A Guide To Soaking & Sprouting Methods

Some plant-based whole foods come up time and again in various recipes and are good to have available in the pantry throughout the year. These ingredients are ideal as a base; they add texture, flavor, fiber, complex carbs, and protein to your meals. Amongst these staples are beans, grains, nuts, and seeds. These all contain phytic acid, a natural substance found in plant seeds that protects the seeds from insects or from sprouting too early. When people consume phytic acid, however, it impairs the absorption of important micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, and iron.

In order to reduce the phytic acid in these foods, use soaking, sprouting, and/or cooking as a method to improve their nutritional value. Some foods are particularly high in phytates and are often consumed in large amounts on a plant-based whole-foods diet. Examples include almonds, sesame seeds, peanuts, soy beans, kidney beans, navy beans, and other types of legumes. Therefore, reducing the phytic acids in ingredients with a large number of phytic acids is vital to avoid serious malnutrition and disrupted gut health.

There are various ways to solve this problem. In general, beans and lentils are best soaked, sprouted, and/or cooked to get rid of phytic acids. Nuts need to be roasted, sprouted, or soaked. Buckwheat needs to be soaked and cooked. Grains like spelt or oats are best cooked for a longer period to get rid of the phytic acids. Sometimes fermenting is a preferred alternative to alter texture and get rid of most of the phytic acids. Soy products and chickpea tempeh are good examples of fermented products like this, but this book will not go into the details of that process.

Soaking

Soaking (dry) staples that are rich in phytic acids is absolutely necessary to guarantee proper nutrient absorption and a healthy gut. Most recipes in this book use raw beans, lentils, and nuts, which are all easy to soak to effectively reduce their natural content of phytic acids. A popular and effective alternative to soaking is sprouting. Both methods are explained below.

  1. Overnight soak

Leaving beans, lentils, and legumes in a pot filled with water overnight, meaning at least 8 hours, is the most effective way to soak. Use roughly 10 cups of water for every pound of dry beans or legumes (roughly 2 cups) and discard the excess water after the overnight soak. Recommended soaking times for different kinds are displayed in the chart below.

  1. Hot soak

A quicker soaking method is to fill up a pot that is large enough to fit both the beans, lentils, or legumes and water. Use roughly 10 cups water for each pound (roughly 2 cups) of dry beans or legumes. Heat up the pot and bring the water to a boil. Once the water reaches a boiling point, immediately turn down the heat and allow the water to softly simmer for a few minutes. Continue to cover the pot, remove it from the heat, and allow the beans to sit for 1 to 4 hours. Discard the excess water after the hot soak.

Rinsing

After using the overnight or hot-soaking method, get rid of all the excess water that is left in the pot and rinse the beans or legumes once or twice with fresh, cool water. This will wash off any remaining indigestible sugars and phytic acids. After doing so, the soaked and rinsed beans or legumes are ready to be cooked.

Boiling

To boil beans and legumes, fill a pot that is large enough to accommodate the soaked beans or legumes with water. Make sure to cover the beans or legumes with an excess amount of water, which should be at least 1 inch. Partially cover the pot with a lid and put the pot over medium heat until the water is boiling. Aim for a soft boil and reduce the heat if necessary.

Note that canned Cannellini, white kidney, and red beans require to be boiled for at least a few minutes to get rid of the naturally present poison in these beans.

Cook the beans or legumes until soft. Cooking times vary for the kind of bean or legume that is being cooked, as displayed in the chart below. After cooking, make sure to drain the excess water. The cooked beans or legumes are now ready for consumption, to be incorporated in a recipe, or storage. Make sure that the beans or legumes are cooled before transferring them into a storage container and add some acidic ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, or wine to prevent the cooked beans or legumes from becoming tender during storage.

Soaking and cooking time per bean or legume

*The recommended times in this chart are approximate.

 Name (1 cup) Soaking Time Cooking Time Yield (cooked, in cups)
Azuki Beans 4 hrs. 45-55 min. 3
Anasazi Beans 4-8 hrs. 60 min. 2 ¼
Black Beans 4 hrs. 60-90 min. 2 ¼
Black-eyed Peas 60 min. 2
Cannellini Beans 8-12 hrs. 60 min. 2
Fava Beans 8-12 hrs. 40-50 min. 1
Chickpeas 6-8 hrs. 1-3 hrs. 2
Great Northern Beans 8-12 hrs. 1-1/2 hrs. 2
Green Split Peas 45 min. 2
Yellow Split Peas 60-90 min. 2
Green Peas, whole 8-12 hrs. 1-2 hrs. 2
Kidney Beans 6-8 hrs. 60 min. 2 ¼
Lentils, brown 8-12 hrs. 45-60 min. 2 ¼
Lentils, green 8-12 hrs. 30-45 min. 2
Lentils, red or yellow 8-12 hrs. 20-30 min. 2 to 2 ½
Lima Beans (large) 8-12 hrs. 45-60 min. 2
Lima Beans (small) 8-12 hrs. 50-60 min. 3
Mung Beans 60 min. 2
Navy Beans 6-8 hrs. 45-60 min. 2
Pink Beans 4-8 hrs. 50-60 min. 2
Pinto Beans 6-8 hrs.  1 ½ 2
Soybeans 8-12 hrs. 1-2 hrs. 3
Tepary Beans 8-12 hrs. 90 min. 3

A pressure cooker will reduce the amount of time required to cook beans and legumes. A 15-pound pressure cooker will cook beans or legumes about 6 times faster. In other words, what would normally take 1 hour, takes only 10 minutes. For a faster cooking time in a pot, adding Kombu seaweed during the overnight soak will halve the cooking time of beans.

If you’re not sure whether something is ready, you can test the beans or legumes. Stir well and take a few cooked beans from the pot, allow the beans to cool down and place them between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. Apply pressure with your tongue. If the beans “smoosh” easily, they are ready for consumption, to be used in a recipe, or stored after cooling down.

Sprouting

An alternative way to prepare grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes for consumption is sprouting. This means activating the germination in the seed. Sprouting takes longer than soaking and requires raw, unsprouted nuts, grains, seeds, or legumes. Germination increases the body’s absorption of vitamins, beta-carotene, and some antioxidants. The process is also able to increase the availability of protein in various seeds and effectively reduces the anti-nutrient phytate by 37-81% in various types of grains and legumes.

Sprouting will also help to break down gluten, which helps the body with the digestion of gluten-rich staples. It makes the crude fiber content more available, which can otherwise not be absorbed by our digestive tracts.

Start by rinsing the chosen seeds and cover these with cold water for 2-12 hours in order to soak. After soaking, discard the water and rinse the seeds, nuts, grains, or legumes. Ideally, the soaked seeds should then be exposed to air for 3-24 hours before being transferred into a sprouter. Sprouting will take various hours, depending on the kind. A deep plate covered by a lid or towel also works if you don’t have a sprouter. Make sure to rinse the seeds every 8 to 12 hours during the recommended sprouting time and add about 2 tablespoons of water to the sprouter or deep plate after.

When the beans, grains, or legumes have sprouted a root, they are ready to be cooked. Alternatively, the sprouts can be kept in the fridge for up to 7 days. Doing so requires the sprouts to be rinsed every day in order to avoid mold or harmful bacteria growing.

A list of approximate sprouting times for some popular nut, seeds, beans, legumes, and grains:

Nuts and seeds:

  • Almonds: 2-3 days
  • Pumpkin seeds: 1-2 days
  • Radish seeds: 3-4 days
  • Alfalfa seeds: 3-5 days
  • Pumpkin seeds: 1-2 days
  • Sesame seeds: 1-2 days
  • Sunflower seeds: 2-3 days

Beans and legumes:

  • Chickpeas: 2-3 days
  • Adzuki beans: 2-3 days
  • Black beans: 3 days
  • White beans: 2-3 days
  • Mung beans: 2-4 days
  • Kidney beans: 5-7 days
  • Navy beans: 2-3 days
  • Lentils: 2-3 days
  • Peas: 2-3 days

Grains:

  • Buckwheat: 2-3 days
  • Amaranth grains: 1-3 days
  • Kamuts: 2-3 days
  • Millet: 2-3 days
  • Oats: 2-3 days
  • Spelt & Rye: 2-3 days
  • Barley: 2 days
  • Quinoa: 1-3 days
  • Rice: 3-5 days
  • Wild rice: 3-5 days
  • Black rice: 3-5 days
  • Corn: 3-5 days
  • Wheat berries: 3-4 days

Soaking small seeds

Just as with other, usually larger seeds, (nuts, grains, or legumes), soaking chia, hemp, and flaxseeds maximizes the availability of nutrients and aids their digestibility. These three small seeds are very common in plant-based diet.

To prepare chia seeds for consumption, place one part of seeds in a jar or glass and add six parts of water. Cover and shake the jar or glass or stir with a spoon for 2-3 minutes. To fully soak the seeds, allow the chia seeds to sit in the water for at least 1 hour. An extra stir or two during this time will aid the soaking process, as the seeds tend to stick together in lumps. An overnight soak in the refrigerator is the ideal way to get the gel-like pudding consistency of soaked chia seeds.

Tip: Use a mason jar to store the chia seeds in the fridge over longer periods of time. Since chia seeds do not go bad easily, it is possible to keep the seeds in the fridge for multiple days.

Hemp seeds are one of the most easily digested plant protein sources, and do not require soaking. The seeds can be consumed dry. If soaking is preferred, these nutritious seeds require a soaking time of 2-4 hours.

Flaxseeds don’t absorb water the way chia seeds do, but can be prepared in a similar way. These seeds in combination with water are an excellent vegan egg substitute and will function as a binder. To soak flaxseeds, put them in a jar or container and add double the amount of water as seeds. When working with ground flaxseeds, a 10-minute soak is enough for further use. Soak the flaxseeds for at least 2 hours when using whole seeds. After this time, the water will turn opaque from the soluble fiber and gums released by the flaxseeds. In case this liquid is not used in a recipe, it can be used to cook with and will add additional nutrients to a meal.

Sprouting small seeds

Sprouting smaller seeds like chia, hemp, and flaxseed is not the same as sprouting larger seeds. The smaller seeds have a mucilaginous coat, which will release soluble fibers when soaked in water. To activate the germination in these small seeds, rinse them well and put them into a shallow dish. Cover the dish with foil or a lid and place the dish in a sunlit area. Spray the seeds with fresh water twice a day to keep them moist. After 3 to 7 days, the seeds will start sprouting. Alternatively, use moist paper towels and refresh this at least once a day. Note that the wet seeds might stick to the paper towel when you try to replace it.

***

This information originates from a chapter found in “Vegan Meal Prep: Tasty Plant-Based Whole Foods Recipes Including a 30-Day Time-Saving Meal Plan“, “Plant-Based High-Protein Cookbook: Nutrition Guide With 90+ Delicious Recipes (Including 30-Day Meal Plan)“, and “51 Plant-Based High-Protein Recipes: For Athletic Performance and Muscle Growth“.

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