Grains, Beans, Bread, and Nuts

The idea of fermenting grains, beans, and nuts seems so foreign to us modern girls that it's almost unbelievable that every culture since the dawn of agriculture did this until a few decades ago. It’s so easy to open a bag of white rice and throw it in boiling water - why would you ever ferment it beforehand? For us endo-girls who snub white rice, we still do the same thing, just with quinoa ;) The issue here is that by not properly-preparing grains the way our ancestors did, we can be doing our bodies unknown harm. Why? Because of phytic acid.

Phytic acid is actually really neat, for the plant of course. It acts like the gate keeper of nutrients stored inside seeds. Seeds need these nutrients just like you do, to grow and flourish. Phytic acid is the amazing mechanism which allows these seeds to sit for months, or even years, with their nutrient stores intact. It binds to minerals to protect them, just waiting for the day it rains to unleash their growth potential.

This only causes problems when it enters your body. Because phytic acid binds to minerals, it not only will bind up the minerals in the grains you eat so you can’t absorb them, but also bind to other minerals you eat at the same time (say, from your kale), thus reducing the mineral absorption in your entire meal. Some research shows that phytates block 80% of phosphorous, 80% of zinc, and 40% of magnesium in grains, beans, and nuts! Not to mention iron and calcium. Additionally, phytates inhibit the digestive enzymes amylase, pepsin, and trypsin, which facilitate the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins.

That’s why phytates are often called “anti-nutrients”, because you can lose more nutrients eating these foods than not. This may also be a reason you have reacted poorly to grains in the past, because they were improperly prepared and hard for your body to digest.

For those of us who don’t eat many grains, breads, beans, or nuts, forgetting to ferment grains before hand may not be such a biggie. But for all the endo girls who eat grains on the regular or rely on nuts and beans for protein - I’m talking to you vegetarians, vegans, and oatmeal-every-morning girls - fermenting your grains, beans, and nuts is absolutely essential. It can be the make it or break it diet tweak that immediately allows your body to start absorbing these much needed minerals, since diets high in phytates can actually cause malnutrition. 

Simply put, fermentation increases the nutrient density of these foods and allows you to digest and absorb their goodness!

Fermentation of these seed-foods is the easiest way to neutralize phytic acid, and is what everyone around the world did regularly before industrialization. And not just for grain, beans, and nuts, but also for starchy vegetables and tubers to pre-digest the starch and make these foods more easily digestible.

Fermentation makes the process sound more complex than it really is: Soaking. Simply soak grains, beans, or nuts before cooking, and ad a splash of an acidic medium like a lemon, apple cider vinegar, or whey. Easy! The only extra step it takes is a little preparation.

“The simplest way to ferment grains is to soak them. Water is the source of all like, and the dry seed is able to persist intact precisely because, in the absence of water, the microbes inevitably present on the surface of it cannot function or grow. Yet they do remain, dormant until restored to life by water, much like the seed itse;f. When you soak the grain, it begins to swell… At the same time, water also revives the bacteria and fungi that populate the grain’s surface, and initiate fermentation.” Sandor Katz, The Art of Fermentation

Where to Find Fermented Bread:

If you want to ferment your own bread into sourdough, I applaud you! I haven't yet done this so I'm just going to touch on where to buy fermented bread :)

First of all, always support local first and foremost, so check your local artisan bakery or farmers market! Artisan breads are becoming increasingly popular, and I know on Kaua`i we have an assortment of bakeries selling organic, fermented (sourdough) bread loaves, although gluten free varieties are more difficult to find.

If you have to go to the grocery store, there are still options. You may have heard of Ezekiel and Manna bread, two of the most popular sprouted (i.e. fermented) breads on the market. Unfortunately, most of these contain gluten, which I don't recommend for endo-girls (although my body seems to do fine with the Rye Manna Bread). The gluten-free sprouted bread I most often purchase is by Sprouted for Life. I'm sure there are other good ones too, this is just the one I have found that tastes good :)

Look out for other processed grain products too, such as tortillas. Most health food stores have sprouted corn tortillas in the frozen section

How to Ferment Grains:

This includes rice, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, you name it! All you have to do is soak. Soak for a few hours if that’s all you have time for, or overnight, or longer. Add a splash of an acidic medium, like a lemon, apple cider vinegar, or whey, to help better break down the phytates. Once you’re ready to cook, you can either dump the rinse water, or cook with it, doesn't really matter since the water dissolves the phytates so there's none left. Just find which flavor you like better. 

How to Ferment Beans:

Same way! The difference is you may want to soak them longer - at least overnight - and switch out the soak water at least once. If you have extra trouble digesting beans, you can also add a bit of baking soda to the soak water, and make sure to rinse before cooking.

How to Ferment Nuts and Seeds:

Same way! The difference here is what you want to do with them afterwards since you’re probably not going to cook with them. The absolute best way I found to make them delicious is thus:

Crispy Nuts: Soak by placing nuts and sea salt in a large glass bowl. Add enough warm water to submerge the nuts. Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel for 3- 24 hours.

The soaking time depends on the softness of the nuts:

  • Really soft nuts like cashews and pine nuts need no more than 3 hours.
  • Semi-soft nuts like walnuts, pecans and pumpkin seeds need about 6-8 hours.
  • Soak almonds for 8 to 24 hours. If you do soak them for 24 hours, change the water once during the soaking process.

After soaking, drain the nuts but don’t rinse. To dry, use a dehydrator or preheat oven to 150 degrees - if it doesn’t go that low you can preheat to lowest temp possible and then turn off the oven and keep the door shut. Spread the nuts out in a single layer on rimmed cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Make sure they’re not clumped together so they crisp up evenly. To avoid over-roasting, stir the nuts up every few hours.

Once crisped to taste remove from oven and cool completely before storing them in airtight jars. Voila! Crispy, delicious nuts without damaging phytates!