Your Own Marshmallows.

I’ve decided to make a new tradition at our house: making marshmallows during the holiday season. Actually, I want to try to have them available throughout the winter months because these aren’t just treats for topping hot cocoa. These, my friend, are traditional marshmallows that are made with marshmallow root. Marshmallow root is a mucinogen, meaning that it forms mucin through the imbibition of water. Which is a fancy-pants way of saying that soaking the root in water makes a mucous like substance great for digestive upsets or sore throats. The root itself has been used medicinally for hundreds of years but, I think, it has been largely lost in modern “plastic food” culture – maybe western medicine is a little to blame. Whatever it is, the general knowledge of marshmallow root benefits has been lost. Thanks to the interwebs anyone can look into it further though, which is pretty awesome.

To illustrate my point: I took these to playgroup on a particularly snowy day for everyone to enjoy. When I was asked about them I was also obliged to explain marshmallow root because no one really knew about it. I was happy to do this because I really enjoy talking about real food and how to make it, and everyone seemed really interested and surprised that marshmallows were originally used as medicine.

There is also the common mallow, which is essentially a weed. It grows everywhere here. One day, I was looking to see if it had any uses because of its abundance in my lawn and garden and I discovered that you can make a kind of marshmallow from the seed pods which are affectionately known as mini cheese wheels because that’s what they look like. Little girls in the country used to put them in their dollhouses for that reason. I have never tried to make marshmallows from the seed pods of the common mallow because of the sheer effort it would take to harvest them. Maybe if I get bored enough one day I’ll perform an experiment.

I had a little left and I got a sore throat so I ate a handful and they worked like a charm. I highly recommend these for kiddos with scratchy throats as well. Not only does the marshmallow root help, but the gelatin helps too, and while these are pretty sugary, I use honey so I feel a little better about giving them to little ones.
One thing to note: you can’t get the same soothing results with jet-puffed marshmallows you find at the store because they have less gelatin and no marshmallow root. Not to mention the corn syrup of questionable origins…

I have tried to make these without any sugar. This does not work. At all. The sugar is needed for the structure so it is non-negotiable. Another thing you cannot do is wait until after the water is heated to add the honey: it must be boiled with the water which is a shame because you lose honey’s beneficial enzymes, but I still think it beats white sugar.

MarshmallowsIMG_0625

1 tablespoons marshmallow root (Vitamin Cottage sells dried marshmallow root in their bulk spices section)
1 cup warm water
4 tablespoons unflavored gelatin powder
1 cup of honey
1 teaspoon vanilla or other flavor
2 tablespoons arrowroot starch

  1. Combine the marshmallow root with the warm water and let it steep for a minimum of 5 minutes. Strain when you’re ready to use.
  2. Pour 1/2 cup of the marshmallow water into a small saucepan with the honey.
  3. Pour the other 1/2 cup of water into a mixing bowl and add the gelatin. Whisk slightly and let sit.
  4. Slowly heat the honey and water until at least 240 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer that goes that high, bring to a boil and stir constantly for 8 minutes.
  5. Turn on your mixer to medium speed and slowly pour the hot honey/water mixture into the gelatin mix, which will be hardened at this point.
  6. Once all of the honey water is added turn your mixer to high and whip for 10-15 minutes, until stiff peaks form. It will look exactly like marshmallow creme.
  7. Add the vanilla or flavoring of your choice in the last 5 minutes of whipping.
  8. While the mixer is whipping the marshmallows, lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish or line with parchment paper (parchment makes the removal super easy, but greasing the pan works almost as well).
  9. Pour the marshmallow fluff into the pan, smooth and let sit for 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  10. Turn out the marshmallow block onto a cutting board and cut into squares with a well-oiled knife.
  11. Toss with arrowroot starch and stow away in an airtight container.

These will last a couple of weeks at room temperature. Do not put them in the refrigerator: they will melt.

Nourishing Hot Cocoa.

IMG_20150226_140205  We’ve been getting a lot of snow lately – not as much as an awesome friend of mine though – which means the little one has been asking to go sledding a lot. The perfect thing to warm up after sledding is hot cocoa, but I’m not a big fan of sugar especially if it’s in something our family consumes on a regular basis. I found a few recipes online for paleo hot chocolate and I tried them out, sometimes with a few tweaks. Here is my favorite:

For one cup of hot chocolate:
6 oz. milk (dairy, almond, coconut. I don’t recommend soy)
2 Tbs cocoa powder (less if using a smaller cup)
1/2 Tbs arrowroot powder (optional)
1 tsp unflavored gelatin
Stevia to taste

  1. Pour all but 2 tablespoons of the milk into a saucepan.
  2. Mix the gelatin into the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk and set aside so the gelatin can dissolve while the milk is heating.
  3. Heat the milk over medium heat until it just begins to steam. Once there is a bit of steam rising from the milk add the cocoa powder and the arrowroot.
  4. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture for a minute or so.
  5. Pour over the gelatin mixture and add stevia to taste.

I must confess that I don’t measure the gelatin, I just pour it over the top of the milk until I think there’s enough. Be careful not to add too much, it will change the flavor of your drink.

I don’t usually sweeten mine at all. Instead, I toss in a few homemade marshmallows and let them melt a bit before stirring it up.

This is delicious. The arrowroot gives it a nice creamy texture so you can leave it out if you’re making this with half-and-half or cream (which I have done before – it’s amazing!). If you’re using a non-dairy milk option I’d recommend not leaving out the arrowroot. You might be able to substitute for some other kind of starch like potato, tapioca, or non-GMO corn, but I haven’t tried that myself, so I’m not sure how that would turn out.

The gelatin is for an extra pick-me-up and it gives the hot chocolate a very pleasant fullness, much like the starch but smoother. Gelatin is a wonderful healing nutrient (can I call it that?) that I’ve also taken to adding into my hot tea. It helps me keep my energy levels up and it’s great to supplement in the winter to give you a bit of a bug-fighting boost. I also ramp up our consumption of bone broth in the winter for the same reason.

Next week I’ll write about the marshmallow recipe I use. It’s so easy that I’ve decided to make it a winter tradition to make marshmallows the first time it snows.

I hope you all are keeping warm!