Who would want to add the extra step of soaking nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes before eating them? And, why?
If I said “because it’s good for you”, would that be a good enough answer?
After reading this post, it may just be.
Nuts and seeds are high in nutrients. As such, they are a wonderful addition to our diet.
Some would argue that we don’t need grains or legumes (beans). I won’t bother to argue that point as I believe it is an individual choice. The spectrum of this post is not to debate the merits of eating or not eating certain foods, but rather: if you do eat them, make them more nutritious, digestible and overall enjoyable.
The Purpose of Soaking Nuts, Seeds, Grains and Legumes
For the sake of ease, let’s agree that nuts, grains, and legumes are seeds. Basically, they can be put into the ground to grow more plants as per this definition: ” a flowering plant’s unit of reproduction, capable of developing into another such plant.”
When seeds are planted into the earth, heat and moisture begin the process of breaking down their outer shell (a process called germination).
In the same manner, soaking breaks down the outer shell of your seeds to make the nutrients on the inside more digestible and bio-available.
Nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes are rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. They also contain phytic acid, tannins, leptins, and enzyme inhibitors which can make them hard to digest.
What is Phytic Acid?
Phytic acid, also known as phytate, is found in all plant seeds (including nuts, legumes, and grains). Short explanation: phytate is the storage form of phosphorus.
The amount of phytic acid contained in a seed can vary widely depending on the plant it came from.
In humans, the problem with phytic acid is that it impairs the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, and calcium. One way to solve this issue entirely is by never eating seeds (nuts, grains, and legumes) but this may not be a feasible solution.
Traditionally, many cultures have found a way around the phytic acid issue by soaking, sprouting, and/or fermenting these foods.
Phytase is the enzyme that neutralizes phytic acid and liberates the phosphorus. It is also present in all seeds. Ruminants, as well as other animals, contain large amounts of phytase as part of their microbiome.
Generally, as human beings, we do not have enough phytase to break down phytic acid. Even if we did, phytic acid is not the only problem with consuming seeds.
Enzymes are molecules which cause chemical reactions throughout the body. Enzymes (usually proteins) aid in the breakdown of food, the proper functioning of our metabolism, and the clotting process; just to name a few roles.
Raw nuts and seeds, as well as legumes and grains, contain protease inhibitors. Protease is an enzyme which helps to break down the food we consume (mainly protein bonds).
Note: In plants, protease inhibitors form a barrier against insects.
Seeds cannot be properly digested when these inhibitors are present. This causes an undue burden on our pancreas.
Soaking resolves this issue.
Tannins are water-soluble polyphenols (micronutrients with antioxidant activity) that are present in many plant foods.
From my research, the debate on tannins is not clear cut. Animals who are fed plants high in tannins have a decreased feed intake, growth rate, feed efficiency, net metabolizable energy, and protein digestibility. However, recent findings indicate that we are not really sure how tannins creates these effects.
Some studies went on to say that tannins could be carcinogenic, while other reports concluded that: “tea polyphenols* and many tannin components were suggested to be anticarcinogenic. Many tannin molecules have also been shown to reduce the mutagenic activity of a number of mutagens.”
So, tannins, cancer causing or cancer protecting?*
Even if we do not fully answer the questions above, we do know that tannins seem to have an enzyme inhibiting effect of some sort even if the process is not yet fully understood.
It has been proposed that some individuals may be more sensitive to tannins than others. However, these are theories with no solid answers yet.
In conclusion, when it comes to tannins; there does not seem to be many clear-cut answers.
Either way, we do know that the amount of tannins in seeds is reduced by the soaking process.
*Note: For what it’s worth, I looked up green tea and tannins and found out that green tea is among the teas with the highest amount of tannins. Green tea is touted as being very healthy. Personally, I am inclined to believe that tannins could be getting a bad wrap in some of the experiments. However, I willing to be taught overwise.
Soaking Nuts, Seeds, Grains, and Legumes To Remove Lectins
Lectins are a type of protein which can reduce nutrient absorption and which have been associated with digestive upset.
Plants in the nightshade family (like tomatoes) which are high in lectins have shown to increase inflammation in the body of certain individuals.
Decreasing the amount of lectins in your food is a great idea and, you guessed it, the process of soaking achieves just that.
What’s the difference?
Before I go any further let’s look at the difference between sprouting, soaking, and fermenting.
Sprouting involves soaking until the seeds germinate and a shoot appears. This process usually takes a few days.
Fermenting is also referred to as souring. Making sourdough is a perfect example of this process. Sourdough fermentation is a great way to remove phytic acid in milled grains. Fermenting is also used with vegetables as a preservation method.
Soaking is the precursor to the fermentation and sprouting process.
Soaking Nuts, Seeds, Grains, and Legumes: The Process
Nuts and Seeds
Soaking nuts and seeds in a salt and water solution and then, dehydrating them makes them more digestible.
The instructions in the chart below are for four cups of nuts or seeds. You may reduce this amount. Just decrease the water and salt accordingly.
I recommend you use pure water and that you use enough to cover your plant material. Remember your nuts and seeds will absorb some of the water. You do not want them uncovered.
When it comes to the soaking time. I list the minimum amount of time. Many recommend an overnight soaking.
|Raw Seeds or Nuts (4 cups)||Salt||Soaking Time (Hrs)|
|Macademia Nuts*||1 Tbsp.||<2|
|Peanuts (a legume)||1 Tbsp.||7+|
|Pine Nuts||1 Tbsp.||7+|
|Pumpkin (Pepitas)||2 Tbsp.||7+|
|Sesame Seeds, Unhulled||2 tsp.||7+|
|Sunflower, Hulled||2 Tbsp.||7+|
*Note: Some say that cashew and macadamia nuts do not need to be soaked at all. I usually will soak my cashews before making cashew milk or cream.
** Note: Do not soak chia seeds or flax seeds or you will have a gelatinous mess.
When soaking grains make sure they are whole and unmilled.
All you need is some water and acidic medium, usually some lemon juice, whey, or apple cider vinegar (ACV).
Quick Soaking tips:
- Use enough warm (not hot) water to cover the grain and a bit more as the grains will absorb some of the water.
- Add the acid medium: I have seen recommendations from one teaspoon per cup to two tablespoons. I use about one tablespoon.
- Cover your container and let your grains soak overnight (a minimum of 12 hours) and up to 24 hours.
- Important: buckwheat, brown rice, and millet only require 7 hours of soaking time.
- Drain and rince your grains.
- Dehydrate or cook as usual skimming any foam which may develop on topof the water.
Oats are not like other grains. They are high in phytic acid and low in phytate.
First, if you are very sensitive to gluten or if you are Celiac make sure you buy regular certified gluten free oats. My husband can handle regular oats but be mindful that not everyone can.
Second, as for the grains above cover the oats with pure warm water, add one tablespoon of acid medium per cup of oats and one tablespoon of buckwheat flour.
Soak for a full 24 hours.
Finally, strain the oats in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse.
A note about quinoa: I – and many others – also soak their quinoa (a seed). While doing my research I only found one person who suggested against it: Dr. Weil. I could not find any research on this beyond what was said in his article and I quote: “Avoid soaking quinoa, however, as saponins can leach into the seeds.” I thought it was fair to mention his views since he is well known in the natural health community.
Soaking beans is very easy, cover them with water* and add a little bit of baking soda. Soak them for 12 to 24 hours.
Note: use twice as much water as beans as they will soak up a lot of liquid.
If you plan on soaking them longer than 12 hours, drain and rinse them and soak them an additional 12 hours in clean water (you can add more baking soda).
Before cooking them, drain and rinse under clean water.
*Note: some say to use hot or warm water. I just use water at room temperature.
The Dehydrating Process
I only dehydrate my nuts and seeds. The only whole grains I soak are oats and rice. I will sometimes soak my flour mixes overnight with a bit of ACV before making pancakes or waffles in the morning.
If you plan on dehydrating nuts and seeds (or grains) I strongly suggest you invest in a dehydrator. I bought mine on Amazon for less than $80. Most ovens’ temperature does not go low enough to preserve the enzymes in your seeds. If you use the oven method below, remember your seeds will no longer be considered “raw”.
You must make sure that you fully dehydrate your seeds. Any moisture left in your seeds will encourage molding.
Usually, it will take 12 to 24 hours to fully dehydrate your seeds. You want them tasty and crunchy.
I set the temperature of my dehydrator to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Note: I have seen temp recommendation from 95 to 115.
For cashew and macadamia nuts I set my dehydrator to 115 (the same setting as for grains).
Note: For these nuts, I have seen some recommendations of temps as high as 250.
Dehydrating in the Oven
If you must dehydrate in the oven, this is the process to follow.
Set your oven to the lowest temperature possible.
Place your seeds on a parchment covered cookie sheet in a thin layer.
Dry them for 30 minutes to 1 hour or until crunchy. You will need to taste them often. They are ready when there are no longer soft in the middle.
Sources for Soaking Nuts, Seeds, Grains, and Legumes:
- Minerals and phytic acid interactions: is it a real problem for human nutrition?
- Nutritional iron deficiency.
- Living With Phytic Acid
- Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains
- Tannins and human health: a review
- Tomato lectin resists digestion in the mammalian alimentary canal and binds to intestinal villi without deleterious effects
- Do dietary lectins cause disease?