Thursday, March 18, 2010

Soaking Grains and Legumes

I have soaked beans overnight for years, thinking it both softened the beans thus reducing cooking time, and eliminating some of the gas produced in the intestines during digestion. Now, with my research into phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors found in legumes and grains, I have a better understanding of the process, and how to improve it.

Usually I soak beans overnight with at least 2 changes of water. Now with the information about neutralizing the antinutrients by soaking in an acid medium, I can do better. Sally Fallon (Nourishing Traditions) recommends adding 2 tablespoons of an acid medium per cup of grains or legumes to the soaking water. (I'll cover milled grains/flours in another post later.)

My preference for the acid medium will be Bragg's Raw Apple Cider Vinegar because the friendly bacteria in it will inhibit unwanted bacteria that could contaminate my soaking water. The next day, rinse well, and cook as you normally do.
For years I have read Asian rice recipes where they soak rice overnight with a few changes of water. I thought it a cultural thing, not an improvement to the bioavailability of the nutrients in the food. So, yes, you can use just plain water, as I have done with my beans for years, but it will only break down a small portion of the phytic acid.

I happen to like the taste of a good vinegar, but if you do not, there are several other acid mediums you can use although the proportions should remain the same. You can use buttermilk, yogurt, kefir, whey, milk with fresh lemon juice to acidify it, cultured milk, regular vinegar, and lemon juice. There are probably other acids that will work, too, so feel free to experiment.

I cook a lot of whole grains like brown rice, bulgur, millet, quinoa, barley (both hulled and pearled), kamut, steel-cut oats and oat groats. You can be sure that my grains will be properly soaked from now on!

Update July 2010:
I finally (and reluctantly) have had to accept the idea that our systems are not designed to process grains, seeds, or beans after seeing the incredible improvement in my health and well-being without eating them for several months. Although I miss those items, I no longer eat any grains, seeds, or beans and only the occasional soaked nut meats. It still doesn't feel right (it's hard to eradicate what I was taught for so many years), but I cannot deny the improvement!


  1. Adding an acidulator speeds up the process. If the taste is bothersome, you can just soak longer. Our traditional cooking legacy says that pulses should be "sprouted" before cooking.
    In this case, sprouted means soaked until the little root nub appears. This usually takes between 12 and 36 hours, depending on whether you are preparing lentils or larger beans. The water needs to be changed because the pulse will acidify in the sprouting process and the soaking water will start to ferment if not changed.
    We notice a huge difference in how we feel after a meal if the pulses were soaked properly or if someone rushed the process.

    I think it would be safe to say that all traditional food preparation methods came about for a reason. We need to understand the wisdom behind the technique before we abandon them.

    I know that Sally Fallon thinks that pressure cooking is a "new fangled" cooking technique but in acuality, pressure cooking has been done for thousands of years in both Europe and Asia.
    In Kashmir, the style of cooking referred to as "dum" means cooked by pressure. Aloo Dum (Dum Aloo) is one of the most well known of these dishses. The pressure is achieved by sealing the lid to the pot with piece of dough before cooking. The dough prevents the steam from escaping and raises the pressure inside the pot. If you've ever lived in the mountains, then you know that altitude greatly affects cooking time. Using the sealed pot technique to raise the pressure helps tremendously.
    In Europe, a similar technique was used in dishes "a la mode de caen". My older European cookbooks indicate that the lid should be sealed on the pot with a piece of dough. Tripe a la mode de caen is probably the most well known of these dishes. I notice that most of the recipes for this dish on the web fail to mention the dough seal on the pot.
    A few webistes still mention sealing the pot before cooking:

  2. Great information (as always), Thanks!!


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