If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you probably remember me talking quite a bit about anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients are found in many plant sources, although in larger amounts in seed foods. And since grains, nuts and legumes are all essentially seeds of their respective plants, they harbor high levels of these substances and must be properly prepared to reduce them. In the Real Food world, properly prepared nuts are generally referred to as “crispy nuts,” after Sally Fallon’s term used in Nourishing Traditions. Here I’ll share how I prepare crispy nuts in our house, along with providing some sources for already-prepared nuts and seeds.
What’s the Problem with Anti-Nutrients?
Anti-nutrients are substances found in some plants that, while serving a purpose for the plant, prevent the proper absorption of nutrients when that plant is ingested by humans. The most common anti-nutrient, found in grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, is phytic acid. Phytic acid reduces the absorption of important minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, and reduces the digestibility of protein. And not just in the food containing the phytic acid, but in whatever is eaten with it. It is also a prime cause of tooth decay.
Although Real Foodies tend to focus on phytic acid, there are other anti-nutrients, such enzyme inhibitors (which can inhibit digestion and put stress on the pancreas), tannins (which are irritating to the digestive system), complex sugars (which cannot be broken down by your body), gluten and other hard-to-digest proteins (which have been linked to allergies, digestive disorders and even mental illness) and others.
How Can Anti-Nutrients Be Reduced?
As discussed in previous posts on anti-nutrients, there are three main ways in which to reduce anti-nutrients: soaking, sprouting or souring (fermenting). Different methods work better for different foods, both in terms of effectiveness and taste. While Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions has long been the standard bearer of traditional food preparation, more recent research by Rami Nagel and Dr. Amanda Rose have helped to clarify the very best methods for anti-nutrient reduction (and new research is emerging all the time).
A few things to mention before we get started: There is more research into preparation methods for grains and legumes than nuts and seeds, as nuts and seeds are traditionally a much smaller part of the diet. However, with so many grain-free diet choices and the prevalence of gluten allergies, healthy eaters are using nuts and seeds more than ever, and they are making up an increasingly larger part of many diets. This makes proper preparation all the more important.
With that said, the process you choose must be doable for you. (That is why I particularly love Dr. Rose’s white paper on phytic acid.) I’ve really tried to focus on doing this in a way that doesn’t stress me out or impact my life too greatly. My process fits right in with other things I’m doing in the kitchen, and results in delicious tasting crispy nuts. Don’t focus on doing things the perfect way, or on reducing 99.99% of the phytic acid and ending up with a sour, mushy nut no one wants to eat, OK?
Choosing Your Nuts
Before we get into what to do with them, we first want to make sure that you have healthy, raw nuts.
Raw nuts are nuts that haven’t been subjected to high temperatures or chemical processing for either pasteurization or skin removal. Raw nuts are higher in natural nutrients than processed nuts, and are also rich in enzymes. Recent studies show that high-temperature heating of nuts (especially almonds) creates potentially harmful levels of acrylamides as a byproduct of the amino acid asparagine. Acrylamides have been shown to cause cancer in animals and are strongly believed to be carcinogenic in humans. Further, high temperature processing causes the healthy fats in nuts to get broken down into free radicals. These free radicals can cause a reaction called lipid peroxidation which can injure the walls of blood vessels and increase the risk of heart disease. So raw is the way to go.
But, as often happens, things are not always as they seem. Just seeing “raw” on the label does not necessarily mean that the nuts are raw. Since 2007, almonds here in the U.S. need to be pasteurized, but can still be labeled “raw.” There are two main methods of almond pasteurization: steam processing and fumigation with propylene oxide (PPO). (The less common methods for pasteurization are high heat treatment (roasting) and blanching.) PPO fumigation is highly toxic; Check out this hazard summary from the EPA. Organic almonds, however are pasteurized using steam processing, and these are your best bet if you don’t have access to truly raw almonds.
So what are truly raw almonds? Here in the US, only imported almonds can be truly raw. The package will normally say both “raw” and “unpasteurized.” Most often, these almonds come from Italy. (“Italian almonds” is generally synonymous with unpasteurized almonds.)
I compare prices each time I buy, but I generally buy my nuts in bulk through either Live Superfoods or Amazon (raw organic Italian almonds, raw organic cashews, raw organic pecans, raw organic walnuts).
How to Soak Nuts and Seeds
(I’m going to confess from the beginning, I don’t soak my seeds. We use them much less than nuts, and so I purchase them already prepared (see below). However, the process is the same.)
OK, now start paying close attention because it’s about to get pretty technical:
Place the nuts in a large bowl.
Cover with warm filtered water to soak.
After a while, drain the nuts.
Dry them in a dehydrator or your oven.
Boom – done.
See? It’s pretty easy, with virtually no hands-on time. You can definitely fit this into your routine. Now, let me give you some more specifics:
1 ) I try to do large batches of nuts at once. In my my 9-tray dehydrator, I can do between six and nine pounds of nuts at a time. Usually I’ll do a mix of cashews, pecans and almonds (about two pounds each) and two trays’ worth of soaked nut granola (see picture above).
2 ) Cover your nuts well with warm filtered water as they will absorb quite a bit of it during soaking. You will need almost twice the nut volume in water. (My water is pretty cold right out of the filter, so I combine it with heated filtered water, using my electric kettle.)
3 ) Adding sea salt to your soaking water is optional. Newer research shows it does not affect anti-nutrient reduction, as once thought, but it does add a salty taste. For each pound of nuts, I add between two and three teaspoons of salt to the soaking water. You can also add other seasonings (cayenne, curry, garlic powder, etc.) to the soaking water, or sprinkle over the drained nuts/ seeds before dehydrating.
4 ) Since it’s absolutely freezing here in Northern Virginia, I put my soaking bowls in my oven, with the light on and door ajar. This keeps them at a warm enough temperture.
5 ) There are differing opinions on the amount of soaking time needed. Nourishing Traditions recommends seven hours while Rami Nagel suggests much longer soaks, and there are nut-specific charts all over the internet. I, like Dr. Rose, do what works for me. Whatever the nut I’m soaking, I start it in the morning and rinse and put it in the dehydrator later that evening. My soaks are usually between seven and twelve hours.
6 ) Dr. Rose slightly grinds her nuts in her food processor before soaking, particularly if she’ll be making nut-butter with them. This increases the surface area for soaking, and allows them to dry much quicker. My opinion? Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that.
7 ) If you have a dehydrator, dry your nuts under 120 degrees to preserve the living enzymes. If your oven temperature goes that low, you can use that as well. Either way, make sure to spread the nuts on trays in a single layer. Depending on the kind and amount of nuts you have, ambient temperature and a couple of other factors, dehydrating time should be between 12 and 24 hours. Taste testing is the best method; They are done when they kind of pop or crumble in your mouth.
8 ) If you don’t have a dehydrator or a low-temp oven, you can still dry the nuts in your oven. The difference is that you will lose the benefit of live enzymes, but the soaking process is still beneficial. Just use the lowest temperature you can. (Acrylamide formation doesn’t begin to occur until temperatures rise above 240 degrees, and free radicals generally don’t form until temperatures go above 170 degrees.)
9 ) Store your crispy nuts (or seeds) in glass jars or other air-tight containers. Many sources recommend refrigerating walnuts, although I do not.
Special Consideration for Seeds: Seeds generally will not need as long a soaking or drying time. Soaking does not work very well for tiny seeds as they tend to get mushy quickly. Dr. Rose recommends simply toasting sesame and sunflower seeds (although I have successfully soaked sunflower seeds). Stick to moderate temperatures.
Another Option: Sprouting Nuts & Seeds
I don’t have much experience with sprouting (or germinating) nuts myself (unless you count when I inadvertently did it by forgetting about nuts that I left soaking…). This is a very effective method, however. From Dr. Rose’s white paper:
Soak overnight, drain soaking water, rinse nuts or seeds, sprout in sprouting environment for two days or more. Before the shoots get longer than you desire, dry them out in your oven for about 24 hours for a good crunch, or let them continue to germinate and use them as sprouts.
This eHow article goes into a bit more detail and gives an example of a “sprouting environment.”
Don’t Want to Do it Yourself?
Thankfully, there are some small companies that properly prepare nuts and seeds that you can purchase. Yes, these certainly tend to be more pricey. Look at your budget, determine what your time and energy are worth, and then choose which things make sense to do at home, and which to pay for.
1 ) Go Raw
I love their sprouted seeds. We always have their sprouted sunflower seeds, sprouted pumpkin seeds, and simple seed mix in our pantry. They also have all manner of raw, sprouted “treats,” including granola (my Little loves their chocolate variety), bars (banana bread flax = YUM), super cookies and more. Check out their product line here. Oh, and it’s all organic! (Just about every one of their products is Whole Life Challenge compliant. WLChallengers: Check out the pizza flax snax. You can thank me later.)
2 ) Blue Mountain Organics/ Better Than Roasted
This is a fantastic company. I’ll talk about them again in my next post on healthy nut-butters. In the meantime, you can find their selection of sprouted organic nuts and seeds here.
3 ) Wilderness Family Naturals
Not to sound redundant but… I also love this family-owned company. Find their selection of soaked and dehydrated organic nuts here on Amazon, and a larger selection of nuts and seeds here. (Note: WFN chooses to stock steam-pasteurized California almonds instead of importing raw. Read why here.)
4 ) JoshEWEa’s Garden
Um… Love this family-owned company, too. They are the nicest, nicest people, and I’ll be recommending more of their products in future posts. For now, find their offerings of sprouted and soaked nuts here.
5 ) Your Local Farmer?
Check with your local farmers! I am able to buy soaked and dehydrated nuts and some seeds from my farmer.
Peanuts, despite their name, are actually legumes and not nuts. However, for purposes of soaking, they are treated like nuts. Although I wrote this post ages ago about making homemade peanut butter, I actually avoid peanuts for the most part now. After more research, I’ve found the aflatoxin issue that I mention in that article to be a greater concern. Plus I think my Paleo friends are rubbing off on me . (As legumes, peanuts are not part of a Paleo diet.)
Nut-butters, Nut Flours and Nut Milks
Don’t worry, they’re going to get their very own post soon!
Do you soak your nuts? Will you give it a shot this week?
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