There are many reasons why it is a good idea to soak nuts before eating them and it’s not just because they taste far better afterwards. Traditional cultures always soaked their nuts and seeds in sea water and then dried them in the sun. This wasn’t a ritual, it was a sensible way to ensure proper digestion and utilisation of the foods.
Nuts and seeds (and grains and pulses) contain predator protection so that they can survive until there are proper growing conditions. These are toxic substances and enzyme inhibitors which deter preying bugs and animals and help keep the nut safe. When it rains, the nut or seed can germinate and these defences are broken down to allow the plant to grow. So that’s what happens when you soak nuts overnight, you’re essentially tricking them into thinking they’re growing which disarms toxins and activates enzymes and nutrients to support the growing plant. The process is known as ‘activating’ nuts.
Do you ever feel a funny feeling in your stomach after eating too many nuts, or see undigested particles in your stool? These are all indications that you’re not digesting them properly.
Nuts contain anti-nutrients called phytates which combine with minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc in the digestive tract and block their absorption. This is why you often see mineral deficiencies and bone problems in vegetarians or cultures where diets are high in legumes, grains, nuts and seeds – all of these foods have high levels of phytates.
Soaking (or activating) neutralises most of the phytates and enzyme inhibitors and encourages the production of beneficial enzymes that increase the nutrient content of the nut, particularly B vitamins. Soaking also improves the protein content as the seed starts to germinate.
One thing to add, it’s only when nuts and seeds become the dominant daily food source that potential mineral deficiencies appear and the odd strain on digestion from the enzyme inhibitors is also not a problem unless you have digestive issues. So although it is far better to soak nuts, both for taste and health, I do still eat them raw sometimes from sheer laziness. But do give it a try, you’ll be surprised how sweet they taste.
How to activate nuts and seeds
You may have seen rows of ‘activated nuts’ appearing in health shops. These are selling at crazy prices when the process is so simple. It takes about ten minutes in total of preparation time although the actual soaking and dehydrating process is lengthy.
The basic method is the same for all nuts and seeds with a few exceptions (such as flax and chia seeds which absorb all the water). You just need water and a glass jar or bowl.
- Rinse the nuts and place in a jar or bowl. Add water to about an inch above the nuts. Add about 1tsp sea salt (optional). Cover and leave to soak for at least 7 hours (I leave mine overnight). For best results discard the water after a few hours and replace with fresh water.
- Drain the nuts in a colander and rinse well. They can be eaten or used for making nut milks or butter in this state. Alternatively you can dry the nuts out.
A dehydrator is top of my kitchen gadgets wish-list. Not only does it dehydrate nuts perfectly, it’s great for making dried fruit snacks, vegetable ‘chips’ and seed crackers. But, for the time being I’m using my oven where the only catch is the oven is out of action whilst dehydrating. Alternatively you can leave the nuts to dry out in the oven overnight at a low temperature.
If your oven won’t go as low as 115 degrees, you can regularly open the oven door to lower the temp, or leave it slightly open. I’ve done some research on energy costs after a few arguments with my partner over my latest obsession with dehydrating. It’s surprisingly cheap and costs about 20p an hour.
Spread the nuts on a baking sheet or dehydrator and place in a warm oven (no higher than 115 degrees to protect the nutrients and stop the healthy oils becoming rancid). Dry the nuts for at least 4 hours – the time will depend on the nut or seed size. If they aren’t totally dry, they are still delicious but will need to be consumed within 3 days to prevent mould forming. Activated nuts which are fully dried out will last as long as ‘normal’ nuts.
Once dehydrated, keep the nuts in the fridge or freezer if possible to protect the oils and if they aren’t fully dry, do not put a lid on them as if all the moisture has not been removed they’ll go mouldy.
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