By Alexia Mills
In virtually every pre-industrial culture people soaked or fermented their grains before cooking them in foods, from Indian lentils to European gruel, Mexican rice cakes, Ethiopian injera bread and American sourdough. The process is not just an outmoded ritual... but it accords with what modern science has recently discovered about grains.
Grains contain what Sally Fallon calls "antinutrients": like phytic acid, which is located in the outer layer, or bran, of the seeds. If consumed untreated, phytic acid can block absorption in the intestinal tract, eventually causing mineral deficiencies and bone loss. Diets high in unfermented grains, especially high-gluten grains like wheat, put an enormous strain on the entire digestive mechanism. Allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, and overall poor digestion are common effects. More severe effects include mental illness, celiac disease, and possibly Multiple Sclerosis. The modern American diet incorporates many high-gluten grains, which, unfermented, contain high amounts of phytates and potent enzyme inhibitors, and other antinutrients that further prevent healthy digestion. The manufacturing processes are risky, often making them susceptible to rancidity and other problems.
The solution is a very simple practice taken from the wisdom of our ancestors. Soaking grains overnight renders them much more digestible as well as improves their nutritional benefits. It allows enzymes, lactobacilli, and other helpful organisms to break down and neutralize the antinutrients. This helps break down proteins into simpler components. The human digestive system is not designed to accommodate the harsh demands of unfermented grains. Animals who consume raw grains and plant matter have a much more complex digestive system, with multiple stomachs and long intestines, to break down the hard materials. We can simulate that by allowing micro-organisms to do some of the digesting for us overnight.
For those of us who have gluten allergies or trouble digesting grains, many people find that their bodies tolerate soaked grains!
Buy organic whole grains. Packages are preferred over bins as grains tend to go rancid in bins.
It's crucial that you soak grains with high-gluten content, like oats, rye, barley and wheat. Other grains, like buckwheat, rice, and millet, which don't contain gluten, are enhanced by soaking. Whole rice and whole millet contain less phytates than the regular kind, but should still be steamed in a broth to neutralize. Do not cook grains in a pressure cooker because it cooks them too quickly!
Grains to beware of:
Granola (commercially made) is extremely indigestible -- the extrusion process used to make it involves extremely high temperatures and pressures, destroying nutrients and making it go rancid. (We'll have to find out more about homemade.) Avoid bran and wheat germ, which are high in phytates and especially suscepticble to rancidity. Also beware of soy flours, which contain high amounts of antinutrients.
Grains to look out for:
Spelt and Kamut: contain gluten but are easily broken down during fermentation. They are good alternatives to other varieties of wheat, for bread and baking pastries. People with wheat allergies tolerate them well.
Quinoa: originates from the Andes Mountain regions. Dr Weston Price studied it and found that, though it is not technically a grain, it has superior nutritional properties. Quinoa products should also be soaked.
Teff, Amaranth, and Buckwheat: are often neglected grains that also are highly nutritious.
Corn: Soak it! It will improve the amino acid quality of proteins in the germ. Try soaking it in lime water (dolomite powder shook in a water jar). Or try masa flour, which is cornmeal that has already been soaked before grinding.
How to soak:
Water: Bowl of warm water. Equal parts water and grain. If you want, add an acid medium (below). Note: if you plan to add seeds, throw them in as well.
Acid Medium: For best results, put 1 tablespoon of an acid medium in for every 1-cup of water. Acid medium options include buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, cultured milk, whey, lemon juice, and vinegar. Don't worry that the flavor will unfavorably alter the taste.
Temperature: Place the bowl in a warm place.
Time: Soak for at least 7 hours. 12 to 24 hours is optimal. Do not over-soak beyond 48 hours. Overnight works best. Place a wet towel over the bowl to keep bugs out and moisture in.
Sources: the Nourishing Traditions Cookbook and the Weston A Price Foundation Website