Soak Your Grains!

Jenni Kayne asked me to share with her readers one of her favorite tips that I have taught in class — soaking grains.  So we have collaborated on a today’s post!  Do check out her amazing lifestyle website, ripplustan.com which is one of my favorite sources for learning about new products, entertaining ideas and of course, fashion!

I am a big fan of a mostly plant-based diet and more importantly, I emphasize as many whole, unprocessed foods as possible.  Whole grains can definitely be part of a healthful diet, but they are much more nutritious and digestible when prepared the way our ancestors did by soaking, fermenting or sprouting them before cooking or eating.

Whole grains contain an anti-nutrient called phytic acid which binds with certain minerals (e.g.  zinc, phosphorous, calcium and iron) and  prevents them from being absorbed by the body.  Phytic acid is also very hard on the digestive system.  Most of the phytic acid is contained in the exterior bran and germ layers of the grain.  Ironically, whole grains are much higher in minerals than polished or refined grains, but we won’t receive those benefits unless we neutralize the phytic acid.

Phytic acid is also an enzyme-inhibitor which keeps the grains/seeds dormant until the conditions for germination are just right.  Not only does phytic acid prevent seeds from sprouting, it also helps protect them from predators by blocking digestive enzymes so that the seeds stay untouched as they pass through our digestive tract.

Soaking, fermenting or sprouting your grains before cooking them will neutralize the phytic acid and release the enzyme inhibitors, thus making them much easier to digest and making the nutrients more assimilable.  Phytic acid can be neutralized in as little as 7 hours when soaked in water with the addition of a small amount of an acidic medium such as vinegar or lemon juice.  Soaking also helps to break down gluten, a hard-to-digest protein found in grains such as wheat, spelt, rye and barley.

Fortunately, grains are very easy to soak.  You just need to start the process the night before or the morning of the day you want to eat them.  Pour grains into a bowl and cover with warm or room temperature filtered water.  Add a tablespoon of something acidic, such as yogurt, raw apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, whey or kefir, for example.  Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 7 hours or longer.   Change the water after 24 hours if you’re still soaking.  Drain and rinse the grains before cooking with fresh water.

Even though 7-8 hours is the minimum recommended for soaking, even a few hours is better than nothing.  An extra benefit to soaking grains is a shorter cooking time.  The longer you soak them, the less time is needed to cook and also less water.  There’s no formula to figuring this out, but usually if you soak 1 cup of brown rice for 8 hours, you can reduce the cooking time from 50 minutes to about 40 and use about 1/3 cup less water.  For 1 cup of soaked quinoa, you can cook for about 10 minutes and use 1 ½ cups of water.

If you’ve been eating whole grains, nuts and seeds for years without soaking, don’t stress.  A small amount of phytic acid is reduced just by the cooking process alone.  But for minimal effort, you can significantly improve the digestibility and nutrition of these important foods.

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96 Comments

  1. Hi Pamela! .. A most interesting article, thank you! .. I am wondering why you recommend rinsing grains after soaking them? I currently incorporate a range of ‘dry’, whole seeds (chia, quinoa, amaranth, flax and millet) in my sourdough bread, that ferment inside the dough for 5 hours at room temp, and then another 12-18 hours in the fridge, before baking. I was working under the assumption that the lactic and acetic acids in the dough would work to neutralize the phytic acid in the seeds (and the flour) during that time .. Is that an incorrect assumption? Thank you!

  2. Hi Pamela. You said that soaking grains in water with addition of an acid will neutralize the phytic acid. From what I learned in school, what neutralizes an acid is actually a base, and not another acid. Its confusing. Please comment on this. Thank you very much.

    • I think I can answer your question, Gerrie.

      Acids & Bases are on a spectrum and are so named due to where they fall generally on the pH scale which relates to Hydrogen concentration. For instance water can be either an acid or a base depending on what other chemical it is reacting with. Whichever chemical is MORE acidic–having a higher concentration of Hydrogen Ions–will be the acid, giving up Hydrogen Ions. Likewise the MORE basic chemical in the reaction–having a lower concentration of Hydrogen Ions–will receive those Hydrogen Ions from the acid.

      So the terminology of “Acid” vs “Base” depends on each specific reaction & the strength (in this case the Hydrogen concentration) of those specific chemicals with respect to one another. When we’re mixing several acids together, some of those acids are stronger or weaker than the others–again, on that spectrum of Hydrogen concentration–so the stronger acids act like acids and the weaker acids act as bases.

  3. Thank you for the info! I have been on a paleo + AIP diet for over a month and am eager to start adding grains back in. This is how I’ll do it. This process goes for all types of beans, too, correct? Another question: if I want to ferment as opposed to soak, do I just lengthen the time? How will I know when it’s fermented enough?

    • Yes, that’s correct. The same method applies to all types of beans. To ferment grains, soak in water and add a splash of acid (vinegar, lemon juice, kefir, kombucha). Store at room temperature for 6 to 12 hours, or longer if it’s convenient. You can also break down larger grains in a spice grinder (just slightly to expose the interior) and this can help ferment them faster.

  4. What do you think about freezing grains after they’ve been soaked but are still raw? I saw your comment about cooking and then freezing, but wondered if it would be ok to just freeze immediately after soaking? Thanks!

    • Oooh, not sure I would recommend that. If you’re not ready to cook them, you can keep changing the water every 8 hours until you are. Or drain, rinse and refrigerate for a day or two until you can cook them.

      • Thanks for your reply! Curious why you wouldn’t recommend it?

        • Because I’ve never done it and never seen it done!;). I know you can freeze raw grains and cooked grains, but I really don’t know if you can freeze them once they’ve been soaked. I don’t know if it would affect the texture. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out!

            • Tried it with barley and added it to a soup. Didn’t seem to change the texture.

            • I have soaked oats, then cooked and frozen for a couple of years now. I freeze them in serving size batches. For breakfast or for soup l simply get one or two servings out of the freezer and a couple of minutes later breakfast is ready. I strictly use oat groats.

          • I soak and then freeze my grains all the time. They boil up very well and faster.

            • Oh, good to know. I think that’s a great idea! Thank you for sharing, Max.

  5. Whenever I soak brown rice or quinoa for 24 hours and then rinse it, it gets almost gummy and starchy when I cook it. Am I doing something wrong? Thanks!

    • It sounds like you are not reducing the water. When you soak grains, you need less water and less time to cook them.

  6. Hello, I read on some other blog that you shouldn’t soak your oats overnight in the fridge. I find it quite weird since I always soak my oats in milk and I thought that if milk is kept outside the fridge it will spoil. What is your take on this?

    • I soak oats to make oatmeal on the counter with a little yogurt and then in the morning I rinse the oats and then cook them. When I make overnight oat and chia porridge with almond milk, I always refrigerate it because it will spoil otherwise. It is advised to soak grains, nuts and seeds on the counter or in a semi-warm environment to help neutralize the phytic acid more quickly and efficiently.

  7. What is the optimal method for germinating if the intention is to cook the product? Should i be waiting for visible signs of germination? Or is a lengthy soaking (>12 hrs) sufficient for this purpose? So far i have bee waiting for the visible but this can take 2 days or more depending, and if it isn’t truly required then i’d rather not put myself thru the pace. The real issue here is that forgetting to start a 2 day process really messes meal planning up. We cook more or less en mass on sunday to minimize meal prep through thursday…

    • You asked the important question – “for purposes of cooking.” Soaking neutralizes the phytic acid. 12 hours is absolutely sufficient and up to 24 hours is even better. If you were not then going to cook the rice, continuing to soak for several days, changing the water regularly, in order to sprout, or germinate, the grain would open up a plethora of live enzymes and proteins and additional vitamins. Yes, you would actually see the grain grow a tail. You would have to cook the grains right away or perfectly dehydrate them to use another time. I have not found data to show how much of the new enzymes and vitamins survive the cooking process. I do not have time to sprout grains, so I soak them as described above or I buy sprouted grains and cook them at home. It’s more complicated than I just described, but whatever you do is an improvement over cooking dry grains without soaking.

  8. After I have soaked the oatmeal overnight, if I rinse it won’t the helpful vitamins and minerals rinsed away?

    • I have never read that anywhere. Do you have any source for that info? I would be interested to learn more about that. Thank you!

    • No I don’t have a source. After soaking overnight, it seemed to me that the oatmeal water has particles in it. So it was my idea that there may be dissolved oatmeal nutrients being washed away or rinsed off.

      So is it bad to cook it in the soaked water?

      • I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about. There are still plenty of nutrients (more, actually) left in the oats. It is not bad to cook in the soaking liquid, but if you have added something acidic, it may alter the flavor of the oatmeal. I usually add a little yogurt or lemon juice when soaking and that’s why I drain and rinse before cooking.

    • Can I cook enough steel cut oats with apples and raisins cinnamon and ginger for 5 Days and still retain nutrient contents

  9. Hi Pamela, may I ask if it is it ok to store soaked brown rice in the fridge for a couple of days before cooking? Sometimes I go on work trips and would like to soak rice overnight before the trip, then store the soaked brown rice in fridge, ready to be use when I return? Any tips on this matter?
    Thank you in advance, Christian

    • Hi Christian, I don’t believe this should be done in the fridge for several days. If I were you, I would soak and cook batches of grains and store them in the freezer. They freeze really well.

  10. Hi Pamela, some people say to cover the brown rice that is soaking and others don’t. Your instructions do say to cover. Should it be a tight seal or loosely covered or can you impart any wisdom on this? Doing it for easiest digestion…..thanks as always!

    • Covering is just to keep out dust and such. If you have apple cider vinegar in there, fruit flies may be attracted to it. Cover with anything you choose. Or don’t cover — it won’t affect the finished product 🙂

  11. I started soaking my barley yesterday and thought I would cook it tonight but I won’t have time. I know i should change the water after 24 hours, but What if I don’t get to it tomorrow night either? can I pour the water off and put it in the refrigerator? How long will it keep? Thanks for this great information.

    • No problem. Drain it, rinse it and if you think you’ll make it tomorrow, soak it in fresh water. After 24 hours, I like to change the water every 8 hours. Otherwise, drain and rinse and store in the fridge for up to 2 days and then cook.

  12. Does quinoa go bad if you soak it 24 hours without an acid? I did this by accident and it developed a weird smell, kind of like beer. I rinsed it out and added some new water to cook it. I’m eating it as I type this comment 😛 hopefully nothing crazy happens

    • 24 hours without an acid is fine, but I recommend changing the soaking water after 24 hours. I even like to change the water after 12. It starts to ferment a little, which is also fine. I have noticed a sweet aroma when I soak quinoa. But in the future, if it’s really warm in the kitchen, consider changing the water after 12 hours.

  13. I read in your article that the soaking of whole grains breaks down the gluten. can that help someone who is gluten intolerant?

    • Yes, it is possible but it depends on the degree of one’s intolerance. I’ve heard of traditionally fermented wheat-based sourdough breads that GF people can eat. Celiacs should NOT attempt to eat soaked gluten-grains though. If the person has a mild intolerance, I would give it a try with a small amount of properly soaked grains and consult with a physician. 🙂

    • I was just reading your flour soaking recommendation. Never heard of that. Always wondered what to do with flour. Question: I make my bread from a slow rise that uses only ½ tsp yeast per 6 cup flour batch. Stir into 3 cups water with 2 ½ tsp salt. Cover w/ damp cloth and plastic grocery bag 12 hours or until double. No kneading. Work as little as possible on a heavily floured surface to form 2 loaves and rise till double again. Bake 425 for 15 min, 350 for 40 more. ANYWAY, would this process also reduce the physic acid?

      Also, what about flax seeds? They get all jelly when soaked.

      Thank you for your very interesting blog!

      Helen

        • No starter. Just ½ tsp standard dry yeast from the local co-op. Back in the “old days” I used a tablespoon and the first rise generally took just 2 hours. This bread does not have the distinctive aroma that sour dough has, but is still good. And so darn easy! Thanks for the reply and for the link!

        • Wow. That is one complicated article! Sounds like the overnight rise is at least better than the old standard 2 hr rise. Maybe I’ll try grinding and adding a little rye flour to each batch of bread.

          My Favorite Recipe: 3 cups water, 2 ⅓ tsp salt, ½ tsp active dry yeast, 6 cups flour (some of it freshly ground rye if you’ve got it) . In a 5 quart ice cream pale, mix first 3. Add flour. Stir only enough to take up flour. Cover pale with damp cloth and plastic bag. Leave at least 12 hours. Turn onto heavily floured surface. Work only enough to divide into loaves. Place into greased, floured pans. Raise until double. Bake 15 minutes at 450, reduce to 350, bake 40 to 50 minutes more until done, turn out onto cooling rack. YUM!

          • Helen…I just started making sourdough myself because of it’s health benefits compared to other quick rise breads. I was very intimidated, but it’s not difficult once you get the hang of it. Just a little practice and you’ll be on your way. I have a 2 month old, and I’m doing it! My arms are getting toned from the kneading! Ha. I know there are also no-knead sourdough recipes. Breadtopia is a great source. Blessings.

  14. Great post Pamela. I love amaranth but those teeny seeds slip through even my fine meshed cone strainer. How do you rinse or drain yours? Do you ever just cook them in their soaking water?

    • Hi Linda! Ironically amaranth is the one grain/seed I don’t care for so I don’t use it. But if I were you I would try drain them in a nut milk bag. 🙂

    • Maybe try a double layer of cheesecloth, or an unbleached coffee filter?

  15. Hi Pamela,
    Thank you for the wonderful education you are providing here!
    I soak steel cut oats overnight with some ACV in the fridge and cook them with the same liquid! Looks like I have some adjustments to do.
    Can I soak the oats outside the fridge? I live in Singapore and temperatures are in the late 20’s deg Celsius all year.
    After cooking the oats, I add a concoction of blended nuts/seeds/dried fruits to the oats. Is that too much to consume in a bowl? I basically add almonds, walnuts, cashew, pecan, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried coconut, goji berries with a tablespoon of coconut oil after a dash of 7 grain milk or almond milk.
    Cheers

    • I rinse and start with fresh liquid because I want to eliminate the vinegar/acid and the soaking liquid can get kind of murky. You can soak outside of the fridge in those temps, and in fact it speeds up the process of breaking down the physic acid. I don’t know how many nuts/seeds/dried fruits you are adding, but if you find your porridge to be digestible this way, and you don’t have a weight problem, then I’m sure it’s fine!

  16. Hi: would it be ok if I don’t add acid in the soaking process? I’m trying to make quinoa congee for my baby, and he’s a bit young to introduce vinegar, lemon juice. I’d use yogurt or kefir except he was a bit sensitive to it.

    I’ve soaked the the quinoa for about 48 hours and notice the sprouts, and then I ground it to a paste before making it to congee. Would that be good enough in getting rid the optic acid? Thx

    • Of course it’s ok! The acid just helps to neutralize the phytic acid more quickly. You do rinse the vinegar/lemon juice off though before cooking. But the fact that you are soaking at all is fantastic! 🙂 If you are soaking for more than 24 hours however, I would change the water to avoid creating any bacteria. Thanks for your question!

  17. Should I cook sprouted or germinated brown rice like I cook pasta, boil in big amount of water then drain the water?

    • You could if you want, but it’s not really necessary since the grains have already been soaked. 🙂

      • Hi Pamela,

        Am I understanding correctly that if I have purchased sprouted quinoa or brown rice it does not need to be soaked?

        Thanks 🙂

        • Yes, that it correct. If it has been sprouted, it has been previously soaked. 🙂

  18. Hey ! i’m wondering if i can soak my nuts overnight in a bowl and then just throw the water away and eat the nuts right away or do i have to do something after the soaking like dehydrating or sprouting or something like that. Also how long does the nuts last after only soaking (in case is possible to do that)
    Thanks !

    • Hi! Yes, you can eat the nuts right away, but you must keep them refrigerated after soaking and they only last a few days UNLESS you dehydrate them fully. Sprouting is just extending soaking with multiple changes of water over a few days. Again, you can eat right away, but they must be kept refrigerated and they only stay good for a few days. 🙂

  19. hi, I was just wondering about eating roed oats raw. After soaking them do I need to rinse them the next day if I’m going to eat them right away? Or should I rinse before I eat?

    • You don’t necessarily need to rinse soaked grains before eating. But if you have soaked with some sort of acid, like lemon juice or whey, you might enjoy the test better if they have been rinsed. An exception is when I soak my oats for oat and chia porridge or bircher muesli and then there is no rinsing.

  20. Hello Pamela,

    If phytic acid is released into the soak water, does it need to be rinsed off before cooking so that the phytic acid doesn’t bond back up with the minerals you’re trying to release?

    Jeff.

    • Yes, you shouldThe physic acid is neutralized more than it leaches into the soaking water, but you should rinse the grains to remove any residue. Thanks for your question. 🙂

  21. How do you neutralize an acid with another acid?

    • By adding a little of an acidic medium like vinegar, for example, you are helping to activate phytase which is what breaks down the phytic acid.

      • Thanks for the response Pamela. After reading a little more about the subject it seems to be a multi stage process to break down the photic acid as you say. Do you happen to know if grinding makes them more digestable too?

  22. Hi Pamela,
    Do you use separate bowls/jars to soak, that you do not then use for other purposes? When I soak brown rice, for example, should I not use that container for other cooking because of the arsenic that is presumably in the water?

    • Nope. I use all glass bowls and doubt that anything (like arsenic) permeates the glass. So I just soak and wash the bowls like everything else — with hot water and soap. I’m sure that is completely safe. 🙂

  23. I love the flavor of roasted hulled barley. What would you recommend, roasting BEFORE soaking or soaking THEN roasting?

      • If I soak then roast will I still get all the benefits of soaking once roasting dries out the grain?

        • As I understand it, once you’ve neutralized the physic acid, it’s neutralized!

  24. Question- Pamela do you make overnight oats, of the yogurt and meusli variety? If so, do you soak those oats in water was well? thanks!

    • Yes, I do. I have a few recipes on the site. Those are soaked in yogurt or almond milk or both and they are not drained the next day. But the effect is the same — phytic acid is neutralized and the oats become more digestible. 🙂

  25. Hi Pamela,
    Thank you for this post! If it’s a hot day, let’s say it’s 85 degrees in my apartment, is it okay/safe to soak the grains on the counter top for 12-24 hours? Can soaking be done in the fridge?

    Thanks,
    Lisa

    • Yes, you can soak in warm weather. Maybe change the water after 12 hours if it’s really hot out.

  26. I soak nuts but am new to soaking flours. After soaking flour and not being able to drain, am I getting any benefit from the soaking since I am then keeping the soaking liquid in the recipe and eating it?

    • Yes. Soaking flours neutralizes the phytic acid.

  27. Thanks for this great tip on soaking grains. Obviously Quinoa, rice, kamut, etc must still be cooked, but is it necessary to cook oats or similar grains afterwords? For example, can oats go from soak/rinse to then be mixed in with fruit and yogurt and eaten?

    • Great question, Rachelle! When you soak grains with an acid, such as whey or vinegar for example, and you cook the grains in the soaking liquid, it can impart a sour taste to the grains. That is one reason I discard the liquid. Another reason has to do with soaking brown rice, which contains high levels of inorganic arsenic. The arsenic leaches out of the rice when soaked so you definitely want to discard the soaking liquid. Soaking flour is different. Flour will absorb the liquid so there won’t be anything left to drain! I only perused very quickly the ebook you referred to and it seems like the author does advise discarding the liquid that the grains are soaked in. Let me know if you have any questions. This is a very good practice to start!

  28. another question about soaking steel-cut oats. I soak and cook a big batch weekly. But I find in the morning the soaking liquid has all been absorbed. I just add a bit more water and start cooking. So I can’t drain it – do I still need to rinse it?

    • Here’s what you do: place 1 cup of steel cut oats in a bowl and cover it with room temperature water by a few inches (and some vinegar or acid if you want). Soak it all day or overnight. There should be plenty of water to drain. Then start with fresh water and cook. This is not the same as “overnight oats” where you bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat and allow the oats to absorb the water all night and become soft. If you want to soak your oats and then make overnight oats, just start in the morning and drain the oats at night. Then start with fresh water, bring to a boil, turn off heat immediately, cover and allow to sit until morning. Then reheat. Does that make sense? I hope it’s not too confusing!

      • yes, that makes sense. I guess I’m not adding enough soaking water as it is normally all absorbed by morning (no I don’t boil it first, just soak). I just add an extra cup of water and then cook the oats. I’ll add more water and start draining and rinsing. Thanks

  29. Some packages of grains suggest soaking while others don’t which I thought implied they were presoaked…is that correct? My Quinoa for example tastes completely different because I buy the kind that doesn’t require soaking?? Another example is the 10 min farro from Trader joes- would you soak that too? Thanks

    • You don’t need to soak grains in order to cook them. It’s a digestibility/nutrition thing, not a cooking/taste thing. Manufacturers aren’t going to ask you to take that extra step. Nothing is presoaked unless it says so. Sometimes you can buy grains that have been par cooked so that when you cook them, they take less time — modern convenience, I guess. That is the case with the Trader Joe’s 10-minute barley and farro — they have been precooked. Hope all that makes sense!

  30. What about steel cut oats? Should they be soaked and drained? Is the water amount affected for cooking?

    • Oats are a grain and should be soaked and drained before cooking. The amount of water you use to cook them will be affected by the amount of time you soaked them. If you soak for an hour, just use the amount of water you normally would. There’s no formula to figure this out, but when I soak 1 cup steel cut oats overnight, I usually use about 3 1/2 cups water to cook, as opposed to 4 as suggested on the package. I hope that helps!

  31. Do you drain and discard the water, or can you then use it to cook the grains in?

    • Drain and discard the soaking water. To cook, start with fresh water.

  32. I store my whole grains in the freezer. Does that make any difference when soaking them? Also, will grains stored in the freezer still sprout? I make my own rejuvelac. Thanks!

    • Grains stored in the freezer can be soaked just the same, but soak at room temperature. Grains stored in the freezer should be sproutable.

    • Legumes contain physic acid and should be soaked as well.

  33. This is really interesting! I am just wondering–you mentioned quinoa and brown rice, but does this apply to all grains (e.g. barley, farro, etc.)?

    • All grains!! Some grains have more phytic acid than others, but it’s a good habit to get into with all of them. Post coming up about soaking nuts soon!


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