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That's Nuts! A Complete Guide to Soaking Nuts and Seeds

Whether you eat them by the handful, flick them into your mouth one by one, or blend them up into smooth, sweet butters- nuts and seeds are undeniably delicious.  Beloved by many, these tasty little superfoods make powerful and convenient additions to nearly any type of diet. However, what often goes unrealized, is that nuts and seeds can be quite problematic and troublesome to digest when not cared for and prepared properly. Using questions from readers, I have pulled together this comprehensive guide for soaking nuts and seeds. Don't miss out on the proteins, minerals and healthy fats that these crunchy tidbits have to offer!

soaked nuts

What's wrong with raw nuts and seeds?

Raw nuts, and even more so raw seeds, have notable levels of phytic acid, a form of bound phosphorous, which serves as a physiological protectant and antioxidant for plants. While phytic acid is useful to safeguard the seeds until germination, when eaten by humans it binds to minerals in the gastrointestinal tract, causing irritation and contributing to the potential for nutrient deficiencies. Some animals naturally produce adequate amounts of the enzyme phytase to breakdown this vexing anti-nutrient, however humans do not, causing phytate-heavy diets to be troublesome. Raw nuts also contain a significant amount of enzyme inhibitors, which act to prevent the nut or seed from sprouting prematurely in nature. Yet these enzyme inhibitors can also bind up minerals and and cause digestive strain for nut-munching humans. Most statements extolling the health benefits of raw nuts and seeds are inaccurate as they fail to take into account the fact that many of the nutrients they contain cannot be properly assimilated in their raw form.

Why does soaking help?

The phytates and enzyme inhibitors that make nuts and seeds so tricky to digest can be easily neutralized by soaking in salt water and low temperature dehydrating. The combination of minerals and heat works to break down irritating compounds, while preserving the beneficial fats and proteins. Many traditional cultures intuitively practiced these preparation methods using seawater and the sun, and passed this knowledge down through generations. The tools and techniques of modern science have unabled us to see in an even more detailed way, just how profoundly soaking increases the bioavailability of important nutrients (notably the treasured B vitamins) and activates helpful enzymes that increase nutrient absorption. Unfortunately, this tedious process is cumbersome and costly for large-scale manufacturers, and has been largely lost amidst the packaged convenience foods available today.

How do I soak raw nuts and seeds?

As strange as it initially sounds, soaking nuts and seeds is not difficult. Luckily the process of soaking is essentially the same for whatever type of nut or seed you chose to prepare, although the timing varies slightly to accommodate for differences in fat composition, size, texture, etc. Essentially, the steps go something like this:

1. Measure out 4 cups of raw, unsalted, organic nuts/seeds into a medium sized bowl

2. Cover with filtered water so that nuts are submerged

3. Add 1-2 tablespoons unrefined salt

4. Allow to stand covered on the counter for about 7 hours, or overnight

5. Rinse nuts to remove salt residue and spread out in single layer on a rack to dehydrate.

6. Dry at a low temperature (generally no higher than 150°F, although there are exceptions) in dehydrator or oven for 12-24 hours or until nuts are slightly crispy.

These steps are adapted from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. If you want more information on this and other traditional food topics, I highly recommend getting a copy of her book. Also, see the pretty guide below for specifics regarding popular nut/seed varieties:

soakingnutsseedsfinal

Do all types of nuts and seeds need to be soaked?

This question is a controversial one, as people have different opinions, traditions and information to support their claims on whether to soak or not. I won't pretend to have all the answers, but in my experience and based on the research I have read, the above nuts stand up well to soaking, while other varieties of nuts and seeds just don't. For example, flax seeds turn into a mucilaginous goo in water, and brazil nuts don't always soak well due to their high fat content. Peanuts can also be soaked, however I didn't include them as they should be consumed sparingly due to inflammatory and allergenic potential. 

What about sprouting?

The practice of sprouting takes things even a step past soaking. By completing several cycles of soaking, rinsing, draining and air exposure over a 1-4 period, certain seeds will enter a state of germination in which physical sprouts actually appear. This extent of germination is highly beneficial as it not only reduces enzyme inhibitors, but increases the healthy enzyme content six fold. Sprouting is not possible with all varieties of nuts however, ands occurs far more readily in seeds, legumes and grains. Raw and nonirradiated pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds are all good candidates for the sprouting process. If you are up for the slightly more involved procedure of sprouting, which I haven't covered in this post, I recommended reading pages 114-115 of Nourishing Traditions.

Does everyone need to soak their nuts and seeds?

As much as I would like to jot down an exuberant "yes, of course!" here and move on from this question, I realize that things aren't always that simple. Soaking nuts can be time consuming, and it is important to know that the process is worth investing in. Apart from all of the scientific jargon and historical tales offering sing-songy praise to soaked nuts, it is really personal experience that will help you to decide if this method is helpful to you. And I can't help but add that I have a feeling it will be.

Generally, a robust and healthy digestive system can tolerate a certain amount of phytic acid and a varied diet will compensate for the actions of enzyme inhibitors without a problem. However, if you consume many high-phytate foods or use a lot of nut flours or legumes in cooking, then soaking will prove very useful. Many individuals don't even realize that they have trouble digesting raw nuts until they have nibbled up a handful of properly prepared ones. Plus, it becomes hard to resist the amplified taste and crispy texture that soaked nuts and seeds take on; but that is beside the point.

The following questions will help you decide if soaking nuts is worth a try:

- Do you ever experience low belly pain after eating nuts, seeds or foods that contain them?

- Do you ever notice pieces of nuts in your stool the day after eating them?

- Do you eat a significant amount of phytate containing foods- such as grains, beans, nuts and seeds?

- Do you struggle to consume enough minerals and B-vitamins in your diet?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you will likely benefit from soaking and drying nuts prior to chomping on 'em.

Are roasted nuts okay?

Roasted nuts are not the same as gently soaked nuts. Although their warm, smoky flavor may seem appealing, commercially roasted nuts are flash-fried in cheap, rancid oils, while dry roasted nuts are exposed to exceedingly high temperatures that denature the nutrients and cause the breakdown of fats, increasing free radical capacity. As you can see, the soaking process is much more careful, involving no weird chemicals or destructive heat shocks.

Are organic nuts always better?

As with most fresh food items, organic nuts are preferable to minimize pesticide risk and to support a framework of sustainable agricultural. Yet unfortunately less than 1% of U.S. tree nut farmland is certified organic, so hunting down organic nuts can be both difficult and expensive. There is largely inconsistent published data on the amount of pesticide residue present in the nuts after being hulled. Because the nuts are shelled and have a small surface area, some experts believe that they are at least partially protected from the dangers of pesticides and not of dire concern. However, others argue that nuts and seeds are apt to absorb pesticides readily due to their high oil content, and that the amount of pesticides used in nut growing has been consistently on the rise in recent years. Add to that the fact that non-organic nuts are often treated with fumigants (gases to kill bugs) after they are picked, and it is easy to see why some are wary of them.

What if I don't have a dehydrator?

It is important to dry out nuts and seeds at a low temperature in order to preserve the greatest amount of natural enzymes and fragile unsaturated fatty acids possible. 150° F is the maximum heat you would want to apply, although temperatures around 110° F are truly best. While dehydrators are ideal for the job, they can be expensive. Not to fear: if you don't have a coveted stainless steel dehydrators decorating your counter, it is certainly possible to use the oven for drying. Keep in mind that most ovens come preset with a low temperature of 175-200° F, so you may have to search for the oven manual and figure out how to down-regulate the base temperature. A stand-alone oven thermometer may be helpful for monitoring purposes.

Can I buy pre-soaked or sprouted nuts anywhere?

If you don’t want to spend time hunting down organic nuts, soaking, drying or sprouting them yourself, I recommend Better Than Roasted NutsSeeds and Nut Butters. These exquisite products begin with premium nuts and seeds that are raw, whole, and certified organic. They are then hand sorted, soaked, rinsed, and dried at a low temperature, not exceeding 108° F, to preserve the temperature-sensitive enzymes and nutrients. When possible, the nuts and seeds are also sprouted. It is rare to find such a delectable and tremendously healthy product on the market today, but wonderful to know that it does actually exist! You can find Better Than Roasted Nuts and other traditionally prepared food sources in the Weston A Price Shopping Guide.

Comments

Should we soak store bought pecans almonds? They claim to be "raw"?
Posted @ Monday, January 20, 2014 8:01 AM by Julia Beadles
Why do certain nuts and seeds require more salt during soaking? Also, what is the purpose of the salt?
Posted @ Monday, January 20, 2014 9:28 AM by JJ
Hi Julia! Yes, raw pecans and almonds from the store should be soaked and dried to increase digestibility. Even if you have enjoyed the raw varieties in the past, it is worth a try to soak them and see how you enjoy the results. 
Posted @ Monday, January 20, 2014 12:41 PM by Kayla Grossmann
Hello JJ, 
According to researchers like Sally Fallon, the salt helps activate enzymes that de-activate the enzyme inhibitors. This is similar to the method of soaking grains in an acidic solution to get rid of the phytic acid. Some nuts require a greater amount of salt due to the amounts of anti-nutrients or protective covering that they contain.
Posted @ Monday, January 20, 2014 12:47 PM by Kayla Grossmann
Hi Kayla,  
Thank you for the helpful information!
Posted @ Monday, January 20, 2014 5:38 PM by JJ
Since exposure to light and air can cause damage to many foods containing fats (oxidize), should we be concerned about purchasing shelled nuts, since they have been exposed to both oxygen and daylight?
Posted @ Tuesday, January 21, 2014 12:05 PM by Michael Vitucci
i KNEW about this need for soaking yet fed my older baby and then toddler unsoaked, ground nuts & seeds as it wasnt very much i thot. well it was a huge proportion of her protein intake, thats how much it was relatively speaking.  
she developed GI probs, diarrhea etc. i finally thot of the correlation and def saw the causation thru experimenting. she had to be completely off nuts and seeds for a month or so to tolerate them again in small amts. 
if ur going to use nuts and seeds for the protein intake in ur young child, SOAK THEM. young kids often dont like to chew meat. she didnt even like ground meat. thank god she loved/loves nut butters and cheese and milk!
Posted @ Tuesday, January 21, 2014 12:06 PM by Helene
Is it recommended to dry/dehydrate raw almonds before making almond milk? I soak them for 12-24 hours, but them in the blender with filtered water, a little maple syrup and pinch of salt. Then strain it through a towel. Thank you so much.
Posted @ Tuesday, January 21, 2014 1:46 PM by Phileta Riley
I noticed that our local Whole Foods (Redmond, WA) now has a line of bulk/bin products made from sprouted nuts & seeds. Can't remember the company name but I've tried their cereals and their trail mixes - YUM. Pricey, too, though.
Posted @ Tuesday, January 21, 2014 2:48 PM by Maureen L.
Hi Michael! Good point- it is certainly true that oxidized and light-damaged fats should be avoided due to the pro-inflammatory/free-radical generating properties they take on. Certain nuts are more susceptible to this type of damage than others. Almonds, pecans, cashews, macadamias and peanuts tend to be more resistant to oxidative damage as they contain high levels of stable oleic fatty acids. Alternatively, walnuts are quite fragile due to the linolenic acid they contain. 
 
The nutshell provides some degree of protection, however if this is an unrealistic option, keeping shelled nuts in the refrigerator can also be helpful. 
Posted @ Tuesday, January 21, 2014 2:49 PM by Kayla Grossmann
Thanks for sharing your story Helene! I am glad that you have been able to figure out the cause and begin a path to healing.
Posted @ Tuesday, January 21, 2014 2:55 PM by Kayla Grossmann
Hello Phileta! For almond milk it isn't necessary to go about the additional hassle of drying out the nuts, as this would make the remaining milk-making process far more difficult. A substantial amount of the enzyme-inhibitors will have been neutralized by the soaking process alone. And your recipe sounds absolutely delicious!
Posted @ Tuesday, January 21, 2014 2:59 PM by Kayla Grossmann
I don't have a dehydrator and the oven we have is small so I can't possibly process large amounts of nuts in it at the same time. I suppose they need to be spread out in a single layer so then I can't put a lot in it at once either. How about drying the nuts out by spreading them outside in direct sunlight, like around midday, would that be ok?
Posted @ Tuesday, January 21, 2014 3:16 PM by aemit
We are trying to make our own almond flour. I have purchased raw organic almonds. I need to blanch them first. So should I blanch then soak the nuts with the required salt and water? Or vice versa?  
 
Elizabeth 
Posted @ Tuesday, January 21, 2014 3:27 PM by Elizabeth
Since the law forbidding the sale of raw almonds, all the organic almonds I can find are labelled "raw", low heat pasturization, steam pasteurization, etc. None say iridiated. Everyone I have tested for soaking has a shriveled skin that is stuck to the kernel and cannot be removed by soaking and squeezing as I used to be able to skin them, and they don't taste the way they used to. You did not address this issue in your information, so I am assuming you feel these abused nuts are acceptable! Could you please comment? I have stopped using almonds because I feel the ones available do not taste good and I suspect that may not be healthy either. I also tried some organic "sprouted" dried almonds and thought they tasted pretty good, but they had the same shriveled stuck on skins, and I suspected they might have been made from pasteurized walnuts.
Posted @ Tuesday, January 21, 2014 6:17 PM by Vera Feldman
The only way to obtain "RAW" Almonds are to get them online straight from the growers, the ones in the store say Raw but usually aren't. It is a legal term they are allowed to use. Just do a search online for "RAW Almond Growers". 
BLANCHING: When I blanch my almonds I soak them first, which loosens the skin, this way I don't need to blanch that long and helps maintain the beneficial nutrients. 
DRYING OUT IN THE SUN: You can do this if you can maintain a temp of 105-110 only! below you get mold, above and you cook the seeds/nuts. Then you have to maintain this temp until the nuts/seeds dry out completely, which usually takes 48 hours.
Posted @ Tuesday, January 21, 2014 6:58 PM by Bob Nesbitt
Hi Kayla, excellent article as always!! I have one question regarding cashews. I understand that the vast majority of cashews labeled "raw" are not actually raw; they've been heated to remove the shell. I've bought some "Really Raw" cashews from Loving Earth here in Australia. Are your instructions for heat-treated cashews or really raw cashews? If the instructions are for heat-treated cashews, would the soaking time and dehydrating temperature change for truly raw cashews? I'd greatly appreciate your input!
Posted @ Tuesday, January 21, 2014 9:55 PM by Melissa
My cashews started getting over-roasted in just a couple of hours in a 225-degree oven. They were crisp through, so I removed them, bottled, and put in the fridge. I don't understand the 12-24 hour dry time for cashews that I see on all websites.
Posted @ Wednesday, January 22, 2014 10:44 AM by Emjay
The soaking and drying times that I have included in this article serve as guidelines for both store bought and truly raw nuts. Because characteristics of any nut variety can vary greatly depending on where, when and how nuts are harvested- there is no precise science to it.  
 
You may need to make slight adjustments if you notice nuts crisping too fast or getting obviously mushy during soaking, however overall I have found the recipes to be very forgiving for whatever type of nut I use. 
 
Posted @ Wednesday, January 22, 2014 12:36 PM by Kayla Grossmann
What's the best way to treat buckwheat groats?
Posted @ Tuesday, January 28, 2014 11:55 AM by Jeff
Hi Jeff, 
To my knowledge, best way is to start with whole untoasted buckwheat seeds and sprout them. They are quick to sprout and if rinsed 2-3 times per day, should be ready in just 2 days.
Posted @ Tuesday, January 28, 2014 12:16 PM by Kayla Grossmann
what about sprouting grains, drying and then grinding them for flour to make breads...do you think the carbs that are in them affect ur bld sugar like regular wholegrain flour does? i read the back of Ezekiel bread and the tortillas and they do list a carb count similar to wholegrain bread. i'd make my own breads even from the sprouted grain if they were no carbs like sprouts are! thanks for the help :)
Posted @ Tuesday, January 28, 2014 1:08 PM by Hélène
Hi Hélène, 
Sprouting grains is helpful in that it reduces the phytic acid and irritating anti-nutrients that cause some people digestive upset. However, the process does not reduce the actual carbohydrate count within the grains themselves. This isn't necessarily a bad thing- it just means you will have to find the carbohydrate balance that best matches your body, lifestyle and other personal factors.
Posted @ Tuesday, January 28, 2014 4:12 PM by Kayla Grossmann
Hi Kayla! many thanks for this wonderful information. 
My oven's top low temp. is 170F I even called Whirpool to find out if I could lower the temp. but the only thing I can do is set a -30, but it isn't really lowering down the temp. of the oven, instead it cooks at a slower pace… will 170F denature the almonds?. I recently did a batch of almonds and, cashews and pecans at 170F for 4-5 hours (they came out crispy and nice!) Is it necessary to go 48 hours?. Thanks so much!.
Posted @ Tuesday, April 08, 2014 12:02 AM by AIDA
Hi Aida! 
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. 
 
As far as the oven temperature goes, you will experience a decrease in the enzyme content and possibly a denaturing of some of the more fragile fatty acids at temperatures about 150 F. However, this is not to say that all of the nutrients in the nuts will be ruined. As you noticed with your last batch, the higher temperature will also lower your cooking time. This is fine- you really just want to make sure that the nuts are completely dried (even in the center) and have a pleasant crispy texture.  
 
Thus while it is best to low-temperature prepare the nuts, it is also important to make the best use of the tools you have available to you. It sounds like you are finding creative ways to do just that. Enjoy!
Posted @ Tuesday, April 08, 2014 7:01 AM by Kayla Grossmann
Regarding soaking seeds/nuts...I am wondering if I have almond meal/flour already ground, will "soaking" it with water overnight before I use it to bake with so that it forms a paste have the same effect of decreasing the phytic acid and improving the digestibility and nutrient content as if I soaked the nuts whole and then ground it? It would save some time..
Posted @ Monday, April 28, 2014 1:17 AM by Cindy
Hi Everyone 
I tried to soak cashews overnight and this morning a strange white mucuous-like substance had formed on the bottom of the mason jar and smelled awful! That has never happened before to me. The nuts were organic and raw, essentially untouched and seemingly in perfect condition before soaking them. Any idea on what this mysterious slime might be?
Posted @ Friday, July 11, 2014 2:28 PM by shawn
Hi Shawn, 
How unfortunate! It can be so frustrating to lose a batch of lovely and perfect looking cashews. 
In my experience, cashews can be a bit finicky and often require less soaking time (else the can develop a funny slime and off taste). Try soaking for less than six hours, monitoring periodically if at all possible. Different crops of cashews seem to be slightly varied in the time required to soak, so I always start on the lesser side and work my way from there. 
Hope that helps! Good luck with the next batch.
Posted @ Friday, July 25, 2014 4:58 PM by Kayla Grossmann
Thanks for the great information, I've just purchased bulk bags of nuts and have a dehydrator so I have a few questions. If I'm going to be out longer than 7 hours is there a maximum time they can be left soaking before they go bad? And compared to unsoaked nuts how long can the dehydrated & soaked nuts be stored for? Like should i do the whole kilo bag or in smaller batches as i need them? Thanks!! :)
Posted @ Saturday, August 30, 2014 7:11 PM by Jessica H
Hi Jessica! I am glad that you found the post useful and am so excited for you to get started. As far as soaking times, over 7 hours is totally fine for most varieties (the exception being cashews- they can get mushy). I personally wouldn't leave them out for more than 10 to 12 hours however, as the water tends to get a bit yucky at that point and really needs to be changed. Soaked and dehydrated nuts have a long shelf life and can usually be kept for several months in an airtight container in a dry place. Some people even store them in the freezer for the longer term. Just make sure you only soak as many as will fit in your dehydrator at once : ) Good luck and let us know how it goes!
Posted @ Monday, September 08, 2014 1:57 PM by Kayla Grossmann
Thanks for your reply, another question - I have a recipe for shelled pumpkin seeds that I've previously done in the oven, where I coat them in lime juice, olive oil and some spices and they turn out crunchy and zesty. If I want to create the same recipe, but in my dehydrator, at what stage would I do this? Would I just soak and dry the pepitas as normal and then soak again (albeit just quickly) in the lime juice?
Posted @ Monday, September 08, 2014 7:26 PM by Jessica
That sounds like a delicious recipe! I would recommend soaking the pumpkin seeds as normal and drying them for a few hours plain. Then remove, toss with olive oil, lime and spices and replace in dehydrator until crispy.  
 
Just note that these may not have the same "roasted" flavor that an oven gives, so if you decide on that as an important aspect of the recipe, this might be a food to cheat on and use high temps! 
Posted @ Tuesday, September 09, 2014 1:10 PM by Kayla Grossmann
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