The more and more I research on the topic of traditional seed (grains, beans, and nuts) preperation, the more I realize that it is an area of nutritional science that still has a lot of missing pieces. Some groups insist that soaking/sprouting/fermenting is the only way that these foods should ever be eaten, and other people say that eating them raw is best.
Currently I’m waiting for science to catch up and figure out which preperation methods are worth-while. In the meantime, I soak my nuts/seeds because I think they taste better, and I soak my grains because they cook faster. However, the firm stance that I use to have toward the process (when I wrote the following article) has slightly faded.
Wheat, quinoa, rice, lentils, beans, chickpeas, oats, peanuts, farro, millet, and the plethora of other grains and legumes that we eat are all similar in one way…
…They are seeds
That is to say, that these foods all contain the potential to sprout into a plant.
This is both good and bad for humans who wish to eat them….
The good news is that these tiny foods are nutritionally packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals. The other good news is that these foods can be kept for a very long time. Which was especially important to our ancestors who didn’t have refrigerators.
The bad news is that these “seeds” have one important evolutionarily focused task, to safeguard their nutritional bounty until the right moisture and temperature levels indicate that it is time to sprout- at which time their nutrients will be used as fuel for the young plant.
This means that all of these foods have protective enzymes that make their nutrient load extremely difficult to attain.
Perhaps the most notable problem is that when these foods are not properly prepared to reduce the effects of these protective enzymes we experience digestive issues such as bloating, stomach aches, and gas.
Ever wonder why soy beans – the plant kingdoms most complete protein source- is rarely eaten as a big bowl of beans? That is because soy contains colossally high levels of these protective enzymes, making them extremely difficult to digest if incorrectly prepared.
Lucky for us…. our ancestors and food scientists have determined several different ways to trick these seed foods into unlocking their nutritious bounty for our consumption. These methods include:
Each of these methods works to make grains and legumes both more nutritious and increase digestibility.
Soaking is generally the first step in seed food preparation, and is always followed by further preparation such as cooking, sprouting, fermenting or a combination. When you soak seed foods such as grains and legumes you are essentially tricking them into thinking it is time to sprout. During this process starches are converted to sugars, nutrients are made more bio-available, and most importantly the enzymes that protect the seed (making them difficult to digest) are broken down.
Soaking grains and legumes is as easy as…
1. Rinsing them off
2. Putting them in a container full of water
Make sure there is plenty of room for them to expand. Many people recommend adding a couple tbsps of something acidic to help the process, I generally do this for beans, but not grains. Lemon juice and vinegar both work
3. Let them sit at room temperature
How long depends on what your soaking*
4. After they have soaked they are ready to be cooked, sprouted or fermented
Grains (Rice, quinoa, millet, oats)- Soak at least 7-8 hours
Longer is fine too, and some people say better. After a while though the grains will take on a sour smell/taste –which some people like
Legumes (Lentils, beans, peanuts)- Soak at least 24 hours
Legumes require a longer soak time, also depending on the type of legume, generally 24 hours should get the job done
After soaking grains/legumes you may then sprout them in order to further enhance their nutrient profile and digestibility.
However, many times these foods at the store have been either heat treated or processed (“rolled oats”) in a way that makes them in-able to sprout.
1. Place pre-soaked and rinsed grains/legumes in a container that allows them to breath and drain water
There are hundreds of devices made for sprouting, but if you don’t have any you can get creative, as long as the water is draining out so the seeds don’t just sit in a puddle you are fine
2. Let sit at room temperature, rinsing* periodically, for several days
Rinsing the seeds multiple times a day is essential if you don’t want mold. Timing depends on type of seed, but 2-3 is a good rule of thumb
3. Eat*, ferment, or cook!
*Depending on the seed type. Sunflower seeds sprouted for example are a good snack, while sprouted kidney beans need additional cooking still
Cooking is the most straightforward method of grain/legume preparation that I am sure we are all familiar with. For the most part, when it comes to these foods, no matter the pre-preperation method cooking is still required to render the food digestible. However, in modern times we have begun to view cooking as being sufficient means of seed food preparation by itself, which is simply not the case. All grains and legumes benefit greatly from at least a good overnight soak prior to cooking. Taking this simple step prior to cooking is an effortless way to increase nutrient availability and digestibility of the food.
Although a bit more scientifically complex then the other preparation methods, fermenting is a relatively simple method that can be used to further increase nutrient availability and digestibility of grains/legumes. The bacteria and other organisms that are enlisted to prepare these foods during fermentation can also add previously non-existing vitamins to the foods, and also create live cultures with the benefits of other pro-biotic foods -assuming you don’t cook the food after you ferment it.
Fermenting grains and legumes is a bit less straight forward then soaking/sprouting/cooking and varies widely depending on the food type and the desired fermentation. For example soy is fermented into a myriad of different food products (soy sauce, natto, tempeh) all of which require a unique starter culture and processing method. Wheat is another grain that has it’s own unique fermentation, bread (or sourdough).
My favorite legume fermentation is simply a bean pate -or hummus- which is as easy as…
1. Place (soaked & cooked) beans, onion, salt, and spices in a blender
Get creative! I like garlic and ginger in mine. It is very flexible, but the onion and salt should not be omitted as it helps ensure a consistent ferment
2. Introduce living bacteria to kick start the ferment by adding a couple TBSPs of juice from any pickled veggie jar
This needs to be from live culture lacto-fermented veggies -No Vinegar!
3. Blend in water until desired consistency is reached
It should be stirrable but thick, think hummus
4. Place in a jar set at room temperature for a few days
Use an airtight lid, but be sure to “burp” the jar daily be unscrewing the cap to release built up pressure. Stir with a clean utensil twice a day
As it fermentes the pate will expand, give off sour smells and may seem alive, which it is! No need for alarm!
After a few days taste test the batch, when it fits your fancy move it to your refrigerator and enjoy within a couple weeks for best results