Soaking Whole Grains and Legumes – A Start
If you had a magic eye and could peer into the tops of houses at 7:00am on a weekday when you could see children getting ready to head off to school, parents bustling to get ready for work, or perhaps families sitting down before they start their home-schooling day, you would probably see the majority of these homes with boxes of breakfast cereal on their counter and table tops. You would probably see boxes of cereal bars too. Then there are granola bars, toaster “tarts,” yogurt bars, and more. Many of them are advertised as “whole grain,” so people believe they are starting their day out healthy. But this could not be further from the truth.
Personally, I believe that traditional store-bought cereal is one of the worst things that we can feed to our families. Even health food stores offer supposed healthy varieties of cereal, and while they offer much less sugar than their traditional popular brands, and they are fortified with vitamins and minerals – they still all have the same problem: the grains all contain phytic acid. But we consume grains all day, not just in breakfast cereal. So take inventory, and start small, but start soaking your grains.
Here is why, and here is how:
Phytic acid is an acid bound to phosphorous that is in the outer layer of the grain, or the bran. All grains contain phytates, in varying degrees, which means different grains require different soak-times. The biggest problem with phytates and us humans it that we only have one stomach and a relatively short digestive tract. Phytates take much longer to digest than say, fat and protein. Since our human digestive tracts do not offer a long enough transit time for the phytates, we cannot completely digest them. So the phytates grab on to essential minerals and rob us of nutrition. We think we are eating an awesome, organic, nutritional cereal, because look – it says so right here on the box. But the phytates bind with essential minerals, especially magnesium and zinc, but also calcium, copper and iron, so that absorption is blocked.
Besides the fact that modern boxed cereals contain grain that is not soaked – the actual process by which the cereal is made into flakes or shapes (called extrusion), causes irreversible damage to the nutrients. Which is why cereals are all “fortified!” I think that if you have to fortify a food because all the nutrients were wiped out during the making of the product – then we should probably look for something healthier to eat instead.
The really awesome part of this is that we can still eat grains in a healthy manner. Historically, grains and legumes have always been soaked, fermented or sprouted. All over the world different cultures still soak, sour, and ferment their grain foods. If you think about it, it really makes sense. It is really in our modern society where we have abundant electricity to cook, cook, cook our foods that we have come away from soaking. Cooking alone does not break down the phytates however. It does make them softer, but it does not make them completely digestible.
The soaking process actually shortens cooking time. More importantly, soaking also allows beneficial enzymes and probiotic organisms to begin breaking down the phytic acid within the grains. Another interesting fact is that soaking also helps break down protein, gluten and starches. I think it is interesting that gluten intolerance’s like celiac and irritable bowel syndrome are becoming more and more common and problematic in our country. I believe it is directly affected by how much grain we are told to eat, doubled with the fact that we do not prepare it correctly in the first place.
You cannot soak your Lucky Charms, or Cheerios. You just have to stop buying them. There is no way to make those healthier. I know you do not really want to hear that, but the simple fact is – there just isn’t a healthy cereal that you can buy in the store. Nope – not even granola. It isn’t soaked! I am going to share my favorite granola recipe with you another time, so stay tuned.
Soaking is really simple. It takes a little adjusting because you have to remember to do it.
To break down the phytates, we need to soak grains in an acid medium with very warm, filtered water. My favorite acid medium is kefir (pronounced “kee-fur”). You can make your own kefir, or buy it. Kefir is a cultured dairy product, that contain live probiotic organisms. Other acid mediums you can use are: cultured buttermilk, cultured yogurt, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice or whey. I have personally used all of these mediums – sometimes you have to just use what you have on hand! Just leave your soaking grains covered right on your counter or stovetop.
Different grains need different soak-times. You need to soak your grains in warm water, with the acid medium. I aim for 90-100 degrees. It is pretty warm, think warm bath-water-feeling, and you will be good to go.
Brown rice, millet, lentils – these require the least amount of soaking – about 7 hours. You can wake up and soak them in the morning to have with dinner in the evening. Soak these in half the water you plan to cook it with (with 1 T acid medium per cup of water). You will add the other half at cook time, no need to drain off water. Example: 1 C of rice in the pot with 1 C of hot water, and 1 T kefir. Soak 7 hours, add 1 C water and turn heat on to cook.
Whole wheat, oats – these require a large soaking time – soak for at least 12 hours, and up to 24 hours. If you soak for a longer period of time, you will definitely taste the ‘sour’. Example: Our regular breakfast cereal is Bob’s Red Mill Scottish Oatmeal. I cook 2 C at a time. I add 2 C to the pot, with 3 C hot water, and 3 T kefir, cover and soak overnight. In the morning I add 3 C more water, and turn on to cook. You have to be careful because the soak time cuts down on cook time – I have burnt a few pots of oatmeal when I first began soaking (burnt oatmeal is the worst, totally inedible – ask me how I know)! I will delve into soaking whole wheat for bread another time. But be sure to cover your whole wheat and oats well, so it does not dry out.
Beans – beans need 12-24 hours for soaking (I always soak for 24 hours). Rinse well, and then add 1 T acid medium per cup of beans, and then cover with hot water, 1-2 inches above beans. When you are ready to cook your beans discard the soak-water and use fresh, preferably filtered water for cooking, and cook. The beans will cook faster than the normal cook time.
In our house, traditional breakfast cereal is dessert. I’m not kidding. If you see my kids eating breakfast cereal from a grocery store it is a treat and they know it. It is not for a meal, it is a dessert after a meal (and yes, it usually has colored marshmallows in it). We do make our own soaked granola, and I plan to share that recipe soon, but this time I am going to share an easy, hearty, delicious soup that contain brown rice and lentils for you to practice your soaking (I know, I know – all the talk about cereal and I am giving you a soup recipe, this is a bit easier to start your soaking though). Lentils provide protein, and brown rice provides carbohydrates and B-vitamins. The rest of the soup has vegetables that kids will not normally eat, and all 5 of my children (ages 10 down to 1) as well as my husband love this soup. The best part of it, it is super cheap. I will give you the breakdown of cost (yes, I am a nerd and figured it out!) because you are going to be amazed at how awesome tasting it is especially when you see how cost effective it is. The Fall season is just about on us – and the cooler temperatures mean you will love making this soup over and over this Fall and Winter. If you make it send me a message and let me know how your family liked it. I hope you enjoy!
This soup is delicious with a bit of freshly grated hard cheese, like asiago, or romano - also delish without!
If you are cooking your rice and lentils in your soup then cook for about 45 minutes, and enjoy. If your rice and lentils are already cooked then enjoy as soon as your veggies are soft enough. If I precooked the rice/lentils then I like to cook the soup for at least 30 minutes because I like the cabbage nice and soft (this way the strong cabbage flavor is in the soup, not in the cabbage and even your kids will eat it). I should also mention that I double this recipe often and have dinner for a week for our family of 7. This recipe, single, will last us 2 or 3 nights, depending. If you have a smaller family this recipe will last you a while. Freeze some, or do like us and have dinner for days - without having to cook.
about 4-6 T olive or coconut oil or a combination, to saute veggies
1 large onion, chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 of a green cabbage, chopped
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (or 8 tomatoes chopped), with juice
3/4-1 C dried lentils
1/2 -3/4 C brown rice
10 oz bag of fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped.
1 T chicken bouillon base
6-8 C filtered water
1/2 T salt
more salt & pepper to taste
In the morning, soak your rice and lentils together in a bowl with enough hot water to cover, usually about 3 C. Add 3 T kefir or other acid medium, stir, and cover to soak 7 hours.
You can cook your rice and lentils right in the soup pot (I prefer to do it this way), or you can cook it separately. If you cook it separately add 1 1/2 C water to the pot and cook for about 40 minutes. If you cook the rice and lentils in your soup, then you will end up adding 2 C more water. It is really very simple - if your soup is thick, just add more water.
Chop your onion, and cabbage and saute in oil until softened, about 5 minutes. Mince garlic while sauteing, chop spinach while sauteing.
Add garlic (stir so it does not burn) and spinach to pan, saute for a minute.
Add canned tomatoes, lentils, rice, salt, 6 C filtered water and bouillon base.
Chop cilantro and parsley now, and add. Add more salt and pepper to your own taste.
Add more water if you like it thinner. We like it a little thicker and heartier.
I do not use chicken broth because I think it is too expensive. I buy organic chicken bouillon base. Specifically, I have used Organic Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base, for years. It lasts much longer, and is much cheaper than broth (and I think it tastes better too). When I make whole chickens, I make a stock. But I also use the bouillon base. I should also say that we are a military family and shop at the commissary where this brand of bouillon base is only $3.99, but it can get pricey online and in other stores – shop around to find a brand you enjoy and is not too costly.
onion – $ .50
canned tomatoes – $1.10
spinach – $3.50
rice – $ .70
lentils – $ .70
cabbage – $ .30
garlic – $ .10
bouillon – $ .30
cilantro – $ .60
parsley – $ .50
Total Cost: $8.30 (awesome right?)
Want more info on soaking?
Sue Gregg – amazing, tons of info. I have referred back to this source countless times, and if you read it you will recognize that I use her methods.
The Urban Homemaker – on why to do it!
Nourishing Traditions – My favorite go-to for healthy cooking with a ton of recipes including how to soak.