How to Properly Soak Grains

Oats soaking in warm water, infused with fresh water kefir.  Photo courtesy of Vera Almann.

If you plan to consume some grains in your diet, it is integral that you soak them first.  In another post, I’ve discussed why this is important.  Here, I’m going to share how.

Begin with fresh grains—not those from a bin, nor from a 25# bag that has been sitting in the pantry for a few years.  Purchase organic, and in small quantities, and then store any remaining raw grains in either the refrigerator or the freezer.

Take 1 cup of grains, and rinse well under filtered water.  Drain and place in a large, non-reactive bowl (ceramic and glass are good choices.)  Pour 3 cups of filtered, non-chlorinated water over the grains.  If you choose to Add about 2 tablespoons of fresh water kefir or even kombucha and mix in well.

Loosely cover the bowl with a paper towel secured with a rubber band.  Or, you can place the bowl, uncovered, inside a microwave or conventional oven, which will protect the mixture from dust and insects.  It’s best if the temperature is a little on the warm side, around 72 degrees Fahrenheit, for this soaking period—this will allow the activity of the enzymes to increase, as well as the healthy bacteria.  So, keeping on an incandescent light bulb nearby is helpful.

Soak grains for at least 12 hours, preferably 24.  You may notice a little bubbling at the end of soaking.  This is the process of lacto-fermentation, where the cultures are consuming the carbohydrate substrate of the grain, which in turn leads to fermentation.  You can let it go even longer, if you like—doing so will increase the tart, sourdough flavor profile of the grain you are soaking.  And, as with any fermentation, you’ll have a food that is lower in sugars and carbohydrates, enzyme rich (though this will be halted once the grains are cooked), probiotic rich (again, this will be destroyed through cooking), full of healthy B-vitamins and even further reduced load of anti-nutrients such as tannins, lectins and phytic acid.

You may choose to either discard or to use the soaking water—the verdict is out on which is the healthiest option.  In either case, dependent on your soaking time, you may not need to add additional water.  Whichever method you choose—to drain or not to drain—you’ll only need enough additional water to cover the grains by ¼-½ inch once they are in the cooking pot.  Add a healthy pinch of Celtic Sea Salt, bring ingredients to a gentle boil, then cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 5-20 minutes, dependent on the “doneness” you are seeking from the grain.

 Some notes on grains:
  • For large grain berries, such as wheat, kamut, rye and spelt:  Coarsely grind these before soaking, which will allow more of the water and cultures to get to the “meat” of the berry.  (If you are planning on sprouting these types of grains after they are soaked, then do not grind them.)
  • Some grains, such as quinoa (actually a seed, but treated as a grain) and rolled oats, soften quickly with soaking.  Despite this, I’ll often soak them for at least 12 hours.  I find that doing so definitely enhances the lacto-fermentation of the grains.

Adding Some Soaked and Fermented Grains Back into the Diet…

Soaked and sprouting quinoa, draining in the colander (Yes, it is correct that it is not a “true” grain, but rather a grain-like seed…but we use it in a grainy way!)

I really like the concept of balance 🙂

Whether it is maintaining–even improving!–health with a solid mix of rest, creative outlets and hard work, or engaging in the social world and its counterpart, private quiet-time, there are so many ways to hit that just-right note of balance in the Yin and Yang of every aspect of life.

However, wouldn’t you agree that to really adopt a change in lifestyle, one has to hang out in the deep end of change for a while before moving back to the moderate depths?  You’ve got to flex your mental muscles a little bit, learn some new moves, before heading back to middle ground. Modern research supports this–new behaviors lay down new paths in our brain’s design, creating new pathways and neural communication.

Without big change, it is much too simple to return to old habits and there won’t be staying power with our new habits.

Personally, I’ve ventured off into the deep waters around nutrition many times.  And sometimes I’ve stayed in the deep a good, long while…my 14-year commitment to being a lacto-ovo-pescarian being one foray (translate: My very weak attempt at vegetarianism–high refined carbs, lots of soy and pseudo-meats.  My saving grace was the pescarian part…something in me knew it needed the nutrition of fish!)

It’s hard to appreciate how various choices make us feel without having first experienced something very different.  My years of sloppy vegetarianism, practiced in a manner that left me incredibly deficient in solid nutritional components, have helped me to appreciate SO MUCH how good it is to feel calm, nourished and BALANCED with the deep nutrition we feed ourselves now.

And, to that end, in the name of balance, we shifted from another extreme decision, to totally remove grains in the name of seeing how we felt.  Going off grains helped me to see how we used grain products as a lazy energy crutch.  A bowl of cereal here, some toast and butter there, a platter of pasta to share at dinner.  I realized how much nutrition we’d been cutting out by way of putting refined grains in the place of deeper nutrition sources.

When grain products are removed, something has to go in their place. Certainly, that could be any number of things.  For our family, that meant more produce, notably more veggies, especially squash, sweet potatoes and yams.  It also meant more nut flours, from soaked, dehydrated and ground sources.  And we ate many more coconut products–from flour to cream to flakes.  We also used the seed-like grains, amaranth and quinoa. Cooking with these types of foods was a big learning curve (one never appreciates all that gluten can do as relates to binding and shape until there’s not a speck of it in sight!), and I am very grateful for what it has done to broaden our perspectives on food and for the greater range of nutrition it brought to our plates.

But, what about balance?  Might there be a limit to the almond-flour donuts and coconut flour breads one should really be consuming on a daily basis?  Totally eschewing all grains is something that doesn’t seem moderate to me.

So I began looking more closely at the traditional methods of grain preparation, most notably as found in Nourishing Traditions, but in various blogs as well.  Our family descends from northern Europe, and I know traditionally-prepared grains are a food source my ancestors employed.  And by incorporating the techniques that lend themselves toward better assimilation of the nutrients that are stored in these foods, I felt that I could test the waters and see how we all responded to the inclusion of some of these foods in our diet.

Before we opted to remove grains from our diet, we ate organic, commercially-prepared grains, either in a sprouted form (bread or tortillas), as chips, or as gluten-free options (bread, waffles, English muffins.)

We didn’t do much in the way of traditional preparation of whole grains–meaning, if I made rice, I simply rinsed it then cooked it. Same for oats, corn meal or buckwheat, or any other whole grain.  In sum, we were eating foods that, for the most part, were not well-prepared to support their digestion and assimilation into our bodies.

But the traditional methods involve soaking the grain in warm water, with a little bit of an acid medium, for about 7-12 hours, generally.  By doing so, many of the anti-nutrients, enzyme inhibitors, complex carbohydrates and difficult-to-digest proteins (such as gluten and phytic acid) are broken down into much easier components that our bodies can handle. while at the same time increasing the enzyme activity of the grain, making their digestion much easier.

The above-mentioned acid medium can be fresh lemon juice, raw apple cider vinegar, whey from fresh yogurt, or my favorites, homemade kombucha or water kefir.  Personally, I’ve moved away from using whey because research has shown that the calcium in the dairy can inhibit physic acid reduction, thus, inhibiting the bioavailability of some minerals.  No matter the culture starter, though, the fact remains that the healthy bacteria (and yeast, in kefir and kombucha) will use the carbohydrates in the grains as an energy source, thus, predigesting the sugars and reducing them in the final product.

Additionally, warmth and time are needed for proper breakdown–starting with water in the room temperature range, left at room temperature (65-75 degrees Fahrenheit), for about 7-12 hours, gives a very good foundation for proper assimilation. And if the grains are especially big (rice, spelt, kamut), then opening up a little more surface area is a good idea.  You could even use a coffee grinder, and give a quick spin of the grains before soaking–just enough to break up the grain a little and expose more of its structure to the water and ferment starter.

And in that pursuit of balance, you’ve got to have some variety!  Soak, ferment and buy organic and in small batches, then keep them in the freezer so there is no concern for oxidation.  Try gluten-free or straight rolled oats, spelt berries, quinoa, rye, quinoa, amaranth and steel cut oats–all great choices.

Needless to say, this all requires a few extra steps, though it’s far from difficult–and I go into good detail on it in my book, The Funky Kitchen, and even GREATER detail in my 6-module course, Fresh, Fun and Flavorful in The Funky Kitchen.  But these steps, coupled with a tart flavor profile (thanks to the healthy bacteria consuming the sugars in the grains) and the richer texture of whole grains, lends itself toward lighter consumption.

And that is a balanced answer 😉