>>Can you explain a little bit about soaking flour (and other grains as well)? Do you use an acid medium? Do you soak all your grains?<<
Soaking grains and flours is something that traditional cultures have done for many centuries, tapping into an intuitive wisdom that I think we’ve lost. They didn’t need the scientific explanations of why it was helpful; they must have sensed a difference when they ate things prepared one way or another. But I found it helpful to learn more about it when I first encountered the idea, which seemed foreign to me.
Basically, whole grain products and the flours made with them are a source of many nutrients. The challenge is that they also contain large amounts of phytic acid, which binds with the nutrients when ingested, and escorts them right out of your body. So in order to benefit from the nutrients, you need to do something to neutralize the phytic acid. That something is soaking the grains in an acidic medium, and there are a number of options to use: apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, whey, buttermilk, kefir, and plain yogurt are the ones that come to mind, but there are probably others that I’m not aware of.
I’ve tried using apple cider vinegar/lemon juice as an acidic medium. It’s added by the tablespoon (1 T. acv and one cup water: one cup grain) and even though the amounts are small, my kids didn’t like the sour taste so I don’t use that anymore. I’ve used whey, but that’s not something I often have around. When I made cheese, I had a good amount left over from each batch, and if I get around to making cheese on a regular basis, that would be a good option. And I have a small amount when I let the kefir I make sit too long and it separates. To use whey, you use a tablespoon and one cup of water in place of the liquid called for (just like the lemon juice or apple cider vinegar). But what I’ve preferred using has been either kefir or plain yogurt. It does change the flavor, but not so much that the kids grimace. Seriously, it tastes fine with the yogurt as a soaking medium. For baking quick breads like pancakes and muffins, it adds a very nice, light texture.
I don’t soak all of my grains, though I’d certainly be better off nutritionally. Some grains are more important to soak than others, since they’re so much higher in phytic acid. That’s what I focus on. The highest of them is oats, and that’s the grain that I most regularly soak. This is very easy – I put half the water the recipe for oatmeal calls for in the pot the night before, and add some plain yogurt. The next morning, I add the rest of the water and it cooks up very quickly. When I prepared the baked oatmeal for today’s breakfast, I mixed it up the night before, and let it sit overnight before baking it. (I’ve been wondering about the value of butter as an acidic medium, since it’s composed of lactic acid, so it seems to me it should work fine, too. But I didn’t look into that, it’s just my own mental conjecturing.) The hardest part is planning ahead so that you have the flour soaked and ready to be used when you want it, and a menu plan comes in very handy here.
The grains we use the most are brown rice, kasha (buckwheat), and millet and all of them are low in phytic acid. So I don’t soak them, particularly since I usually prepare them for meat meals, and the options for soaking that I like are dairy. I do usually cook them with a broth that has often been made with an acidic medium, though (adding a small amount of apple cider vinegar when making stock accomplishes this very easily).
As far as flours go, I fall very short in this area. Initially I soaked, sprouted, and then dehydrated wheat before grinding it to bake with. I was very displeased with the quality of the flour. It probably would be fine for cakes or cookies, but not for yeast breads. And it was a long process to prepare it in that way, and didn’t seem worth it for mediocre results.
But I do try to soak flour when I can, though definitely not always. This is only when I’m baking for dairy meals, usually breakfast muffins, quick breads, or pancakes. I’ve found that soaking the flour overnight gives a very nice light quality to those things, and adds a pleasant flavor, too. In those cases, I generally soak the flour at a ratio of 1 cup flour to 1 cup of thinned yogurt or kefir. Other than this, I don’t use very much flour in our meals. The main exception that comes to mind is baking challah, for which I unapologetically use freshly ground, unsoaked, unsprouted flour.
I also soak beans overnight at the very least, though I don’t always sprout them. I tend to sprout them more in the summer just because they sprout so much faster in the heat. I never soak or sprout seeds or nuts. I wasn’t happy with the results I got when soaking nuts, and decided not to pursue that further.
I don’t use wheat germ, or wheat/oat bran, because I think it’s best to eat foods in the complete package, not one part or another. If I did, I’d try to soak them as much as I could, treating them like flour. I also stay away from puffed wheat products, and very rarely have rice cakes, because the processing for these foods has been shown to be harmful. I sometimes have shredded wheat for breakfast or baked wheat crackers (like shredded wheat in cracker form), but I don’t fool myself that they’re healthy. I consider them treat foods that are best used in small amounts.
I’ve learned to adapt most recipes so that they nutritionally conform to guidelines I feel are helpful, though I don’t always post my adaptations when I share recipes. If something says flour, I may or may not soak the flour as described above, but generally it can be done without drastically changing the recipe.