Beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds are great whole food additions to a healthy diet. They can be made even better and more nutritious by the simple acts of sprouting and soaking before cooking or eating.
Soaking is what it sounds like: you’re soaking the beans, grains, nuts and seeds before cooking. Sprouting can come after soaking and allows the food to germinate or sprout (much like it would if you were growing it in the ground for food) before cooking. Both are traditional ways to prepare nuts, whole grains, seeds and beans that have been practiced all over the world.
Benefits of Soaking and Sprouting
Soaking and sprouting have a lot of health benefits that you can be missing out on.
Decreases Anti-Nutrients: Soaking grains, beans, nuts and seeds allows anti-nutrients that “protect” the grains, beans and seeds from invaders to break down. Anti-nutrients are natural barriers that plants have created to protect themselves from invaders. Anti-nutrients aren’t harmful to your body, but they can affect how you absorb nutrients.
When we eat foods with anti-nutrients without properly preparing them, we’re not getting the most nutrients from that food or they’re harder to digest. Grains, beans and seeds are high in the anti-nutrient phytic acid. Phytic acid can affect the absorption of zinc, iron, and calcium during digestion.
Easier to Digest: Soaking and sprouting breaks down the food before you eat it. This means your digestive system has less work to do since the process is already going. If you’ve got any digestive issues, soaked and sprouted grains will be a better option.
Increasing nutrient availability: While soaking can break down the anti-nutrients that can block nutrient absorption, sprouting can increase the nutrient availability of a food. Several studies show that sprouting beans and grains has increased their essential amino acids and other important vitamins.
What can you soak and sprout?
You can soak and sprout a wide variety of grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Make sure what you’re soaking is organic and raw and hasn’t been roasted or seasoned. If you’re sprouting seeds, make sure they haven’t been irritated, which prevents it from sprouting. Soaking is the first step, then sprouting will come after. Below are some ideas of what you can sprout. There are more out there if you see you enjoy and feel the benefits of soaking and sprouting.
Grains: Common grains to soak and sprout include buckwheat, amaranth, wheat and its many varieties[Please link to The Gluten Guide], millet, groats, wild rice and black rice. Beans: You can soak all beans. Sprouting beans isn’t necessary if you’re cooking with them, and soaking them will remove most of the phytic acid that is harmful to your digestive process. Soaking beans before cooking will also shorten the overall cooking time as well. The more common beans to sprout include mung beans, adzuki, chickpeas, lentils, black, white, kidney, lima beans and peas.
Nuts: All nuts can be soaked. Because many nuts are removed from their shells, they can’t be sprouted. Almonds and peanuts can be sprouted.
Seeds: All seeds can be soaked and sprouted, but some are more difficult to sprout than others. Chia, hemp, and flax seeds sprout better in a flat layer in a shallow tray rather than the common method of sprouting.
How to Soak
Once you’ve chosen the food you’re going to soak, pour it into a large jar or large bowl. Large jars work best for smaller quantities or smaller foods, like nuts and seeds. For beans, and grains, opt for large mixing bowls. Pour enough clean, filtered water in the jar or bowl to completely cover the food you’re soaking. You do not need to fill the container the whole way. With beans, it’s better to leave room in the bowl for the beans to swell with water and expand.
The longer you soak your food, the less phytic acid and anti nutrients it will have, and the faster it will blend down or be easier to cook. Most nuts will be fine soaked for 2-6 hours, while beans, grains and seeds are best soaked for 8-12 hours. You can easily set up the soaking before you go to bed and rinse them out and cook or start sprouting them the following morning. You can also start them in the morning to cook later that evening.
How to Sprout
After soaking your foods, you’ll transfer them into a clean wide-mouth mason jar. Start with a quart size jar and fill it no more than a third to halfway; the food will need room to sprout and expand. If you want more room, there are half gallon mason jars as well.
Once your soaked food is inside, pour in filtered water and cover with a sprouting lid or cheesecloth fastened with a rubber band. Let that soak overnight, then drain the water and let the sprouts sit at room temperature for a few days until you can see sprouts growing from the food. Rinse the food at least twice a day.
The amount of days depends on the food you’re sprouting, so look into that before you start.
After they’ve sprouted, replace your sprouting lid or cheesecloth with a regular mason jar lid and store in the fridge until you eat them. You can also freeze the foods as well until you’re ready to use them.
On the Store Shelves
In addition to sprouting grains, beans, seeds and nuts at home, there are a variety of ways you can buy sprouted foods and ingredients in your stores. From the whole forms themselves that are ready to cook with from sprouted flours, to products made with the sprouted foods, you can find more digestion friendly foods on more and more shelves these days.
If you’re looking for these sprouted foods, your best bet is to check health food stores and groceries that specialize in healthier foods over big box stores. Also, don’t be shocked when the price tag for these ingredients or foods is higher. These foods are usually a higher quality (organic, gluten free and/or non-GMO) and there is additional labor involved in sprouting.
It’s also possible to find sprouted beans, nuts and seeds at your farmers market. There are vendors that specialize in selling sprouted foods, so keep a lookout when you’re at your farmers market or check out other farmers markets your area.
Whether you just soak your foods, sprout them yourself or pick some up at the store, you’ve got lots of options to get more nutrients, help your digestion, and try a new way of preparing your grains, beans, seeds and nuts. Try a food that interests you first or one that you cook with a lot.
You can sprout foods in several jars at once and freeze what you don’t use to cook with that week. This can make it easier to cook with sprouted foods for a while.
When you’re enjoying your soaked and or sprouted foods, notice how your body feels after you eat it. How does your stomach feel? Did you experience or maybe not experience things you’ve felt while eating before? If you’re feeling a positive difference, consider adding in more soaked and foods into your diet.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
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