Soak your beans? Why and how

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Published: 04th January 2011
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On their face, legumes appear to be rich in minerals. However, you are absorbing only about half of the mineral content of your legumes that you could be if you are no soaking them. If beans make up a large part of your diet, there is a real easy way to increase your absorption of these minerals. Soak your legumes overnight in very warm water (140 degrees Fahrenheit to start) to reduce the mineral inhibitors in your beans. You may increase your absorption of minerals in those legumes by 50-100%.

Legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds have phytic acid. The phytic acid level varies across these food groups and within the groups. Higher levels of phytic acid is bad from a mineral digestion point of view. Soybeans as a class are very high in phytates as are peanuts. The rest of the legume world varies but all have phytic acid and should be prepared properly to give your body the maximum nutrients they offer.

In many phytic acid foods, cooking along will reduce the phytic acid levels, but relying on cooking phytic acid out of beans is not effective. A 1980 study of phytic acid levels in three cooked beans, kidney beans retained 92% of their phytic acid after cooking, black eyed peas retained 87%, and mung beans retained 64%.

Some people germinate their beans to reduce phytic acid they soak them and then let them sprout until they form little tails. Sprouting increases the vitamin content and, to some degree, it reduces the phytic acid levels. A second study showed that after five days of sprouting, chick peas maintained about 60% of their phytic acid content and lentils retained about 50% of their original phytic acid content. Cooking on top of germination will reduce the content further but if your main aim is to eat chili beans rather than bean sprouts, there is an easier and more effective method.

Soak your beans

Most of our grandmas soaked their beans so that they would cook much more quickly. It saved her cooking time and, unbeknownst to her, it increased her mineral absorption because it reduced the phytic acid content.

In another study, after 18 hours of soaking, great northern beans maintained 30% of their original phytic acid content, pinto beans 47% and kidney beans 48%. These results are better than cooking and germination and there should be added phytate loss in cooking these soaked legumes. However, we can do even better.

Soak your beans in very warm water

One study soaked California small white beans for three hours at various temperatures. Temperatures too hot or too cold were not very effective at reducing phytates. The most effective soaking temperature was 140 Fahrenheit.

Keep in mind that the temperature study soaked the beans for only three hours. Soaking longer and at a higher temperature is your best strategy.

Recommended soaking method

Warm your water in a kettle and combine boiling water with your filtered or tap water. Cover the beans with water and put them in a warm place. Consider soaking your beans in the morning on the day before you plan to cook them. As they absorb water, I add more warm water. Do not worry too much about achieving or maintaining 140 Fahrenheit, just give the beans plenty of time to soak in warm water. In fact, we have heard field reports that keeping beans too warm for too long leads to an unwanted "funky factor."

After soaking, rinse the beans and cook them according to the recipe. They will cook much more quickly than a recipe that starts with beans that are not soaked.

Amanda Rose, Ph.D., offers a Phytic Acid White Paper on tips and tricks to reduce phytic acid levels in your diet, including phytic acid in nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Watch her video on the benefits and risks of phytic acid.

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