Soaking grains can help increase mineral absorption and improve digestibility. Want to know why? Here's everything you need to know.
What are the benefits of soaking grains?
Grains are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and B vitamins. They also offer up important minerals like iron, calcium, phosphorus, zinc and potassium. Because of this, they are often known to be a wholesome and nutritious food source. I mean, how many times have you been encouraged to eat quinoa? Probably too many to count.
But, here’s the thing: grains are actually very hard to digest.
Grains are seeds that are meant to pass through your body undigested. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes a whole lot of sense. The seeds have one job and that job is to make it through your digestive track unharmed so they can be planted on the other side.
To ensure safe travels through your digestive tract, grains have a compound in them that make it especially tough for your body to break them down and absorb their nutrients. This compound is an anti-nutrient named phytic acid.
For people with problematic digestion, phytic acid is exactly what cause aches, bloating and further digestive issues after consuming grains.
Now that you know that. Here's what you need to know next. There is a "traditional" way to prepare and consume grains that allows you to better digest them and absorb more of their nutrients. That method is soaking grains.
Is soaking grains necessary?
Soaking grains in warm water overnight releases an enzyme called phytase. The main job of phytase is to break down phytic acid. This results in three benefits:
- Your body can more easily digest the grains
- Your body can more easily absorb minerals from the grains
- The breakdown of phytase also releases micronutrients (lower order inositols) that support blood sugar balance, metabolic and hormonal health
Plus one benefit that's not health-related: quicker cooking time.
But, is soaking grains necessary? Depends.
If you eat a healthy diet full of nutritious food sources like meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, then you like already meet your daily intake requirements for minerals. So, this may not be such a big deal to you.
That said, you'll still benefit from easier digestion and quicker cook times. So, if you can get in the habit of planning ahead when making grains, I think this strategy is a win-win.
How To Soak Grains
Soaking grains is not hard. In fact, it is quite easy. It just takes a little planning ahead.
Depending on the grain you're making, you'll need to allow a certain time for soaking. I've created a chart for you below that you can print, pin or save to your desktop. That way you can refer to it next time you're soaking grains.
Here is what you need to soak grains:
- Warm water: warm slightly in a kettle (until it's warm to the touch or roughly 120°F)
- Acidic medium: apple cider vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon juice
Note that some people recommend acidic dairy ingredients like whey or kefir. But, this won't facilitate the release of minerals as well as non-dairy options. Apple cider vineger and lemon juice encourage the ideal pH for the phytase enzyme to operate.
Grains that are naturally low in phytase (corn, millet, oats and brown rice) may benefit from the inclusion of a phytase-rich ingredient like ground rye or wheat flour. You can add 1 tablespoon for every cup of water.
Here's are the steps you'll follow to soak grains:
- Add 1 cup of grains to a bowl and cover completely with warm water (roughly 1 cup)
- For every 1 cup of water add 1 tablespoon of acidic medium
- For grains low in phytase (corn, millet, oats and brown rice) add 1 tablespoon of ground rye or wheat flour
- Cover bowl with tea towel and elastic band and place in warm area
- Soak for 12-24 hours (varies by grain, see my grain soaking chart above)
- Proceed with recipe.
Other things to consider when soaking grains:
I like to use the soaking liquid as my cooking liquid if it's called for in the recipe to retain flavour, color and nutrients. Please also remember that soaked grains take less time to cook than non soaked grains, so adjust your cooking time accordingly.
With a little practice, soaking grains will be part of your regular routine. And, if you really can't get into the habit, simply look for sprouted grains at your natural grocery story.