Soaking Grains: Does It Matter?
Soaking grains reduces phytic acid in grains and that phytic acid matters. Phytic acid is a mineral inhibitor. If we can reduce it in food (and we can do so in grains by soaking grains), we can absorb more minerals from our food. Iron absorption is the most striking example. One study found that if you can remove phytic acid entirely from grains, you could improve your iron absorption three times in the case of rice and nearly twelve times in the case of wheat.
Before we get too excited by these compelling results, it is difficult to reduce phytic acid to zero in our own kitchens, but there is a lot we can do in soaking grains and it is actually pretty simple.
Soaking Grains: Preparing Hot Breakfast Cereal
Oatmeal, multi-grain cereals, couscous, and bulgur should be prepared strategically to reduce their phytic acid. If you prepare them strategically, you may double your absorption of the minerals in the grains. You may even absorb more than that.
The food science literature tells us that soaking is effective. One classic study soaked grains in specific scientifically controlled conditions and was able to get great results adjusting all of the variables in just the right way. The results from the study are at right and show that with some grains phytic acid may be reduced very rapidly and thoroughly through soaking.
To break down phytic acid you need four things, generally speaking:
• Acid pH
In the context of hot breakfast cereal you need to do the following:
• Moisture: Place the grain in a bowl with about equal parts warm water.
• Warmth: The water temperature should be between 45 degrees and 55 degrees C (113-131 degrees F), just above body temperature.
• Cover with a clean dishcloth to keep the bugs out.
• Warmth: Soak in a warm spot for at least two and at best twelve hours (time).
A purist approach to soaking grains would be to add a food or liquid to the soaking cereal to improve the pH. It turns out that most items we might add that are at all palatable may interfere with the soaking process. Many people add yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, or whey. In fact, we did that for some time ourselves under the recommendation of the Nourishing Traditions cookbook. However, check out the video for more information on why we no longer add these items. Without these options, you are left with soaking in vinegar or lemon juice which would mean skipping breakfast in our house. I soak in warm water.
Tip: Soak your breakfast cereal or other grain porridge overnight as I describe. In exchange for your soaking preparation time, your cooking time will decrease dramatically.
Soaking Grains: When More Diligence Is In Order
When consumers rely on grains for a core part of their dietary minerals, more diligence may be in order beyond a simply warm water soak. There are also grains that have low levels of the enzyme phytase that work to break down phytic acid and you may wish to use more diligence with those grains. The classic study on soaking grains displayed above makes this point well. Oatmeal, corn, and millet are low in the phytase enzyme.
I recommend leveraging the phytase enzyme of other complementary grains to help reduce the phytic acid in grains low in phytase themselves. Grains known for their high content of the phytase enzyme are wheat and buckwheat, providing us with both a gluten and gluten-free option in improving our soaking.
The method for soaking grains with a complementary high phytase grain is simple: Add some fresh ground wheat or buckwheat to your oats.
Studies of complementary soaking have made recipes where the high phytase grain was 10% of the recipe and it was effective in breaking down phytic acid. That might be high for your homemade oatmeal, but do what you can while still preserving a decent oatmeal experience. Fresh ground wheat or buckwheat are your best bet — fresh ground grain is highest in the enzyme phytase.
Tip: If you don’t own a grain mill, put a tablespoon or two of wheat berries (kernels) in your coffee mill to add to your oatmeal.
Soaking Grains In Bread Making
Beyond soaking grains for hot cereals, consumers also soak grains in bread making to reduce phytic acid. I describe a key problem with this approach in the video below: many times a high-calcium food is added to the soaking grains to improve the pH. While pH is critical in reducing phytic acid in grains, adding calcium is counter-productive. Check out the video below for more detail and do check out the Phytic Acid Drill Down for more information.
Soaking Grains And The Phytic Acid Drill Down
The skinny on soaking grains is right here in this article but if you are an information junkie like I tend to be, you should check out the Phytic Acid Drill Down, including resources which allow you to learn from my own years of obsession that have finally settled down into some extremely easy way to manage the process of reducing phytic acid in food, including soaking grains.