Why You Should Soak Your Nuts and Seeds

nuts and seeds in a divided wood box

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High in vitamins, minerals, protein and healthy fats, nuts and seeds are little powerhouses of nutrition. However, nuts and seeds also contain phytic acid and large amounts of enzyme inhibitors which protect them from sprouting until they have the rain and sun they need to grow. And unfortunately, these natural chemicals can be quite hard on the stomach.

So, if you’ve ever had tummy trouble after eating nuts and seeds, don’t give up on them yet!

Why Should You Soak Nuts and Seeds?

In nature, a seed or nut normally gets enough moisture from rain to wash off the acids and enzyme inhibitors so it can germinate and produce a plant. By soaking nuts and seeds before you eat them, you imitate nature by neutralizing these growth inhibitors, releasing the natural enzymes and vitality within them.

These enzymes, in turn, increase the vitamin content of your nuts and seeds, especially the B vitamins. Soaking also makes them much easier to digest and enables their many nutrients to be more easily absorbed by your body.

After you soak them, you can do one of two things:

  1. Sprout them for a few days. Like bean sprouts, they will germinate into tiny, nutritious seedlings. This is a modern preparation method that many raw and traditional foodies use. (See note below table.)

    By fully sprouting the nut or seed, it transforms from a unit of storage into a growing green plantlet. This enhances its nutrition, but it also greatly changes its taste and texture, and makes it highly perishable, so you always have to use up sprouted nuts and seeds within a few days.

  2. Dry or toast them. This is a long-lost, traditional method of nut and seed preparation and preservation used worldwide for thousands of years. For example coastal Aztecs (and Central American people today) would soak pumpkin or squash seeds in sea water and then sun-dry them.

    Using sea salt in your soak water helps de-activate the enzyme inhibitors and makes your nuts and seeds extra tasty. Gently drying them at a low temperature locks in the nutrition and enzymes for months of future use, and preserves the buttery flavor and crispy texture we love so much about eating nuts and seeds.

How to Soak Nuts and Seeds

The basic method is to dissolve sea salt in filtered or spring water, pour it over your nuts or seeds, using enough of the brine to cover them. Leave them in a warm location for the specified time, then rinse and drain them in a colander and spread them out on your dehydrator sheets for drying or a wide jelly roll pan for toasting.

To soak and dry your nuts and seeds properly in today’s modern kitchen, you will need a good dehydrator. You will set the dehydrator to 110-115 degrees so the healthy, vitamin-producing enzymes in your soaked nuts remain intact. Heating them above 115 degrees (which is too low for an oven) will destroy the enzymes and some of the vitamins. (I use this dehydrator.)

Dehydrate them at 110-115 degrees F for 12-24 hours (sometimes longer if you soaked them longer), until they are thoroughly dry and crisp. Make sure they are completely dry and crisp. (It’s very hard to over-dry them.) If not, they won’t have that crunchy, yummy texture you expect from nuts and seeds, and they could mold in storage.

I like to soak and dry several pounds of nuts and seeds in a big batch to save time and energy when using my dehydrator. I store my dry, crispy nuts in large mason jars in the fridge to keep them fresh for many months. That way, I always have properly prepared nuts and seeds on hand for snacks, salads and recipes.

If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can gently toast your nuts in a low 250-degree oven. Toasting your nuts and seeds is also delicious, but the higher temperatures will destroy some of the nutrition. Oven times will vary by nut or seed, so you’ll need to pay attention and remove them when they turn a slightly darker color, and taste crisp when cool.

The following info (much of it sourced from Nourishing Traditions) will help you sort it out.

Raw Nut or Seed
(4 cups)
Sea SaltSoaking TimeDrying Time
Pumpkin & Sunflower Seeds
(hulled)
2 Tbsp.8 hours or
overnight
12-24 hours
Sesame2 tsp.8 hours or
overnight
12-24 hours
Walnuts, Pecans & Brazil Nuts
Pecans can be stored in an airtight container, but walnuts are more likely to go rancid, and should always be stored in the refrigerator.
2 tsp.8 hours or
overnight
12-24 hours
Pine nuts, Peanuts & Hazelnuts
Remove skins, if any, before soaking. Store in an airtight container.
1 Tbsp.12 hours or
overnight
12-24 hours
Almonds*1 Tbsp.10 hours or
overnight
12-24 hours
Macadamias1 Tbsp.8-12 hours12-24 hours
Cashews & Pistachios**
Store in an airtight container.
1 Tbsp.No more than
2 hours, if at
all
12-24 hours at 200-250 degrees.

One Step Further: How to Sprout Nuts and Seeds

If you want to fully sprout your nuts and seeds, raw-foodie style, you can use the above soak times as a guideline. After soaking, rinse and drain your nuts/seeds, then and leave them out in a covered bowl or tray to sprout, rinsing them with purified or spring water once a day. Do not dehydrate.

Note that pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, Brazil nuts, macadamias and pasteurized almonds will NOT likely sprout, but they still contain phytates and enzyme inhibitors that should be removed by soaking.

Only make as many fresh, raw sprouted nuts or seeds as you can eat in 2-3 days. Store them in a jar in the refrigerator.

(Remember these are technically sprouts and won’t last long, whereas nuts and seeds that are soaked and then dehydrated will last much longer in the refrigerator.)

Recipes using soaked or sprouted nuts and seeds:

Notes

* Truly raw almonds are no longer available commercially in the U.S., though people who live in California can still buy them from the farmer’s market. Since 2007, all U.S. almonds must be “pasteurized,” meaning fumigated with chemicals—or steamed, if organic. To get truly raw almonds with all their enzymes and vitamins intact, you must live in California, get them imported from Spain, or order them online.

** Cashews will become slimy and develop a nasty taste if allowed to soak too long or dry out too slowly. Pistachios will also fall apart into mush if soaked too long. This is because cashews and pistachios are not truly raw, but get heated after harvest to extract them from the inedible fruit and skins in which they grow.

If you do soak them, and plan to eat them whole, dry cashews and pistachios thoroughly in a 200 to 250 degree oven—the enzymes have already been destroyed during initial processing.

Updated September 15, 2020

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