To soak or not to soak is not a black or white answer. Let’s examine the advantages of soaking grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Then you’ve culinary options and can discern when it serves you to soak those grains and when you can bypass that step.
One consideration is pleasure. For example pre-soaking oats prior to cooking yields creamy-smooth porridge that I enjoy but others might find “gummy.” Whereas, stir dry (not soaked) rolled oats into boiling water and they’ll retain their shape and yield a more textured and toothsome porridge. Enjoy either method depending upon your time or the texture you hanker for.
A second consideration is flavor. Soaking initiates the sprouting process and, to my palate, blossoms the flavor of seed. It’s subtle. So, for example, if I didn’t remember to pre-soak the brown rice in the morning, then for supper I’ll cook it without soaking. Or I might cook white rice or another hulled seed like pearled barley or dhal as it’s the hull wrapped around whole seeds that invites soaking.
Yes, a seed’s hull contains anti-nutrients that soaking may transform or remove. This brings us to a third reason for soaking; to improve nutrition. The bran and/or hull of seeds—including grains, beans and nuts—contain enzyme inhibitors, lectins and phytic acid. These chemical compounds are reduced not only by soaking, but also by fermenting and/or sprouting.
When you soak seeds, you then toss out some anti-nutrients along with the soaking water. In some cases, as with whole sesame seeds or amaranth, the soaking water leaches out a discernibly bitter flavour as you can tell by tasting the soaking water.
Likewise, compare the flavor of a soda or yeast bread to naturally leavened bread. Fermenting any seed or its flour enhances its taste and nutrition. Sprouting most dramatically transforms both flavor and nutrition.
One of the anti-nutrients that’s reduced is phytic acid. In moderate quantities, it’s a valuable antioxidant; in too large a quantity, it inhibits mineral absorption. Simply cooking the food reduces the phytic acid; more effective methods are soaking, fermentation, and sprouting. As soybeans are high in phytic acid, it’s important to consume traditionally fermented soy products like miso, tempeh and soy sauce.
Soaking, fermenting and sprouting also reduces a seeds lectins, a topic we’ll explore in next month’s newsletter.
So, what do I do in my kitchen? I always soak beans to activate their enzymes, blossom their flavor and make them easier to digest. But as dhal is hulled, this step, in a pinch, may be bypassed.
For the same reasons, I typically soak the hardest-to-digest whole grains (rye, wheat, rice and barley) as well as the grains that are bitter if not soaked (domestic quinoa http://www.whitemountainfarm.com and amaranth).
For reasons of texture, I don’t soak buckwheat or millet when serving them as grain entrees; however, I do soak them for the Overnight Millet Waffle.
From my own examination of traditional food ways and our earliest cookbooks, it appears that humanity has soaked (or sprouted and fermented) some—but not all—grains. Certainly, nuts and most seeds were not traditionally soaked.
Possibly the advice of some contemporary food writers to soak all grains, seeds and nuts—and even their flours—is a tich overboard. There’s no precedent for soaking almond flour. Taking one bit of information (soaking is best) and carrying it to a time intensive and new-fangled extreme has a fundamentalist ring to me.
There, that’s a lot of detail. If you’re hungry for a pot of brown rice and forgot to soak it, don’t let these technicalities prevent you from cooking up and enjoying a pot right now. Should your digestion appreciate a little extra support, then right now you might soak some rice for tomorrow and more quickly enjoy a pot of buckwheat today.
May you be well nourished!