Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
Soaking whole foods in accordance with the wisdom of ancestral societies is one of the basic techniques of traditional cooking. This article examines whether this process should ideally take place on the kitchen counter or in the refrigerator. Which approach is best in order to limit the possibility of contamination by pathogens and maximize nutrients and digestibility?
It is very exciting to see how many people today are waking up to the value of traditional soaking of nuts, seeds, beans/legumes, and grains or flour as a simple yet powerful process that transforms food into a more digestible form.
Enhanced digestibility goes hand in hand with more nutrient value from each meal.
More nutrition with every bite means that you get full faster. This means that smaller portions prove satisfying with no loss of enjoyment or satiety.
Smaller portions mean a smaller grocery budget too, which means you can afford higher quality foods in many cases!
The domino effect of this simple pre-preparation is quite shocking when you take the time to think about it!
Hopefully, this logic makes sense, and if you haven’t tried this technique at home yet, you are ready to take the plunge!
Soaking on the Counter
One of the first questions I get when a person is attempting the soaking process for the first time is whether leaving food at room temperature on the kitchen counter is a wise idea.
In our overly sanitized modern life, such a practice seems dangerous.
The soaking process lasts anywhere from a few hours to overnight. Sometimes, for those with extremely compromised digestion, leaving the food soaking for as long as 24 hours is optimal.
Thus, the possibility of pathogens compromising the food during the soaking process seems a likely risk.
While this concern appears very real, I would argue that soaking in the refrigerator is not a good idea and that the counter is always the best place for soaking to occur.
Let me explain why…
Soaking in the Refrigerator
The reason that soaking is effective is because it initiates a beneficial chemical reaction that breaks down anti-nutrients such as phytic acid in the food.
In order for this process to occur quickly…in a few hours or overnight…the food should ideally be left at room temperature in a warm kitchen.
The coldness of the refrigerator or a cool basement or cellar can significantly impede the food transformation that occurs during soaking. The result is less digestible fare with fewer available nutrients.
But what about germs, you might say?
The risk of pathogens developing during the soaking process at room temperature is slim to none. The reason is that the friendly microbes on the raw food being soaked (naturally present on all living things…yes, even crawling all over your skin right now) are intrinsically involved in the soaking process. It’s not just about pH.
These helpful critters serve as a temporary protective agent, shielding the food from contamination.
This protective effect doesn’t last forever, of course. Anyone who has accidentally soaked too long and seen mold form on the food knows this firsthand!
Most Soaked Foods are Cooked Anyway
In short, as long as you are careful to soak on the counter for the required length of time, do not see any mold, and detect no “off” smell, you can feel very confident that all is well and the resulting dish will be safe to eat.
What’s more, the majority of soaked foods…beans and other legumes like lentils, oatmeal, and other grains as well as flour…are cooked or baked afterward. The heat of the oven or stovetop serves as an extra check should you be concerned about pathogen formation during the soaking process.
Ultimately, centuries of practice tell you that room temperature soaking is safe. (1)
Furthermore, I recommend counter soaking from personal experience as someone who has been practicing the traditional method for nearly 20 years. I soak on the counter all year long even during the hot, humid Florida summer with no problems.
The only time I have ever had to toss a batch due to contamination is because of “user error”. In other words, I left the food soaking too long causing it to go bad.
In the video below, I demonstrate in about one minute how to soak pancake batter to give you some idea of how simple the process is!
MUST Use the Refrigerator?
Do you still feel uncomfortable soaking on the kitchen counter despite assurances that it is safe to do so?
Do you feel safest using the refrigerator especially for soaked foods that are not cooked afterward such as raw seeds and healthy types of nuts?
If so, then I would suggest sprouting instead of soaking as a better traditional approach for you to consider.
The nutritional and assimilation benefits of sprouting raw foods are similar to soaking.
However, be aware that sprouting is more time consuming than soaking. It takes days to accomplish instead of hours.
This video on how to sprout grains demonstrates the process to give you some idea of what steps are required.
I am new to soaking grains and flours. If I used soaked flour in a bread or cake recipe, do I need to alter the liquids or other ingredients in the recipe?
Sarah Pope MGA
Yes, typically a bit of adjustment is necessary.
Thank you for all the information Sarah. I just soaked cashews to dehydrate. I accidentally let them soak on the counter for 15 hours, in stead of the recommended 4-6 hours. They were slimy and some pieces had turned purple. However I dehydrated them for about 20 hours and they seem fine and tasty. My question is, how do i know whether they are safe to eat? Thank you.
Sarah Pope MGA
You will have to use your best judgment on that…in the past, I haven’t had good results from dehydrating cashews that were oversoaked.
Thank you for this great information. I share this regularly information as I work at markets and shows giving samples of my products from Gardens of Grace. My challenge continues to be following proper soaking methods for the nuts, seeds, and oats we use in our products and keeping our licensing agency happy. During my annual inspection the inspector asks many questions regarding soaking and food safety. I give him all the information I have regarding its safety and the nutritional benefits of soaking, but they are all rejected. The inspector has referred me to the state food sanitarian as well, and I have ben told emphatically that if the research is not produced by the USDA or the CDC it is not valid. This is ludicrous, but these are the people that can withhold my food producers license if they feel strongly that this is an unsafe food preparation method. Everything else in my inspections is nearly perfect (the kitchen is exceptionally clean, water is tested and safe, etc). So far I have been able to keep the inspector at bay as I have a good relationship with him overall (he is close to retirement, and I am concerned with continuing to pass the inspection). Do you have any thoughts or sources of research that I haven’t found which would be deemed “acceptable” to the food sanitarian? I would so appreciate any thoughts you might have!
I love producing food that I know is beneficial for customers to eat. I love meeting all of the people at the shows and markets (from the WAPF conference each year to our local farmers markets) and supporting them in their journey to acquire or maintain good health. I love that we have a family business and all the skills it teaches our children along the way. I am concerned about getting through licensing in the future as we live in a highly restrictive state, and I am unwilling to compromise on the proper soaking methods for nuts, seeds, and oats which we use in all of our products!