Thursday, February 25, 2010

Soaking Gluten Free Grains and Flours for Optimum Digestibility

I first learned about soaking grains for optimum nutrition and easy digestibility from Sally Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions. I tried her suggestion to soak brown rice for 7 hours before cooking. I noticed that the finished rice was softer and smoother but I did not notice any difference in the way I felt. After a few weeks of diligent soaking I had a busy day and skipped the soaking step. I was clearly aware of the rice “being worked” in my stomach. There was a roughness to the digestive process. I realized that the soaked grains digested smoothly and effortlessly where the unsoaked grains took work and energy for digestion.

Soaking is a process that mimics the natural germination cycle in nature. A fully mature grain plant has plump grain seeds after a long and bounteous season. The grain seeds are essentially little packages of nutrients protected in a hard shell called a seed coat. The seed’s mission in life is to reproduce and needs certain conditions to germinate. A grain seed left on the stalk of a spent plant, or on the ground, withstands extremes of temperature and moisture. Each seed needs a specific temperature and amount of moisture to allow the seed coat to soften, absorb water and then move towards germination. This process fosters nutrients to become available to get ready to feed the newly germinated sprout until it has its first pair of true leaves and can make food through photosynthesis.

When we soak grains before cooking or eating we mimic this process, allowing the grain to move towards the germination process enabling those nutrients to become available for us to eat. We can allow the grains to soak all the way through to germination and eat them as “sprouts” or we can eat them shortly before germination as cooked whole grain. We can also apply the principles of soaking to ground up grain, or flour, with similar results. When we “soak” flour in water for 7-8 hours, the bacteria and yeasts in the air and on the flour predigest the flour, thus fermenting it. This is known as the sourdough process. One of the byproducts of the fermentation process is carbon dioxide, which leavens the bread.

As I began to understand the process of soaking I realized that most currently available recipes and retail breads are not made this way. The bread ingredients are assembled as quickly as possible and depend on the added yeast or baking powder for a quick rise. Some gluten free recipes also utilize the carbon dioxide in sparkling water to enhance the rise. These methods foster a successful rise but allow little or no soaking time meaning that the finished breads will not nearly be as digestible as they could be. They might even be harmful to people with highly sensitive digestive and immune systems.

The sourdough recipes in my book, The Art of Gluten Free Sourdough Baking, are structured to allow proper soaking time in the starter phase and again in the rising phase fostering premium digestibility, good taste, good texture and long shelf life.

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