I heard that it is important to soak all nuts and seeds before eating them. Is this true, and if so why? And are there any exceptions for different nuts and seeds or how they are processed, like roasted?
To best understand the concept, rationale, and benefit of soaking nuts and seeds, we need only to look at nature and how the natural processes of growth and reproduction work. For a new plant to grow a seed is required, and for that seed to sprout and begin its growth into a new plant, water is required. Mature seeds are dry and dormant, and this allows them to sustain all kinds of conditions and survive for long periods until the right conditions may be met for sprouting and growth to occur. Water is what is required to awaken the seed out of its dormant stage to begin the growing process. When a seed soaks up water it swells and its biochemistry changes. Applying this natural process, let us now understand how it impacts our food, health, and nutrition.
First, we have to understand that all nuts and seeds, as well as grains and legumes, are biologically seeds that have the potential to grow new plants. Notice that they all share common characteristics of being hard and dry. In this state, nature is keeping them in a dormant stage, and for us, this means that nutritionally they are in a type of lockdown, which does not make them as ideal as they would be in an activated form after soaking. Yes, they still have nutrients in them, and yes, you can still eat them just fine, but there are some drawbacks.
Dormant, non-soaked nuts and seeds can be tougher for us to digest and concerns have been raised about this form increasing nutritional deficiencies due to the phytic acid content. Phytic acid is considered a food inhibitor or anti-nutrient due to its potential ability to bind certain minerals and make them unavailable for us. Seeds contain phytates, like phytic acid, because these act as an energy source for the sprouting seed. Soaking and sprouting activate phytase enzymes to break down the stored phytates. Despite this concern, it is important to note here that we should not fall for the fear-based claims about phytates, as phytates also provide us with benefits, like having anticancer activity and protection against bone loss. Therefore, as with all things, it is important to keep things in perspective and not only see things from a one-sided viewpoint.
Theories have also been put forth about dormant, non-soaked nuts and seeds being tougher on our pancreas and our enzyme functions. This is where soaking helps by reducing enzyme inhibitors and improving the bioavailability of nutrients. This ultimately helps to optimize our digestion of nuts and seeds and put less strain on our digestive system and its organs. In turn, we can benefit from better health and nutrition in the long run.
Therefore, whenever possible, it is a good idea to soak most, if not all, of the nuts and seeds we consume. In order to soak nuts and seeds, they must be in their raw form, and neither roasted nor pasteurized. Cooking processes that use high or prolonged heat can also reduce phytates, and make some foods safer or easier to digest, but they also come at the price of denaturing nutrients, damaging their healthy fats, and lead to the formation of a harmful substance called acrylamide. And once pasteurized or roasted, nuts and seeds cannot be properly soaked, if at all.
For optimal health and nutrition, consume nuts and seeds in their natural raw forms and soaked or sprouted.
The general method for soaking nuts and seeds is simply to place the desired amount in plenty of water for a specified amount of time.
The amount of soaking time is not based on any hard rule, but rather on simple and direct observation and changes in the seed’s appearance and texture. In general, it is better to soak nuts and seeds for some time, even if it is not enough than not soak them at all. Soft nuts, like cashews, and more oily nuts, like walnuts, require less soaking time than hard nuts, like almonds, and less oily nuts, like pistachios. For simplicity’s sake, you can soak any nut or seed overnight, or for as little as 2 hours to get some benefits, and even well beyond 12 hours. If you are soaking for long periods of time, such as more than 12 hours, just be sure to change the water at least once in every 12-hour cycle and rinse the nuts or seeds well before putting them back into fresh water. Whenever you finish soaking any nut or seed and are ready to eat it or use it in your meals, likewise, be sure to rinse them well.
Here are some general soaking time guidelines for the most common nuts and seeds:
- Almonds ~ 8 to 12 hours
- Brazil Nuts ~ 4 to 6 hours
- Cashews ~ 2 to 4 hours
- Hazelnuts ~ 8 - 12 hours
- Macadamia Nuts ~ 6 to 8 hours
- Pecans ~ 4 to 6 hours
- Pistachios ~ 8 to 12 hours
- Pumpkin Seeds ~ 6 to 8 hours
- Sesame Seeds ~ 6 to 8 hours
- Walnuts ~ 4 to 6 hours
While it is a good idea to soak all or most of your nuts and seeds, there exist some exceptions that are either not ideal for soaking or not needing to be soaked as much, if at all.
Chia Seeds: If they are exposed to water, these tiny seeds will gel and get slimy. For this reason, they are not an ideal seed to soak if one intends to eat them “as is” afterward. However, chia seeds are so small that they are not ideal to be eaten “as is” ever. Some people put them on their salads or into oatmeal bowls or similar meals, but this is not a good way to eat them. They are hard to chew fully being so small, they easily get stuck between teeth and are even harder to chew properly if soaked and slimy. The best way to eat chia seeds is in blended forms, most specifically as part of green smoothies. This allows the blender to do the breaking down of the seed for optimal use and digestion, that is assuming one is using a high-powered blender, like a Vitamix, Blendtec, Ninja Auto-iQ, or even NutriBullet Pro.
Chia seeds can also be blended to make yogurt-like and pudding-like treats and used as part of vegan crepe or pancake batter or any batter for gluten-free baked goods, like cornbread, as they act like egg replacers to hold the dough together. For blended purposes, it is completely fine and possible to soak the chia seeds, as the sliminess will not be an issue in blended form, but it is not as necessary. Do keep in mind though, that these seeds can soak up a lot of water in their dry form. For this reason, any meals made with them should have extra water so that they do not become too thick in consistency and it is best to eat them fresh and not store wet meals with chia seeds for long periods of time, unless of course, you are seeking a thickened product. Also, it is essential to drink enough water daily if these are a regular part of your diet. Other than that, if you attempt to eat them whole, and not blended, whether dry or soaked, it is essential to try to chew them fully and properly.
- Flax Seeds: These are very similar to chia seeds, although they won’t gel as much as chia seeds. Due to their very small size, potential sliminess, and tough outer coat that must be chewed for the seed to be properly digested, it is also best to use flax seeds only in blended or ground forms and for similar meal uses as the chia seeds mentioned above.
- Hemp Seeds: These are very soft and oily seeds and do not require soaking or benefit from it as much as other seeds or nuts. They can still be soaked if one chooses to do so, and would only require about 2 to 4 hours of soaking.
- Peanuts: These are technically a legume and not a nut or seed, but they are most commonly used like nuts and seeds in our meals. Given that peanuts are so prevalent and that there are risks associated with them, like aflatoxins, it is rare to find peanuts sold commercially in raw forms. Nearly all peanuts, whether whole or made into peanut butter, are roasted commercially beforehand. For this reason, we wouldn’t be concerned with soaking them. However, if a person sources high-quality raw peanuts, then like all nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, they should be soaked for several hours for most benefits and least harm.
Other Nut and Seed Soaking Considerations
- Some people add some salt or various kinds of vinegar to the water when they soak their nuts or seeds, which is fine and can further enhance some of the digestion benefits for those with very sensitive digestive systems.
- Most soaked nuts and seeds can be eaten “as is” providing a softer and creamier texture and consistency.
- Soaked nuts and seeds make outstanding creamy sauces that can be used on or as part of all kinds of meals.
- Soaked nuts and seeds need to be stored in the fridge, in sealed containers, and will typically last well for several days, some up to a week.
- To prolong the shelf-life of soaked nuts and seeds or to bring back their drier and crunchier texture, they need to be dehydrated using a dehydrator at low temperatures that do not destroy or denature their nutrient compositions.
Related Resources on This Topic
- What is the benefit of soaking foods like grains and beans? — Evolving Wellness
- Understanding Sprouts: Supreme Nutrition & Life Energy — Evolving Wellness
- The Science of Soaking — Whole Harmony
- Soaking Nuts, Seeds, and Grains — The Blender Girl