Like many people, I started soaking grains shortly after reading Nourishing Traditions. I very hesitantly filled a bowl with oatmeal, covered them in water, and plopped a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt into the mix. I let it sit out on the counter uncovered overnight.
The next morning my husband walked into the kitchen with me and we stared at this bowl of stuff that had sat out overnight. He asked what was going on suspiciously. We looked at it, looked at each other, and promptly threw it in the trash.
I had left the bowl uncovered and that is what lead to its demise.
But, honestly, our minds were still so colonized with the pasteurization/germ theories that we were afraid to eat the stuff.
Over the last five years I’ve gone on to soak every grain that wasn’t nailed down. I am convinced, more from anecdotal evidence than from scientific papers, that grains need to be “dealt with” before they can be cooked and consumed.
But I am not convinced that soaking is the end all, be all of creating a nourishing, easy-to-digest food that ought to be eaten every day. And I think it is misleading to say that most societies “soaked their grains” traditionally.
Why? Because many societies actually fermented or soured their grains. Soaking is a half-step, an homage to fermenting, a vague shadow of what has been done in the past.
Don’t get me wrong, soaking is a great start. Whether you do it to neutralize phytic acid or simply break down the fibers of tough to digest grains, you are at least improving upon the grain product in its most raw form.
That said, soaking is just the beginning of the fermentation process. If allowed to soak longer, those grains + water + acidity + warmth will equal fermentation and that is what we should really be after.
Fermentation naturally produces an acidic environment that will pre-digest those grains for you. Fermentation naturally neutralizes anti-nutrients. Fermentation will naturally increase the vitamin content of your grains, giving you a more nourishing food product. Fermentation naturally decreases the starchiness of grains as the friendly organisms eat it up and produce acids.
But fermentation takes more time than soaking and it produces an end product that may be too tangy for our western taste buds. I expect that is why in her book Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon has many recipes for soaked grains and a token sourdough recipe.
What You Can Do
Because soaking is the beginning of the fermentation process, you can simply continue the soaking process until your grains/flours have fermented. It will get a little bubbly (think sourdough) and smell a big tangy. That’s when you know you have truly soured or fermented your grains.
You’ll also need to simply get used to the sometimes tangy flavor of fermented grains, though they don’t always have to taste like a bowl of vinegar if prepared properly.
I am a realist, though, and realize that (just like in our home) what is ideal isn’t always what happens. So while only eating fermented (or sprouted, which I didn’t really address) grains would be ideal, it just doesn’t always happen.
And that’s life.
Do you soak, ferment, or sprout grains?