Thursday, July 29, 2010
Why do I soak my grains?
I came across the Weston A Price Foundation about six months ago while reading some blogs about 'real food'. I was looking for some ideas about how to eat more seasonally and locally. I found a wealth of information that was really helpful but this idea of soaking your grains kept popping up. Having not heard of it before, I gave in and bought the book they were referring to - Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D.
The first 70 pages explain the science and reasoning behind the next 550 pages of recipes. It's an incredible source of information on the why and how of eating traditionally prepared foods and I highly recommend badgering your librarians to obtain a copy of it if you don't want to purchase one. If you don't love reading non-fiction as much as I do, just read the chapter on fats at the beginning. It may blow your mind.
Anyway, the book also explains why grains need to be treated before being consumed:
"Phosphorus in the bran of whole grains is tied up in a substance called phytic acid. Phytic acid combines with iron, calcium, magnesium, coppy and zinc in the intestinal tract, blocking their absorption. Whole grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. Traditional societies usally soak or ferment their grains before eating them, processes that neutralize phytates and enzyme inhibitors and, in effect, predigest grains so that all their nutrients are more available. Sprouting, overnight soaking and old-fashioned sour leavening can accomplish this important predigestion process in our own kitchens. Many people who are allergic to grains will tolerate them well when they are prepared according to these procedures (page 25)."
So... phytic acid is bad. It's in whole grains. It can be neutralized by soaking the grains in water plus yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, vinegar OR lemon juice. Plus, after soaking, you can digest the phosphorus in the grain. Phosphorus is important for calcium absorption (good teeth), bone growth, cell growth, and healthy kidneys. This is why my counter often looks like this:
On the left is yogurt incubating. Since we go through so much more of it now, I've decided it's worth the effort to make it from scratch for the cost benefit. In the middle is the flour for my bread dough soaking in water plus yogurt and on the right is my oatmeal, also soaking in water and yogurt overnight.
I'm not a purist yet. I have made things without soaking the flour or grain since I started doing things this way in April - but I have done a lot of experimenting to try and convert all of my regular recipes to soaked-dough recipes. It takes some tweaking, which is probably why there aren't more posts about it on here yet. I do my naan bread and pizza dough like this regularly and have liked the cornbread recipe I found online but I haven't been happy with results on many other things yet.
My next 'frontier' is going to be to sprout whole grain wheat, dehydrate it, and then grind it into flour. The sprouting gives a similar nutritional benefit, but without the soaking time and texture sacrifices of the soaking method. Of course, I could just buy sprouted wheat flour, but that would go against my 'homemade for cheapness' motto.
The other way to get the same benefit is to use 'old-fashioned sour leavening' - as in making bread with a sourdough starter and letting the dough take it's sweet time to raise. I had a fun time experimenting with a starter right after I finished college but I let it die and hadn't looked back until I read Nourishing Traditions.
I made a new starter from rye flour, as suggested in the book, but didn't like the flavor of the resulting sourdough bread. I re-seeded that starter with whole wheat flour and did a second attempt. It tasted pretty good and I liked the texture much better as well. I just still didn't love it and I accidentally forgot to keep out some of the starter for next time, so it disappeared as well. I do still have 50 lbs of rye to figure out what to do with though, so maybe I'll decide to fiddle with the method again later because I felt completely magic being able to make bread out of only water and flour and salt. It sure made a pretty loaf too...