Soaking Grains, Beans, Nuts & Seeds To Decrease Phytates & Other Antinutrients

Photo of Sharol Tilgner
Remove anti-nutrients in seed foods by soaking and sprouting.

Why You Should Soak and Sprout All Foods Considered To Be A Seed

Soaking and sprouting whole grains, beans, nuts and other seeds, lowers antinutrients in food such as phytate, enzyme inhibitors and lectins. This allows you to get rid of substances that are harmful to your health.  These antinutrients protect the seed, regulate sprouting of the seed, and control the initial growth of the seed.  They are in all seeds waiting for the right conditions to come along, which is the presence of water, warmth and slight acidity such as found during fermentation. Therefore, soaking, or fermentation can decrease or remove phytates, enzyme inhibitors and lectins. Cooking is also helpful. Although, there are a variety of seed foods, we are focusing on grains here and specifically using the example of brown rice. Soaking of other seeds is very similar.

The Seed Foods

Any food you eat that could be planted, and would grow a new plant is considered a seed. All of these seeds will contain anti-nutrients.

All Grains Are Treated Similar, But With Slight Differences

Every whole grain will need a slightly different approach as far as how long you soak them. However, the basic directions given below can be used for the various grains. These directions are for whole grains.

Soaking/Sprouting/Fermenting Brown Rice As An Example

I am going to tell you how to soak brown rice, since it is the most common grain many health conscious folks eat.

The first time you soak your grain, you will be creating a soaking solution. So, do not throw out the water after soaking.

Soak brown rice in spring water, clean well water, rain water, or filtered water for 36-48 hours, at room temperature. without changing the water. If it is hotter, it might take less time, and if colder, it might take more time.

Reserve 10% or more of the soaking liquid. Put it in a jar with a lid and it should keep for a long time in the refrigerator. Clean the rice with fresh, clean water and you can use it now. Discard the rest of the soaking liquid other than what you save in the refrigerator and cook the rice in fresh water.

The next time you make brown rice or another grain, use the same procedure as above, but add the soaking liquid you reserved from the last batch of soaking liquid to the rice, and then add additional water as needed. It should take only 24 hours for the process subsequent times.

How You Know It Is Working

You will note a sour smell, and see bubbles forming in the water. This is because you are fermenting the grains. The bubbles are being made by the growth and metabolism of lactic bacteria, and they create a sour smell as they ferment. You will know all is well if there is a slight sour smell. If you start to smell a sulfur smell, that means sulfur producing bacteria are growing, and you don't want them. It means it fermented too long. Just rinse off the rice and throw that water out. You will need to throw out your starter liquid if the sulfur smell is more than mild, but you can usually still use the grains after washing them off. You will get this sulfur smell if you let the grain sit too long in the water. A very mild smell of sulfur is okay as long as it does not grow stronger.

Letting The Grain Sprout More

After a normal ferment of the grain, and after you wash off the grain, you can let it sit a little longer letting it sprout a bit more on the counter. When I have a good starter, I get the fermentation done in 24 hours and I don't let it sit longer than 36-48 hours on the counter after I have removed the soaking liquid and rinsed it. If I do let it sprout more on the counter, I make sure I put a paper towel over it to keep it from getting too dry or have any bugs get into it. A paper towel and a rubber band work great. It will also need an additional rinse after this sprouting period.

Soak, Save Liquid, Rinse And Repeat

Repeat this process each time you make a grain dish. Yes, you do have to think ahead and plan your meals. The great thing about using this fermentation starter is that once you have done it a couple times, the starter water makes the process go quickly. You might have to wait two days the first time if you want to see appropriate bacterial action. However, the bacteria will build up even if you only soak it 24 hours each time on the first couple of ferments. By the third time there should be enough bacteria in the soaking liquid to decrease the process to 24 hours or less. Most of the phytic acid is degraded in 24 hours when the starter is healthy and working well.

Soaking Beans

Soaking beans will also lower their phytate, enzyme inhibitors and lectin content. To be honest I think plain water works fine for beans. Soaking liquid is really for fermentation, and the beans actually sprout without fermenting.  I usually soak them for 24 hours, pour off the water and allow them to sit for an additional 24-48 hours until they sprout.  I cook them until soft and that usually takes care of most of the anti-nutrients in the majority of beans.

Some people ferment beans after cooking them. I will warn you it is a lot of work and takes time.  They soak them, cook them until very soft, and then when the starches are broken down, they ferment them by adding whey from yogurt or another fermented product (could use your soaking liquid). You need to break the skin by mashing them after adding the starter. You can flavor them with herbs and spices if you wish. A crock is a good vessel to use for this process. The vessel is sealed in such a  way that air can escape but oxygen is mostly occluded from the beans.  Read the book "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Katz if you are not sure how to do a proper fermentation as the beans do need a proper fermentation as they won't ferment prior to cooking as the grains will. In this book, there is a recipe for making Miso from beans.


Soaking/Fermentation Activity Activates Phytase

The fermentation acidifies the soaking medium, which activates the phytase (phytic acid-degrading enzyme) already present in the rice; and it also cultivates microorganisms that produce their own phytase. I would guess the latter factor is the more important one, because brown rice doesn't contain much phytase.

Soaking/Fermentation Uses Up Enzyme Inhibitors

These inhibitors are in seeds to keep them from sprouting until the time is right. When the right conditions arise, those enzymes go into action and are used up. The right conditions are warmth, moisture and a slight acidity. These conditions are met during soaking/fermentation of any food that is a seed.

Soaking/Fermentation And Lectins

There is data suggesting that lectins are also inactivated by soaking, sprouting, cooking (high temps like boiling) and fermenting.


I don't soak my own nuts, as I don't currently have a dryer set up for the process. However, I have in the past, and it takes more work, and patience than soaking grains or beans. You need to be careful during the drying process that you do not dry them at too high a temperature, and that you dry them thoroughly or they will grow mold. I do purchase nuts that are soaked/partially sprouted. Besides being healthier, they are sweeter and crunchier. Make sure they are organic and properly dried at low


Beans are especially high in lectins. Kidney beans are more of a problem than the rest. Kidney beans contain a high level of a very toxic and immunogenic agglutinin called phytohaemagglutinin. They need to be carefully cooked until well done. Boiling or pressure cooking is suggested for kidney beans. Soybean agglutinin (soybean lectin) and concanavalin (an agglutinin in jack beans, which are often used in animal feeds) have been shown to increase epithelial permeability in the digestive tract, much as wheat germ agglutinin does.

Sourdough Bread

The fermentation process of sourdough bread ellimnates most if not all phytates, neutralizes enzyme inhibitors and decreases lectins.

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