What happens when nuts are soaked?
Unsoaked, nuts contain enzyme inhibitors. These are what allow nuts in the ground to stay dormant, ie keep from sprouting, until the conditions are right for growth. When the climate is right, the nut germinates; it sprouts, as the first stage of the process towards becoming a tree.
Soaking the nuts that find their way into our homes makes them think it's a showery April - the enzyme inhibitors are released, the enzymes are activated, and...the nut comes to life! Although we don't usually need them to sprout as such, the changes that do occur with soaking are beneficial.
BENEFITS OF SOAKING NUTS
Enzymes and nutrients increase
The enzymes that are activated reduce the burden on our own digestive system enzymes, thus giving our bodies more energy for other things. Also,when the enzymes are activated, great things happen! Vitamin content increases, proteins break down into amino acids, fats into fatty acids, and starches into sugars, which is all good news for our bodies - saving them the work!
The nuts become softer
Chewing is an essential stage of digestion, but dry nuts can be hard work for the mouth. We tend not to chew for long enough, and hard nuts can feel uncomfortable in our stomachs. Soaking softens them.
Also, it is much easier to blend nuts with water, eg to make almond milk, after they have been soaked and softened, which is good news for the (many) raw fooders who don't own a Vitamix or similar.
Water content increases
The nuts absorb water as they soak. This brings them closer to their natural, fresh state. So soaked nuts will increase the water content of your meal.
Also, as they soak, they increase in volume. So you get more (in a way!).
HOW TO SOAK NUTS
Soak nuts in about double their volume of water (filtered). In the summer cover the bowl with something to keep insects off, eg netting, or a stocking.
Some say that the nuts that float to the top are rancid. I'm not so sure...most times when I soak walnuts and almonds (bought from a reputable source), significant quantities rise to the top. I don't find they taste rancid, and in fact find no difference in taste between the sinkers and floaters. I think it likely that the floaters are less fresh, but I'd waste a lot if I threw them out each time...I'll leave that one with you!
After soaking, the nuts must be drained, rinsed thoroughly, then drained again. Don't use the soaking water for anything else as it contains the enzyme inhibitors. Once rinsed and drained, either use, or refrigerate; the nuts should keep for 2-3 days.
HOW LONG SHOULD NUTS BE SOAKED?
In general, the harder, denser and thicker-skinned the nut, the longer the soak needed. I've studied various sources, averaging out, and suggest the following soaking periods:
- Almonds and hazelnuts: 8-10 hours
- Walnuts and brazils: 3-4 hours
- Macadamias, cashews and pine 'nuts' (seeds): 1-2 hours
What if the recipe doesn't say 'soak'? Should we not soak in those circumstances?
Check the front of the recipe book to see if the writer has issued a general directive, ie to save themselves writing 'soak' on every recipe. Having said that, occasionally raw food writers will use nuts dry. This can mean either not soaked at all, or soaked and dried.
In these circumstances, I recommend soaking the nuts as usual, but dry them afterwards. This means drying them just on the outside, at a low temperature for a very short time, as we don't want to reverse all the good things that have happened during soaking. Either dry with a cloth and leave at room temperature, or blow a little air on them by using a dehydrator at 95-105 F - I've just dried some soaked almonds, and it took 45 minutes only.
So what if there's no time to soak?
For the reasons above, I believe, and many raw fooders do, that nuts should always be soaked for optimal health. But does everyone soak their nuts, all the time? No. Some raw fooders don't soak their nuts, all the time, or indeed any of the time! Some raw food leaders (although they would appear to be in the minority) don't generally soak their nuts. Many people in the raw food world, including myself, use nuts dry occasionally, but this is definitely the exception rather than the rule.
But first, a crumb of comfort...if you're new to raw food, you might be (as I was in the early months) feeling frustrated at the number of times you come across a recipe you'd like to try, only to find it should have been started yesterday...But, in time, you will gradually change your food preparation routines. Whereas, in the old life, you might have thought, before leaving for work, 'Do I need to get anything out of the freezer?' you will start to think, 'Must put the almonds in soak.' Or, if you've just been shopping and collected all the ingredients for a meal to make later, instead of putting the nuts in the cupboard, you'll put them into soak. It does get easier!
And, secondly, a little soaking is better than nothing. If there's no time to soak properly, try to soak for at least half an hour. And remember that if you are using nuts dry and the recipe says soaked you may have to compensate for the loss of water by increasing any liquid in the recipe, or high-water foods such as tomato.
Ultimately, you'll need to decide, if time is short, whether to use the nuts unsoaked or not, and whether the loss of benefits from soaking is outweighed by other considerations. I'd advise never to use nuts unsoaked if preparing food for others, but if they're just for you...? Three tips for when eating unsoaked nuts: 1) Chew well 2) Eat in moderation (no more than a handful) 3) (from David Wolfe 'Sunfood Diet Success System') Eat 'dormant' nuts with green leaves to help along the digestion, otherwise they may 'sit heavy in the stomach'!