Culturing gain is what our ancestors did. There wasn’t a single tradition or tribe that regularly ate unfermented, unprepared grains.
As long as people have been relying on grains, (‘grain’ in this post includes nuts, seeds and legumes) for food, they’ve been soaking them. It’s really not a new fad. In fact it’s an ages old wisdom.
In the past 50 years all sorts of quick fix, short cut, food solutions have been substituted to make our lives seemingly easier. Soaking grains or, more specifically, culturing them is a tradition that has been sidelined in our time poor lives. Today, people don’t even understand why it was ever done in the first place?
“Before huge multinational corporations did it for us, humans had to figure out how to turn raw, unrefined formerly-living things into food that could be cooked or eaten. And before standup freezers, refrigerators, ice boxes, canned soup, bagged bread, tinned fish, and grocery stores hit the scene, we had to figure out how to preserve foods. Yes, we humans were a wily, resourceful bunch – still are, if you give us half a chance – who came up with an impressive number of food preparation and preservation techniques over the ages. Some techniques were designed solely to preserve the food. Some improved the taste. Others increased the density of the nutrients, as well as our ability to access them. Still others were simply concerned with removing natural toxins and making the food safe to eat. And some techniques accomplish some or all of these things at once. Whatever the technique, however, from basic mechanical pounding to month-long fermentation, these methods all sought to accomplish one simple thing: increase the availability of safe, nutritious, digestible caloric energy.” continue reading Mark Sisson
SO WHY SHOULD WE CULTURE GRAIN?
Culturing is a process of fermentation which allows beneficial bacteria to digest and convert many of the harmful substances that are found in grain.
Culturing grain helps to:
- breakdown the antinutrients
- make them an easy to digest whole grain
- release highly beneficial nutrients
- increase the flavour
- shorten the cooking time
WHAT ARE ANTI-NUTRIENTS?
Anti-nutrient is a scientific term that refer to any compound that reduces the body’s ability to absorb or use essential nutrients such as vitamins or minerals. Anti-nutrients (note that some have positive health attributes) are found in all types of plant foods to varying degrees. I discuss 2 problematic ones found in gluten free grain. There are others.
Lectins are resilient, sticky, carb-binding proteins present in plants (and animals). In grain, lectins are like armour and by design are totally indigestible to humans. They are designed to survive predators and parasites and ensure rejuvenation and survival of their species. They cause digestive upset in the animals eating them. Plants can’t run away from predators so this is nature’s way of saying – stay away or I’ll make you sick!
Their inherent binding powers can attach to places they should never be – like your intestinal lining, (particularly the villi) where they wreak havoc. Not even stomach acid or digestive enzymes will break them down! Lectin damage can show up as all sorts of food intolerances and contribute to leaky gut. The signs might be subtle at first. Lectin makes you fart, causes bloating, diarrhoea, can make you nauseous and cause vomiting.
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome or an inflammatory bowel disease, the gut lining will be especially sensitive to lectins found in grain.
It’s pretty scary knowing our contemporary diets rely on the highest lectin containing foods for our primary food source!
It’s no coincidence that the top 8 allergens also contain some of the highest amounts of lectins (including: dairy, egg, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish). Read more about Lectins here and here.
Phytic acid is a compound found in grain (especially in the husk of whole grain) that prevents the body from absorbing nutrients.
- cause mineral deficiencies that lead to poor bone health and tooth decay
- block absorption of zinc, iron phosphorous and magnesium
- cause your body to leech calcium
- lower your metabolism
- contribute to anaemia
Luckily, there is this really clever natural, enzyme that also hangs out in grains, called Phytase. (Confusingly similar word I know.) Phytase is the super hero enzyme that can rescue the good stuff from grain. It is present to varying degrees depending on the grain and can unravel that complex phytate husk, making the nutrients more bioavailable.
Some animals, such as cows can eat grain and grass without upset because they naturally produce phytase in their stomach. We humans, aren’t so lucky, and have to use special preparation techniques to ensure grain is digestible.
Unfortunately some grains lack adequate amounts of phytase to help this process occur.
Gluten free grains such as corn, millet, oats and brown rice don’t contain enough phytase to release and eliminate all the phytic acid they contain. To make these grains kinder to your gut you need an acid medium to pre-digest the anti-nutrients before you ingest them.
Unfortunately, heat or boiling is not what phytase needs and will in fact destroy it (like kryptonite!). To really get this super hero to do its thing, soaking in an acid medium needs to happen before the cooking process.
An acid medium is the only way to neutralise the harmful substances found in grain. It can be a dash of whey, a squeeze of lemon or a teaspoon of organic apple cider vinegar. For nuts, however, good quality sea salt is required. These things will initiate fermentation and will release phytase.
Unrefined, wholegrain and seeds are marketed as being a more nutritious and a healthier option, but along with the superior nutritional content comes plenty of damaging toxins that are rarely spoken of.
Once upon a time, when families harvested their own grain, anti-nutrients were never likely to be of great health concern. Before modern agricultural methods, grain availability was seasonal and limited. Now we can fill our pantry with grain from around the world all year round. Our privileged access to large amounts of grain mean our bodies ingest more indigestible compounds than ever before.
HOW TO CULTURE GRAIN – STEP BY STEP
Place the grain in a large bowl, fill the bowl with warm water, add whey, lemon juice or Apple cider vinegar (or sea salt for nuts) and let it sit somewhere warm over night. The general rule is to add enough warm water to cover the grain, and then add one teaspoon of an acid medium for every cup of grain. At the end of the fermentation, drain, rinse and then cook as required.
Culturing may still not completely neutralise all the toxins in every grain. Some toxins are as tough as nails!. The anti-nutrient load varies from grain to grain as does the phytase. Different grains require different soaking times. I wish I could give you a simple, ‘one size fits all’ formula to wash the nasties away, but I can’t. In saying this, I don’t believe that you should get too caught up in the science or painstaking accuracy. I guarantee an overnight soak will make all the difference. (Legumes will require longer)
Legumes have particularly stubborn lectins – no matter how lengthy the treatment they may still cause serious digestive issues for sensitive people. Chickpeas, for example, will have only released 50% of their phytate content after 5 days soaking!
Sprouting also activates phytase but it doesn’t completely neutralise the phytic acid. Soaking in an acidic medium is still recommended before you sprout.
The only way to significantly reduce the potential damaging effects of grain on our digestive system (bar not eating them) is a combination of acidic soaking, a warm spot in your house, plus a considerable length of time, followed by cooking.
SHOULD YOU EAT GRAIN AT ALL?
For you, culturing may still not be enough to reduce negative symptoms. Completely removing a ‘problem grain’ (like wheat) from your diet may be the solution. For others, removing all grain is the only way to better health.
It’s worth remembering agriculture is a relatively recent invention, and we humans did not evolve to ingest grain well in any case.
HEAL YOUR GUT AND LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Culturing is essential when preparing grains but it is ultimately up to you and your body to discover which grain, seeds, nuts and legumes are tolerable for your unique digestive system. You can heal your gut with care and thoughtful, considered eating. A grain you are sensitive to today may be tolerable in time. You can however reduce the damage by properly preparing your grains. Culturing grains really is very easy! It just takes a little planning ahead.
OTHER WAYS TO COMABT PHYTIC ACID IN FOOD
Consuming foods rich in vitamin C can reduce the effects of phytic acid in your body. Try including more: Bell pepper, kiwi, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, guava, papaya, broccoli, sweet potato, pineapple, cauliflower, kale, lemon juice, and parsley into your diet.
A teaspoon of Fermented Apple cider Vinegar before each meal will kick start your digestion. ACV stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach, which is responsible for breaking down foods. You can use ACV vinegar in salad dressings and cooking to enhance mineral absorption and offset phytic acid.