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.