About Phytates

Soaking: beans, grains, seeds, and nuts

My soaking bowls

My soaking bowls

When I first started teaching myself to cook beans and grains, I dutifully presoaked beans as recipes recommended. At the time, I thought the function of presoaking was to make the beans cook faster. I never noticed much cooking-time difference between presoaked beans and non-soaked beans when I forgot to soak them, so I gradually stopped the practice altogether. That is until I learned there is another reason for soaking beans.

Soaking dried beans, grains, nuts, and seeds deactivates phytates naturally present in plants. Phytates are a natural insecticide and prevent seeds from sprouting too soon. Phytates also inhibit absorption of several nutrients including iron, zinc, phosphorous, and calcium. People who consume a mainly whole grain vegan or vegetarian diet can suffer ill effects.

However, phytates or phytonutrients also have health benefits. It’s complicated.

An easy way to neutralize the negative effects of phytates is to presoak beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. So this was the reason I originally soaked foods. In addition to neutralizing phytates, soaking also releases important, otherwise unavailable, phytonutrients and vitamins.

It is best to soak beans and grains overnight. However, if I don’t think of it or don’t know what I’m going to fix the night before, I start the soaking in the morning. Some soaking is better than no soaking. Add a tablespoon of whey, vinegar, lime or lemon juice to stimulate the process.