How to Soak Nuts, Seeds, Grains and Beans

Did you know that nuts, seeds, grains, and beans have natural protective mechanisms built in so that they can survive until good growing conditions arrive? Once they come into contact with rain these protections are broken down and washed away so that the seeds can germinate. This also releases more enzymes and nutrients to support their growth. That means that not only do we digest soaked nuts, seeds, grains and beans better, but we also intake more nutrients from them!

The most commonly known protector is phytic acid (aka phytate), which as previously mentioned helps prevent the seed from prematurely sprouting. This is wonderful for the plant, however it’s not so great for us humans because we  lack phytase. Phytase is an enzyme that neutralizes phytic acid. Phytic acid is known as an anti-nutrient because it binds to minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc. Once bound, these minerals are less likely to be absorbed by our intestines thus contributing to mineral deficiencies. Phytic acid also inhibits enzymes we need to digest protein, starch, and sugar.

Regularly consuming phytic acid containing foods, despite being whole and organic, can really cause digestive stress and take a toll on our health. Think of all the commons foods Americans eat such as bread, tortillas, cereal, crackers, multigrain bars, rice, nut butters or just nuts themselves. That’s a lot of phytic acid adding up.

Luckily traditional cultures figured out ways  around our lack of phytase by mimicking Mother Nature in the kitchen through the traditional preparation method of soaking. While there are other ways to reduce phytic acid, such as sprouting or fermenting,  I find that soaking is the easiest. Just make sure to plan ahead accordingly as the soaking process can take anywhere from 4 to 24 hours. Fortunately most of this time is not hands-on, but rather just allowing the foods to soak until ready.

The Benefits of Soaking Nuts, Seeds, Grains and Beans

  • Enzyme and mineral inhibitors get neutralized or de-activated
  • Helps prevent mineral deficiencies
  • Increase in vitamins and nutrients
  • Gluten is broken down in whole grains for easier digestion
  • Prevents gas and bloating from beans and allows easier digestion
  • Decreases cooking time for beans


As with all Real Food recipes try to source the best ingredients possible. That means sticking to organic if your budget allows. If not, then don’t beat yourself up over it. At least start the habit of soaking and as your budget allows, introduce more and more organic options for optimal health. The benefits of soaked nuts, seeds, grains and beans are still there for your digestive system despite using conventionally grown products.

Nuts & Seeds:

Dissolve 1 tablespoon salt into enough water to cover nuts or seeds. Place nuts/seeds and salt water into a glass bowl (or other non-reactive dish). Cover with a towel and let soak on the counter for 4-12 hours depending on the nut/seed (see guide below). Once soaking is done, rinse off thoroughly to remove salt.

The soaking step is now complete, however  if you are not going to be using your nuts or seeds within a few days of soaking, then taking the  additional step of drying is a must. We must dry them out to prevent mold, bacterial growth, and to preserve for much longer periods of time. Drying them also gives the nuts a crispy texture that many enjoy.

To do this you can either dehydrate them in a dehydrator or use your oven. Lay nuts in a single layer and dehydrate in dehydrator for 24 hours at a low setting like 105 degrees F or set oven to the lowest setting achievable to dry them out. The lower setting you can achieve on your oven, the more enzymes will be preserved. Remember the goal is not to cook them, but to dry them out for long term storage.

Once dry, I like to store them in glass jars. Some people will store them in the freezer to preserve even longer. I would go based on how fast your family will consume them.

**You will notice that nuts and seeds get soaked with salt, while grains and beans can be soaked with any acidic medium of your choice. That is because nuts contain high levels of enzyme inhibitors and little phytic acid, while grains and beans contain more phytic acid and an acidic medium is best to neutralize it. Interestingly, Sally Fallon, says that, “The method imitates the way the native peoples in Central America treated their nuts and seeds–by soaking them in seawater and then dehydrating them.”

Soak Time:
Almonds: 8-12 hours
Cashews: no longer than 4-6 hours or else can turn slimy
Hazelnuts: 8-12 hours
Macadamias: 7 hours, or overnight
Pecans: 7 hours, or overnight
Pine nuts: 7 hours, or overnight
Pistachios: no longer than 4-6 hours or else can turn slimy
Pumpkin seeds/Pepitas: At least 7 hours, or overnight
Sesame seeds: 8 hours
Sunflower seeds: 6-8 hours
Walnuts: 7 hours, or overnight


Grains:

Soak grains in a glass bowl (or other non-reactive dish) with 1 tablespoon acidic medium such as whey, apple cider vinegar, yogurt, or lemon juice. Cover bowl with a towel and let it sit out on your counter for 12-24 hours.

Use your soaked grains that day to bake and cook with.

No need to soak white flour or white rice because the phytic acid was removed along with the bran and germ during processing.

Beans & Legumes:

Soak dry beans and legumes in a glass bowl (or other non-reactive dish) with 1 tablespoon acidic medium such as whey, apple cider vinegar, yogurt, or lemon juice. Cover bowl with a towel and let it sit out on your counter for 12-24 hours, the longer the better. Some people change the water several times during the soaking process, if you do, make sure to always add more of your acidic medium.  Once soaking is done, rinse off beans thoroughly  and cook as you normally would. You can also make large batches of soaked beans and legumes and freeze them for later use.

Just a little note for beginners:
For those that are new to Real Foods, it can be very overwhelming to incorporate every traditional cooking method into your new lifestyle. Don’t panic if you don’t have time to soak these foods every time. Just do what you can and try not to stress over it. The more you incorporate these techniques into your cooking routine, the easier it becomes. I personally make sure to soak beans every single time in order to prevent digestive upset. Soaking them will also cut down cooking time dramatically. Nuts, seeds and grains get soaked most of the time, but not always. I don’t stress over it and don’t feel the need for perfection like I did when I first learned about traditional foods.

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