If you’ve ever dabbled in raw foods (or have taken a gander at this week’s raw Lemon Raspberry Cheesecake recipe), you may have wondered why many ingredients (namely nuts, seeds, and grains) are often soaked before using.
SOFT AND SWEET
The most practical reason for the soak is to soften. Many raw recipes use blended nuts and seeds to simulate a creamy texture, so a little extra liquid helps smooth them out.
Another factor is, of course, flavor. Particularly for nuts whose skins contribute a bit of bitterness (like walnuts or pecans), soaking draws out some of the natural tannins, toning down the bite and highlighting the nut’s natural sweetness. Often times, you’ll notice coloration and debris in the soaking water as this process takes place. You won’t get any added benefit from using that water—in fact, you should always toss it.
The real secret of the soak is its ability to take the nutritional value and overall benefit of the bathing ingredients to a whole new level. Allowing dried goods to rehydrate a bit activates them, wakes them up, makes them come alive—as they would in nature after a good rain. In this state, nuts, seeds and grains are more easily digestible by the body and offer significantly heightened nutrient density.
This post on Food Matters offers a really great, in-depth recap of all the health benefits of soaking. Among them: increased vitamin levels (especially Bs), the production of beneficial enzymes and bacteria, and more easily-absorbed protein.
HOW IT’S DONE
- Place your ingredients in a glass or ceramic bowl with at least an inch of headspace—plastic can leach unwanted chemicals into your goods.
- Cover completely with filtered water. Some soak with salt water (an ancient Aztec practice that will lend some salinity) and others add a couple tablespoons of yogurt, cider vinegar or lemon juice per cup of grain, which kick starts the production of lactobacilli.
- Soak at room temperature for at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours, per your recipe or ingredient. Softer nuts like macadamias and cashews will get softer faster, while denser nuts and grains need more time.
- Use immediately, drain and refrigerate until needed, or dehydrate to store longer.
A good friend of mine used to soak her oatmeal overnight instead of cooking it, which actually makes the grain much healthier and yields it much more tender than you might expect. I got into the habit of soaking a couple of cups at a time and sticking it in the fridge, pulling some out for breakfast or a snack and adding honey and vanilla or sometimes lime and chili.
My mom often soaks brown rice before boiling it, which really transforms its texture. The dense, nutty grains puff up, retain their meatiness and become soft and a little sweet. It makes the rice wonderful and fluffy—so good she started eating it with fruit and yogurt in place of granola!
Take a soak, see what you think!