Most of us are familiar with the idea of soaking beans before we cook them. For tips on how I cook beans, see my previous post Don't Fear the Bean. Grains, however, are a different story. There is some disagreement about whether or not soaking grains is necessary and many of us have never even heard about the need to soak whole grains before cooking.
Should we soak our whole grains?
I think we should. I'm not overly meticulous about it, sometimes I forget and don't have time, but in general I think it is a good idea. Here's why:
Whole grains have phytic acid. For you chemistry nerds: phytic acid is a saturated cyclic acid and stores approximately 80% of the phosphorous in grains. Unfortunately, when phosphorous is bound to the phytic acid our bodies cannot absorb it. Phytic acid also binds to other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, preventing our bodies from absorbing these critical minerals. In short, too much phytic acid consumption can result in mineral malnutrition.
This is not good.
Minerals are critical to our health. Some common symptoms of mineral deficiency are:
- Slow wound healing
- Muscle cramps and/or twitches, restless legs
- White spots on nails, brittle nails, nails mis-shaped
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Skin and hair troubles
- Irritability, lethargy
On top of that, too much phytic acid can cause digestive upset. Therefore, if you are suffering from digestive upset such as gas or bloating, and/or having symptoms of mineral deficiency, I suggest soaking your whole grains.
How to soak whole grains
It's actually quite easy. Take your chosen whole grain (rice, millet, quinoa, wheat etc.) and place the amount that you want to cook into a pot or bowl. Cover with warm water and add 1-2 tablespoons of acid (such as vinegar, lemon juice, whey, kefir or buttermilk.) Then let the bowl/pot sit covered for ideally 12-24 hours.
If you plan ahead, this is super easy. Either set it up to soak overnight or during the day. If you forget or don't know what you want to prepare tonight until you get home, I suggest still soaking for as much time as you can. I tend to find that we can still get some benefit from minimal soaking times, so do what you can. Don't stress yourself out if you forget! The point is to make soaking grains a habit that is easy to do, not an added hassle. Hopefully, setting up your grains (and beans if you are cooking them as well) to soak can just become part of your nightly/morning routine.