How to Soak Grains (and Why You Should)

How to Soak Grains - and Why You Should Be Doing It. Soaking grains is simple and important - come find out why!

Have you heard about soaking grains for better digestion?

I hadn’t either until about 3 years ago.

The road to healthy eating sure is a long one.  One step at a time.  There is so much information and always something new to learn.

Take me, for example.  I thought I was a healthy eater when –

  • I stopped eating meat and ate an extremely low fat diet.  Then
  • I switched from processed foods to whole wheat flour and less refined sweeteners.  Then
  • I started grinding my own grain….oh, I guess I’m getting ahead of myself.  And perhaps I am overwhelming you as well :-).

Before you feel intimidated by anything that I write about our family’s nutrition, let me be clear that we are all a work in progress in all arenas of life.  We’re all trying to get ourselves and/or our families to eat better, and we need to be happy about what we have accomplished and just press ahead making the most of what we know at a pace that doesn’t exhaust us.

In any case, somewhere along the line I heard about the importance of soaking grains.

There’s a lot of information on grains, and about soaking them.  There are even folks who think that eating grains is not healthy at all.  I haven’t come down on either side of this argument, but it seems to me that there is a lot of reason to cut back, especially on the refined (white) flours.  Without getting too involved in the discussion, here are my basic thoughts, in a debatable order of importance:

Got indigestion or other tummy troubles? Soaking grains can help - here's How and Why to Soak Grains. Your body will thank you for it!

Making the Grains in Your Diet Healthier

  • Stop eating (or at least greatly reduce) refined flours that are devoid of all nutrients.  That means no white flour, and even no tapioca starch (for those of you on gluten free diets).  These basically wreck your digestive system.
  • Start grinding your own grain
  • Eat less gluten
  • Start soaking your grain
  • Eat less grain (us westerners, in particular, need to cut back)
  • And somewhere in that list should be “Buy organic, or at least ‘certified chemical free’ (CCF) grains, whenever possible”.

I’ll touch on all of these at another time, but for today, let’s talk about soaking grainsquick and easy how to do it.  Tomorrow I’ll share a great soaked grains recipe, Baked Doughnuts, which includes gluten-free and sugar-free options.

Why Soak Your Grains

Basically, think about what first goes in the ground in order to grow a plant — seeds, right?  Well, the seeds that we eat are seeds, nuts, and grains.  All of these things have protective coatings that need to be removed for the seeds to germinate (of course, we remove the shells of the nuts and seeds before eating), but there are also enzyme inhibitors found in whole grains (and in seeds, nuts and legumes) that prevent them from being digested properly.

In my post about soaking nuts and seeds I addressed that food group, and in how to de-gas beans, I talked about making beans more digestible.  Well, now it’s time to work on the grains.

When you soak your grains, you are working on the enzyme inhibitors to make the grains easier to digest.  Some people find that they do not have a problem (or as much of a problem) with gluten when they soak their gluten-containing grains first.  I’ve found that soaked grain recipes have a lighter texture and seem to be easier on our digestive systems.

So my decision for now is to soak the grains when I remember and when I have time.  Sometimes I forget and bake the recipe just the way that it was written.  I used to find myself really stressing out when I realized that I hadn’t planned for soaking or had completely forgotten about it.  But stress is clearly the bigger problem here so —

stress not and soak when you can :-).

I know for sure that soaking nuts and seeds is beneficial, and so is the soaking of beans before cooking in addition to the addition of ajwain or epazote to the cooking water.  However, the grain soaking thing (exactly how to do it) is still a bit up in the air from the research that I have read.

Here’s the most common way and –

Easy Tips for How To Soak Your Grains

  • Combine your grains (either whole or in cut, flaked, or flour form) with liquids (see next step), sweeteners and fats.
  • Replace 1 Tbsp of your liquid with an acidic medium (vinegar, lemon juice, or whey).  Of course, if the liquid is already acidic or cultured, then you can simply skip this step.
  • Allow your mixture to sit at room temperature for at least 12 and for up to 24 hours.  When I am rushed, 7 hours works for me 🙂
  • Add the remaining ingredients for your recipe and proceed as close as possible to the original instructions.

With some stiffer recipes (like pie crust, thick bars, or my doughnuts) it will be hard to mix at this point.  However, if you’re willing to put in a little elbow grease and make sure that all of the ingredients get mixed in well (like salt and baking soda….ever get an icky clump of one of those in your baked goods) you can use this technique for any grain-based recipe.

The Need for Phytase

Soaking grains using the above method works fine for grains that are high in phytase (buckwheat, wheat, or rye), but for grains that are low in phytase (oats, rice, millet, corn, etc.) you need to add a high-phytase grain to the low-phytase grain in order to have the soaking be beneficial.

It appears that substituting approximately 10% of the low-phytase grain / flour with a high-phytase source is sufficient.  (Source)  For example, if you are making a cake that calls for 3 cups of flour, then you would remove approximately 1/3 of a cup of the flour and replace it with wheat, rye, or buckwheat if you are gluten-free.

There is actually some really interesting information that recently came out about soaking and I hope to share that with you in the near future.  So stay tuned!

Meanwhile, soak when you can and trust God for the results until better information comes along.:-)

How about you?  Do you soak your grains?

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These comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Whole New Mom, LLC.

Comments

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  1. I’ve been very intrigued about soaking my grains. I still feel I have a lot to learn. It seems a little odd to whip up a recipe and just let it sit on my counter till the next day. I keep thinking that it will go bad if it sits out… but I assume the key is to leave the eggs and perishables out of the recipe until that last step?

    Also, you mentioned that you grind your own grains. I’ve wanted to start doing that but I was wondering if I need to get a grain mill or if I could just use my coffee grinder/Magic Bullet?

  2. Thanks for this info! I have a couple of questions:

    1. You mention tapioca starch is no good, what’s a good sub?
    2. Do you cover your soaking grains? I’m a bit paranoid, so I put a towel over it.

    • Hi again. I pretty much avoid the starches whenever I can and just deal w/ heavier baked goods so I sub any whole grain flour unless I am making cupcakes or a cake for someone else. I also use the starch in my homemade egg replacer so it doesn’t spoil.

      I don’t cover my grains – it’s just dust and stuff which I am not worried about. Plus a little natural yeast maybe :). But we don’t have many flies. That would be a different story :).

  3. I noticed in another post (about beans or something) you said that it is now understood that you don’t need an acid medium for soaking, and that you would post on that. Have you posted on that? What’s the latest news? This is something I haven’t tried yet. I keep forgetting, but I really want to try soaking.

    • I haven’t posted on it yet. Sorry. I will email the person I wanted to interview and see if we can set something up. Thanks!!!

      • I’m poking around your site right now trying to find the same answer. Anything yet? I know you’re busy and need to pace yourself. But asking in case you have written it. I’ve soaked for a couple years now but am starting to hear things to the contrary, that it actually does the opposite of what we want. So confused. Would love more information. Thanks!

  4. I am a little confused. If you don’t drain the grains aren’t you just stirring the phytates, etc. back into the mixture?

    • You know, I have wondered the same thing myself, but obviously with flours, you can’t drain them. So good question. I am going to contact someone about this right now.

      • Any updates on this? Ive been wondering the same thing ie stirring back in the phytic acid. Id be very interested to know what you found out. Thanks!

      • Any updates on this? I also don’t understand where the phytic acid goes or how it is neutralized in an acidic medium when soaking grains that can’t then be drained and rinsed eg oatmeal. Thanks!

        • Hi Tanya. Did I get back to you on this? I think so …in a different comment. Anyway, the issue is that is appears to be neutralized and so it doesn’t need to be drained and rinsed. Thanks! Let me know if you need more info.

  5. Hi Adrienne,

    I am new to all of this, but what I am really wanting to do, is soak my whole grains, dry them and then grind them. Do you explain anywhere on here how to soak whole grains and then dry them out? I think this seems like the best way to go as far as saving time….do an entire batch up front, and then whenever I go to cook something I can just get out the flour I have already soaked and ground myself. Thoughts?

    Thanks, Karen

    • I just have dried them in the dehydrator. But typically folks just soak flours. Does that answer your question? Do you have an Excalibur yet? You’re welcome!

  6. Hi! Thanks for this information. Have you found any answer yet to the question above about whether you are just stirring the phytates, etc. back in after you soak your flour since you’re using the same liquid? I’m really curious about that too.

    My other question is about covering the mixture. I live in the tropics (Malaysia) and leaving something with sweeteners in it on my counter for 24 minutes results in a new ant farm! Never mind 24 hours!!! And covering it with a cloth wouldn’t help – it would have to be air-tight. Do you know if leaving it out to soak in an air-tight container would inhibit the release of whatever we’re trying to release in this process? I’ve been afraid to try it because I don’t want it to explode if it’s releasing gases. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Thanks!

    • Hi there. No – so far no responses on the phytates issue. I will try again. Maybe just leave the sweetener out. I think that would be just fine. I don’t think we’re talking gasses, but again, I will check :). My uncle used to live in Kuala Lumpur!! 🙂

    • When I set something out to ferment and have ant problems, I just put it in a larger bowl of water and the ant problem is solved, Also cheese cloth tied around the bowl with keep bugs, etc away

  7. Lisa Hodges says:

    http://info.breadbeckers.com/phytic-acid
    Adrienne,
    I have great trust in your thinking and wanted to know if you came across this article yet? Starting my mission on bread making and doing a bit of reading first. Thanks for your opinion. I enjoy your inquisitive mind!!

    • Hi there. I am soo sorry for not responding sooner – some comments got buried. I have read that and have a few thoughts:

      – just b/c there wasn’t a mention of soaking grains in the Bible doesn’t mean it isn’t appropriate. Grains have changed and so have our bodies.
      – her analogy of moist grain at harvest doesn’t seem to make sense to me. We aren’t talking about storing moist grain – just sprouting before baking. Those are 2 different things
      – I’d need to see her 10% figure documented. I don’t know about that.
      – I am really convinced about the havoc that gluten is wreaking on our health and I have seen in it my own house so the paragraph asserting that gluten is fine is problematic in and of itself
      – we can’t talk about the Bread of the Bible as being fine when the grains have been so changed b/t then and today.

      I hope that helps. I am for sure not a phytic acid expert, but I do think that soaking is important. Thanks!

  8. now, different sources say to discard or use the soaking water. My gut feeling is to use it as at least some of the nutrients of the soaked food must be in it. However, don’t those enzyme inhibitors end up in this water as well, which would be a good reason for discarding it?
    I see your original post is from 2011 and there seems to be quite a bit of controversy on the subject out there. Any recent insights?

  9. Michelle Beukelman says:

    I have a bread machine and our favorite recipe uses oat bran, wheat bran, and wheat germ as well as white and wheat flour (if we use all wheat flour, it’s just too heavy). We were adding the brans and germ into the recipe because we thought it was healthier, holding many nutrients. Reading this post would make me assume that bran is not good for us since it’s the part that holds the phytic acid. What wisdom do you have on this?

  10. Good post, I have 2 questions if you can clarify please,

    1. you mentioned adding ajwain to cooking water, what benefit does this provide?

    2. I have been trying to find an authority (FDA etc.) that discusses soaking grains but I’ve come up short, would you happen to know of any sources or studies?

    TIA 🙂

  11. I too love to soak & dehydrate my grains. I found it easier to soak my grains for 8 hours, rinse them, & then dehydrate for 8 hours, similar to your method to soak & dehydrate nuts & seeds. Then I can mill my grains & use them just like I did before S & D them. I soak in a gallon jar & after drying, return them to the jar. Then I know they are ready to go & I always have a batch ‘in the bank’ so to speak. I do this w/ my bread grains ( Prairie Gold wheat, spelt & Kamut), & my all purpose grains ( spelt, brown rice & barley) For a complete explanation, I have an instructional video series on my website. Thanks for listening. Hope I haven’t used up too much space.

    Really appreciate your articles & recipes. I have used several in my classes, always pointing folks to your column.

    • Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I wonder if that works as well but the literature on soaking grains is very mixed. Some grains will need grains w/ phytase though which would complicate matters. Thanks again.

  12. swapnil kadam says:

    Thanks. This is a very good post. Just one question.

    When you soak the grain overnight, what you do with the remaining water in which they are soaked? Do you throw it? Will throwing the water not loose some nutritional values of the grain?

    • When you soak, you soak using the liquid in the recipe so there isn’t any left over. If you soak a different grain, I guess you could have some left over (if you use too much). I have no idea about some of the nutritional value being lost. I would guess it could happen. Good question:)!

  13. Hello, I loved reading all these comments because this has been my lifelong quest as well. I’m a health sciences major as well as a GAPS practitioner and herbologist (aka natural research scientist). I think I can fill in a few of the missing details about how phytic acid interacts with bionutrients and natural yeasts. First of all, it’s vitally important to establish that lactobacilli exist EVERYWHERE and are ever so vital for our very existence! They originate from the soil but spill over and thrive on and in every substance and surface on our planet. There are millions of different species and our bodies ideally utilize about a thousand of them at any given time. (That’s a very utopic and general statement!) Realistically, our bodies in this area of the world nurture enterotypes (foundational bacterial ecosystems that make up our intestinal flora) to about 300-500 different species which is very low. All of this is a fancy way of saying that these microorganisms are essentially the enzymes that digest the food we choose to eat; if we can nurture a greater variety of these microorganisms in our systems, we can digest a greater variety of foods.
    I culture a lot of the food I eat for this very purpose and my kitchen resembles a cozy science lab at any given time. It is safe to leave things open and most bacterial cultures need the variety of lactobacilli introduced from its surrounding environment to thrive, but if there are fruit flies or other pests present (parasites that would use the microorganisms to reproduce for their own benefit), you will want to preserve the culture for yourself and I like to use a lot of coffee filters or tightly woven cheese clothes secured with rubber bands to do that. I like the idea of using a larger bowl of water to keep out creeping organisms!
    Do not be fooled, when you add liquids to your dry ingredients, you’re not just soaking them, these mixtures are very much alive and although you can’t see it with the naked eye, chemical reactions are taking place, communities of bacteria (enzymes) are growing exponentially, and your grains are predigesting right under your nose. It’s very probable that your body doesn’t support the necessary enzymes to completely digest the wonderful array of nutrients housed inside the grains you’re about to partake of and introducing an opportunity to culture the bacteria from your natural environment is the most effective way, in fact the only way I’m aware of, to begin the digestive process and trigger the necessary chemical reactions to ensure the presence of any missing enzymes that your enterotype may not have established.
    I also want to add here that aerobic reactions are quite possible (mold from air particles) if your soaking/culturing mixture is left out for a considerable amount of time. Mold that grows because of exposure to the air is not harmful and can simply be plucked off and discarded. The truly dangerous organisms reproduce anaerobically alongside the ultimately beneficial organisms, but please understand that it is their nature to react and combat with each other; because of the sheer numbers of good bacteria vs bad, the good will always prevail, so if you are concerned about the possibility that your soak/culture is contaminated with adverse organisms, all you need do is wait a while and allow for the good bacteria to overpower the bad (or start again and be careful not to introduce contaminants).
    As for the phytic acid, it is a molecule that acts as a storage place for phosphorus and inositol, both nutrients that are beneficial for our bodies. Phosphorus is responsible for knitting our bones together and it stimulates and conditions the brain for clearer thinking. Inositol removes excess fats from the blood and helps the production of lecithin, assisting the heart by reducing blood cholesterol levels. It also stimulates digestion and normal growth and survival of cells in bone marrow and eye membranes, and promotes hair growth. The only way to gain access to these essential benefits is to digest them. There is a specific bacteria (enzyme) called phytase that is responsible for breaking down the phytic acid molecules we consume. Without it, the phytic acid molecule acts as a foreign substance and triggers an immune or inflammatory response if there becomes a significant amount built up in your body. The phytase enzyme will unlock the phosphorus and inositol from the phytic acid molecule that our bodies need, and you guessed it, we can culture this enzyme from the bacteria in our environment just by adding water and letting nature take its course. This is why it’s so significant to soak your grains (or culture your milk or ferment your vegetables or brew your tea or create a sourdough starter), it all comes down to nurturing and activating the lactobacillus that would normally remain somewhat inert in our environment otherwise.
    There really is a lot more detail to this explanation that affects many more strains and organs and systems that I couldn’t possibly expound on in this post, but I love to engage in those topics so feel free to PM me if you’d like to chat some more!

    • Thanks for commenting. I can’t attest to the validity of what you wrote, or the safety, but it seems to me that not always will the “good bacteria….overpower the bad” as there are sometimes problematic cultures introduced that are sometimes not visible. Thanks again.

  14. Not sure I understand the process of soaking that you describe above. Are you saying that you can soak flour? Would love to see a video if you ever get the time. This is my first visit to your site. I think it’s great and has lots of value for your readers. It’s the latest addition to my bookmarks bar. Thanks.