Most people have heard that we should eat whole grains and to stay away from the “white stuff”: white bread, white rice, white sugar, etc. Whole grains have more fiber, they fill you up better than processed grains, and have more nutrients. Refined carbohydrates, like the white breads and white pasta, etc., have little to offer the human body except blood sugar spikes. So, yes, whole grains are the way to go. In our super-fast world of convenience eating, however, we’ve forgotten a very important step in preparing whole grains: soaking.
There are two concerns with grains, even whole grains, that are addressed by pre-soaking: phytic acid and gluten. Phytic Acid is contained in the outer layer (bran) of all grains and can bond with minerals, preventing their absorption. So, even if whole grains have more nutrients, phytic acid interferes with their absorption. Soaking grains before cooking them helps break down the phytic acid.
Gluten, the second concern with grains, is a protein that is often difficult to digest. Most Americans are only familiar with a few grains, the most common of which is wheat- a high gluten grain. Gluten is also found in lesser amounts are oats, rye, and barley. Soaking these grains helps make the gluten more digestible. If using an ancient form of wheat where the gluten breaks down easier than modern varieties of what, such as spelt, and soak it, some people with milk gluten allergies can tolerate small amounts of grain in this form.
By “soaking”, I mean “soaking in an acid medium”, which breaks down the phytic acid and proteins, including gluten, and the lactic acid from the soaking liquid. Soak the grain in half the amount of water called for in the recipe, and add a few tablespoons of dairy products like whey, yogurt, and kefir. If you have a severe dairy allergy, lemon juice or vinegar will get the job done. For some recipes, like sourdough, you can add liquid left over from a previous batch of sauerkraut.
Some grains, like rice and buckwheat are easily broken down, and can be soaked for only 7 hours. Most other grains should be soaked 12-24, or overnight. I’ve soaked flour in yogurt (1 cup of flour to 1 cup of yogurt) overnight, and then used the dough to make crackers. Soaking grains, in my opinion, improves the texture of the finished product.
Here is how I soak oats for oatmeal:
- Add 2Tbs of whey to 1 cup of water (I use whey left over from making yogurt).
- Measure out 1 cup or rolled oats (quick cooking or old fashioned, but not instant) into a small pot
- Pour the water and whey over the rolled oats
- Put the lid on the pot, and let it sit overnight on the counter
To finish making oatmeal:
- In the morning, add 1 cup of water or 1 cup of milk to the pre-soaked oats.
- Add a pinch of salt, a dash of cinnamon, and 1 tsp vanilla extract (optional).
- Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, stirring frequently.
- Oatmeal cooks quickly, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat.
- Add a teaspoon of pastured butter, stir to incorporate throughout.
- Stir in maple syrup to taste.
Oatmeal made this way has a superior texture. The butterfat helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins in the oatmeal. If you don’t get your cream from a dairy that has grass-fed, aka pastured cows, I’ve been able to find such butter in one of my local grocery stores (Shaw’s).