Monday, March 8, 2010

The Hows and Whys of Soaking Grains

If you have been incorporating whole grains into your diet because it’s nutritionally better, but you have trouble digesting them, soaking may be the answer.

All whole grains contain phytic acid in the outer layer or bran of the grain. It is where phosphorus is bound. There is much debate over the untreated phytic acid and it is argued that this can combine with other minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron in the intestines and block absorption of those very minerals. However, there is also good argument against this as well. Sue Becker has a very good article on this very subject  called Phytic Acid- Friend or Foe. I personally soak grains because it eases digestion and it improves the outcome of my whole grain products. My oats cook really fast in the morning when I soak them and my wheat bread is softer and fluffier after soaking.

There is much talk about hard-to-digest proteins that cause additional problems. According to the book Nourishing Traditions, while these “anti-nutrients” are part of the seed’s system of survival. No farmer wants their stored grains to get wet because they will rot. The notion that we must soak before we can eat due to nutritional requirements has been refuted. In fact it has been shown that the presence of phytic acid stimulates the small intestines to create phytase, which digests those very proteins. Thus the ability to process grains are already in our systems. It is harder on some people and soaking does help them to digest, but it by no means prevents us from getting nutrition if we do not soak.

By preparing our grains with soaking, we prepare the grains for digestion before we even eat them. In the same way that a cow has multiple stomachs to process the grains, pre soaking grains in a acid or lactobilli environment breaks down the digestive barriers and prepares the grains to be utilized by our bodies.

Soaking Wheat
Our ancestors and many third world countries soak their grains. Grains are soaked for days prior to preparation in various ways. The simple tradition quickens the cooking process and aids in digestion. The fermenting process lengthens the storage of the food. Ogi is a fermented cereal porridge from West Africa, typically made from corn, sorghum, or millet. The grains are traditionally soaked in water for up to three days, then filtered and allowed to ferment for up to three days until sour. It is then cooked to make a stiff porridge. (It should be noted here that there is actually a loss in nutrition in the grains during this process) In Asia, rice and beans are fermented to make a batter called vellayappam which makes a crepe type pancake served with breakfast. Ethiopians make their distinctive injera pancake like bread by fermenting a grain called taf for several days. In Spanish cultures posole, a traditional soup, is made from fermented cracked corn (essentially Hominy). In Europe, grains were soaked for days to make porridge and in early America, sourdough pancakes, biscuits and bread required the extended soaking of part of the grain to leaven it.

Soaking grains to make bread at home is simple.
If you were to take the Whole Wheat Bread Recipe I use, it would look like this:
Take the freshly ground wheat, all the water, oil and honey and add 2 T of whey to it. Mix this together and allow it to sit overnight, covered, in the bowl you will make your bread in later. IN the morning, add the remaining ingredients and mix, knead and bake as usual. If you make your bread in a machine, add the first part in the bread maker pan. Add the remaining ingredients in the morning and turn the machine on. Your bread will rise much higher and be much better for you. While whey is ideal, if you do not have access to it, you can use lemon juice. You will get a sourdough taste in your end product. The longer it soaks, the more "sour" the flavor. I do not recommend soaking longer than 24 hours you may be breeding bacteria. Wheat does not need to soak nearly as long as oats.

Here are rolled oats ready to soak for the night

Soaking Oats…
Oats require an extended soaking time of several more hours to get good results. I typically soak them overnight ensuring they have soaked for about 24 hours.
The morning before I intend to have the oatmeal ready, I put my oats in a bowl and add the water, whey and some flax and/or freshly ground wheat and mix it well to ensure all the grain is wet. I then cover and leave for approximately 24 hours. When I wake the next morning, I add additional water and cook it. It will be ready very quickly and it tastes wonderful. I store the extra in the fridge for the following morning.

Here is an easy recipe:
Soaked Oatmeal
3 cups of organic rolled oats
3 cups of water
1/4 cup of whey
2 T flax seed
2 T whole wheat flour
1/2 cup dried fruit(optional)

Mix well, cover and leave to soak for 24 hours.

In the morning add
1/2 tsp sea salt(optional)
1 cup water

Heat till water is cooked off and oatmeal is done. I actually do this in my rice cooker and it's very convenient. I soak and cook in the same pot.
Serve with agave syrup or stevia and a dab of butter or cream.

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