Soak and Sprout
Before we look at ways to soak and sprout our grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, it's important to understand why.
Plants are power-packed with nutrition and detoxifying capabilities, but contain certain hazards by design. These hazards are protective mechanisms to keep animals from eating them, and so are toxic to animals. Therefore humans can have difficulty with them as well. Among the most important of these anti-nutrients is phytic acid. Phytic acid works against our ability to absorb nutrients and is one of the primary reasons humans have for centuries utilized methods such as sprouting and soaking.
The techniques are quite simple but require time—something contrary to our culture of convenience, but well worth the nutritional rewards.
If soaking or sprouting is a foreign concept, pick something simple and start small. You'll be amazed at how quickly you adapt!
Sprouting activates phytase, the enzyme that breaks down phytic acid and neutralizes enzyme inhibitors. In addition, sprouting can reduce some of the carb content in grains and beans, transforming them into something more akin to a vegetable than a starch.
Nuts are best soaked, rather than sprouted (see below). And not all seeds are conducive to sprouting. Flax seeds are too sticky to rinse properly, and oat seeds will not sprout once separated from their outer hulls. Alfalfa is easy to sprout; however, the seeds contain an amino acid called canavanine that can be toxic when consumed in large amounts, so caution is advised.
Place 1/2 -1 c. seeds or beans in wide-mouth mason jar or comparable container. Cover with filtered water and allow to sit on counter for a minimum of 12 hours. (This can be done overnight.) After the soaking time, drain the water using cheesecloth or mesh screening. Fill jar with fresh water and drain again.
Invert jar and let it sit at an angle to allow air circulation. If possible, do this in a sunny spot in your kitchen. Rinse the seeds/legumes every few hours or at least twice a day to avoid mold growth. Sprouts will be ready in 1-4 days. Rinse well, shake out excess moisture, and store in refrigerator.
Soaking is a bit easier than sprouting. The process accomplishes the goal of neutralizing the enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid and allows the vitamins and minerals to be unleashed. Soaking methods vary depending on the food, so here is a brief summary of each type.
Place 2 c. legumes such as adzuki beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, or lentils in a strainer. Rinse thoroughly. Transfer legumes to a large bowl. Cover with warm filtered water, leaving 2 inches at the top of the bowl. (Water can be heated on the stove and should be warm to the touch.) Add 2 tbsp. neutralizer such as whey or lemon.
Cover with a towel or plate and allow to soak for 24 hours. (Lentils require only 7 hours and chickpeas up to 48 hours, but 24 hours is a good general rule for most other legumes.) During this time, drain and rinse at least once, adding new neutralizer.
After soaking, drain and rinse the legumes. Place in pot and cover with fresh water. Bring pot to a boil. Skim scum. Turn heat to low and cover with a lid. Cooking times vary depending on the legume. Kidney, pinto, and adzuki beans are best cooked for 2-3 hours, chickpeas 4-7 hours, and lentils 1 hour.
Soak grains such as rice, millet, quinoa, and wheat for 12-24 hours at room temperature, adding 1-2 tbsp. neutralizer to the filtered water. (Whey and lemon juice make excellent neutralizers; other possibilities include yogurt, kefir, or raw apple cider vinegar.) Rinse grains to remove acidic taste and cook in fresh water.
For more specifics on soaking grains, see this helpful chart and explanation.
- Nuts and Seeds
Raw nuts and seeds don't require a whey or lemon juice neutralizer, as the salt and soaking neutralize the phytic acid and other enzyme inhibitors. You may, however, add whey or another probiotic neutralizer to contribute to the growth of beneficial organisms.
Place 4 c. raw nuts or seeds in a large bowl. Cover with room-temperature filtered water. Add 1 tbsp. sea salt and stir. Cover with a plate or towel and set on the counter for at least 7 hours. (Cashews should not be left for more than 6 hours.)
Drain and rinse.
The nuts or seeds can be dehydrated for use in recipes such as granola or other snack foods. Transform your oven into a makeshift dehydrator by setting it to its lowest temperature and opening the oven door partway. Place a fan in front of the oven to provide air circulation and lower the temperature. Enzymes are preserved when food is cooked at less than 116 degrees.
Don't forget, if these methods are new to you, start small and try one food. For more help with sprouting and soaking, see Soaking Grains: Top 5 Reader Questions Answered at the Nourished Kitchen website.
In the following video, Andrea demonstrates the process of
soaking almonds and sprouting sunflower seeds.