As mentioned in my earlier post The Snowflake Robber,
Phytic acid can be reduced dramatically in seeds, grain, beans, and nuts through particular food preparation strategies that break the phytic acid apart from the phytates. These strategies include sprouting, soaking (in non-acidic liquid, or acidic liquid), fermenting and cooking (cooking is less effective than sprouting or fermenting); sometimes two or three processes are necessary to reduce the phytic acid as much as possible. Roasting will greatly reduce phytic acid as well, but will kill the phytase enzyme within the food.
So what are these processes and how does one go about them? I’ll cover sprouting, soaking, fermenting and roasting in this post.
Sprouting whole grains is to germinate grain seeds for consumption. Sprouting is highly nutritious since it activates food enzymes including phytase, increases vitamin content, and reduces anti-nutrient elements (such as bound phytic acid). Sprouted grain can be eaten raw, cooked (though this kills the grain’s fragile vitamins), or ground into flour for baking.
To sprout, place up to several cups of clean grain in a strainer. As a side note, organic grains sprout better than conventional grain. Rinse grain well. Add grain to a storage unit (ceramic, stainless steel, and glass* all work well) and cover with warm filtered water so the water level is a few inches above the grain. Let soak overnight. In the morning pour grain into a mesh strainer again and rinse well. Throughout the day, rinse the grain a few more times, making sure to get all the grain wet. Continue rinsing throughout the next couple days until the sprouting level you desire is achieved. Rinse one last time before draining and storing or using.
To make sprouted grain flour start with grain that has barely sprouted. A day or two of germination should reach the right level for making flour with sprouted grain—any longer and the sprouts would be too difficult to work with. Spread grain into a thin layer on dehydrator trays, or as an alternative the oven or sun will do the same work as a dehydrator will if they’re giving off the right amount of heat. If using the oven or sun, spread grain onto a baking sheet. Dehydrate between 105˚ and 150˚ (it’s best to stay under 110˚) until grain is thoroughly dry. Once the sprouted grain is dry you’re all set to grind in your grain mill, or powerful blender, as you would with un-sprouted whole grain.
The process of softening grains, nuts, seeds, or flour (usually coarsely ground), as well as initiating enzymatic activity by mixing with warm liquid, sometimes an acid and sometimes salt. Acidic liquid to add to soakers include cultured buttermilk, coconut milk kefir, dairy milk kefir, water kefir, cultured yogurt, whey, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar. Once these ingredients are mixed together the soaker is left to sit at room temperature for several hours. When soaking grain with an acidic catalyst phytic acid is broken down by the phytase enzyme. The most phytic acid breakdown which can be accomplished through soaking is usually achieved within 12-24 hours. This is not the case however, for oats. Oats are so high in phytic acid, and low in phytase, that they need an extra boost of phytase added to their soaking liquid. Rye or buckwheat are great suppliers of the phytase enzyme. Baking with softened grains produce light, better textured bread than using grains unsoaked.
Accelerated Soaking – This is a soaking technique used on seeds, beans and grains that have an extremely low phytase level to lower the phytic acid while keeping the pH level of the food stable, and even sometimes lowering it.
To soak brown rice with this technique you’ll have to first create a starter. Soak rice for 24 hours in non-chlorinated water, reserve 10% of the soaking water and cook the grain. Soak more rice for 24 hours, this time using the reserved water from your last batch along with some fresh water. Repeat the process once more. By the fourth time your reserved water (that will keep well in the fridge) will have the properties in it to reduce the phytic acid level within rice by 96%.
Lactobacilli is produced through grain fermentation. Why does that matter to us? Well, lactobacilli is a type of good bacteria creating an acidic environment within our body’s gut microflora and acidity within intestines fight infection causing bacteria. Lactobacilli is a major part of the lactic acid bacteria group because it produces lactic acid when fermenting glucose. Because of its acidity lactic acid has a sour taste which is prominent in sourdough, sour cream, and buttermilk. The development of lactobacilli also produces phytase—the enzyme needed to break phytate bonds off of phytic acid so our bodies can absorb the nutrients from the abundance of phytic acid in plant-based food.
In baking, fermentation is a chemical process within bread dough which begins once at least some of the flour, liquid, and yeast are mixed together with a catalyst (typically an acid). Fermentation will end when the yeast has either run out of complex carbohydrates to feed on, or when the yeast has been killed by heat reaching 104 degrees.
In the fermenting process carbohydrates break down into alcohol and beneficial acids (which rise bread). For this to happen the kneaded dough rests in a covered bowl while the yeast, or a starter culture, activates the fermentation process creating chemical compounds such as carbon dioxide and alcohol by digesting carbohydrates. Until baking, the developed gluten structure holds these newly formed gasses within the bread resulting in dough full of air bubbles. During baking most of the gasses, and all of the alcohol, are released.
Bread fermentation could take a few hours in a warm environment or up to five days if kept cold—the longer the fermentation process, the less yeast is needed, the better the structure of the finished bread, and richer the flavor. Fermentation leavens dough and gives the finished bread a distinctive, slightly sour taste and fine-grained, moist texture.
In addition to bread, fermentation is also used to make other food such as cultured milk, and kombucha. Through the lacto-fermenting method sauerkraut and pickled vegetables may both be fermented. Consuming fermented food supplies our body with necessary good bacteria in our gut microflora, specifically lactobacillus acidophilus. It provides us with necessary enzymes to digest our food more efficiently, and since these enzymes will naturally decrease as we age, it’s good to keep them replenished. Fermented food also helps our body absorb nutrients from everything else we eat. Fermented food develops its own preservation properties so will typically last longer than non-fermented food made without commercial preservatives.
Lacto-fermented raw vegetables are cultured vegetables, meaning the already present organisms inside the food are allowed to proliferate. Sauerkraut, kimchi, and sour dill pickles are all forms of lacto-fermentation. Commercially, these packaged foods are pasteurized, but when made at home they can be made while keeping the vegetables raw. Either whey or salt may be used as the fermentation starter. Or, without salt or whey cultured vegetables can still be made with some type of acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar; the acid is needed to prevent spoilage before the lactobacilli take over the preservation. Traditionally, lacto-fermentation was used to preserve vegetable harvests and store food long-term. Lacto-fermented food is a health benefit for many reasons, but it’s particularly helpful in treating candida.
Roasting nuts, seeds, and grain can be an effective way of reducing about 40% of the phytic acid levels and will also reduce tannin levels. The heat from this process though will kill the phytase enzyme so adding phytase (could be in the form of rye flour or flakes) into the food the roasted ingredients go into, is recommended.