The Soaked Steel-Cut Oats Experiment

The Soaked Steel-Cut Oat ExperimentI’m a pretty new soaker, but a soaker for life. I’ve talked about how much I love soaking nuts and seeds before. On top of all of the many tangible benefits of soaking, I find that I feel incredible after eating soaked stuff. It’s a subtle feeling, but a noticeable one—as if there’s a crystal clear, vibrant stream of energy running through you.


Oat-soaking trials

I first got the idea of soaking oatmeal from my friend Sasha, an incredible dancer who led African dance classes back in Mexico. She’d soak a batch of raw, rolled oats in purified water in the fridge overnight and eat them just like that the next day—no cooking required.

I got into the habit, keeping a cup or two of oats mixed with a bit of yogurt soaking in my fridge at all times, and also tried soaking them in almond milk. A drizzle of honey and a dash of cinnamon made that raw, soaked oatmeal become a fresh and awakening breakfast—and a great anytime snack.

I wondered if this same method would work with steel-cut oats, which I love for their full-bodied chew and nutty flavor. I tried soaking them the same way, and the next morning took a little bite. They were still really chewy, but not inedible. I was reminded of Grape Nuts (not because they were crunchy, but because of the amount of jaw effort required to really chew them up).

I tried eating a bowl raw, which took pretty much all morning, and was really pleased with myself all the while. Fast forward a couple of hours—I suddenly had a terrible stomachache. Within minutes of it coming on, I was hugging the toilet and regretting the whole darn thing. The moral of that story: Do not eat raw steel-cut oats.

Once I’d gotten over the ordeal enough to look at the oatmeal canister again, I redid the overnight soak on one cup of oats, measured out another cup without soaking, and cooked both batches the next morning. The soaked batch cooked more quickly than the unsoaked (which for steel-cut still meant a good 10 to 15 minutes), and had a really different, really nice texture.

You can see the difference in the picture. The spoonful in front is soaked, and while soft and creamy, kept more of its shape. You can still make out each individual oat. The color is different, too—the soaked oats seemed to be truer to their original color, while the unsoaked batch sort of lost is color with its shape. I thought the soaked batch was a lot tastier.

The story behind soaking

Soaking oatmeal is by no means a new or innovative thing. In fact, it used to be common knowledge and practice to soak oatmeal before cooking it, typically included in cooking instructions on packages. I thought that this was because oatmeal, like other seeds and grains, contains phytic acids that makes it difficult to digest (in nature, this allows seeds to pass through the digestive systems of the creatures that eat them whole and still be able to germinate later), and that soaking helped break some of that acid down.

But then I read an article by Amanda Rose, author of “Rebuilding From Depression,” a book on nutritional healing for pregnancy and postpartum depression. She cites “voluminous” food science literature which shows that some phytic acid-containing grains (brown rice, corn, and oatmeal included) don’t contain enough of the enzyme phytase to break down a significant percentage of their phytic acid content during a soak.

She offers two solutions: The first is to add a teaspoon of ground whole grain (fresh, if possible) like buckwheat or rye to your oats before you soak. The higher phytase content of these grains will compensate for its lack in oatmeal, and aid in the breakdown of the phytic acids. The second is to just not worry so much about it and eat your oats whichever way you want to.

I like that philosophy. I’ll likely try the first suggestion as a continuation of my oat-soaking trials, but I’ll remember the second whichever way they fare. And I’ll never, ever eat steel-cut oatmeal without cooking it nice and long first. That lesson, I’m glad to say, has been learned.


Rose, A. (2010, February 2). Oatmeal and phytic acid. Retrieved from: