The Importance of Soaking Nuts & Seeds

How and why to soak nuts and seeds- a guide

Nuts and seeds can be a terrific nutrient-dense snack or addition to a meal, but like grains and legumes, they can also contain substances that interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

Just as the process of soaking, sprouting or fermenting grains reduces the anti-nutrient content and makes them more beneficial to the body, the simple process of soaking nuts improves their nutrition.

Enzyme Inhibitors in Nuts and Seeds

Like grains, raw nuts (and especially raw seeds), contain moderate levels of phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Phytic acid is biologically necessary for the plant, as it helps safeguard the nut or seed until proper growing conditions are present and germination can occur.

These enzyme inhibitors prevent the seed from sprouting prematurely, but can cause potential problems in humans by binding to nutrients in the body and contributing to nutrient deficiencies and digestive system irritation.

Seeds and nuts store phosphorus as phytic acid and it becomes a phytate when it binds to a mineral. In the body, this process can stop nutrients from being absorbed in the digestive system and reduce the digestibility of these foods.

In other words, just because nuts and seeds are considered good sources of protein and nutrients, doesn’t mean your body can absorb these nutrients. All plants contain phytic acid in some levels, but grains, legumes, nuts and seeds typically contain the highest levels.

It is also important to note that phytic acid may not be entirely bad, but the dose makes the poison. Modern diets high in processed grains and low in nutrient dense fats and minerals may increase the likelihood of nutrient absorption problems and make it even more important to reduce phytic acid levels in food.

Research is finding that phyic acid in certain levels may have a protective effect in the body and a secondary messenger role in cells. It seems that in order to provide this beneficial effect, it must be balanced by certain fat soluble vitamins and other nutrients and the person must be able to absorb these.

This is why it can be helpful to reduce the phytic acid content of seeds and nuts and make the nutrients more available and this step is especially important for young children who are still developing the enzymes to break down these plant foods (ever seen undigested nuts, grains or seeds in a toddler’s stool? This is partially due to their inability to digest certain proteins and nutrients in these foods).

The Importance of Soaking Nuts and Seeds

Some phytic acid is naturally neutralized during the digestive process, but foods that are especially high in phytic acid benefit from the process of soaking (and sometimes sprouting) and dehydrating to further reduce the anti-nutrient content.

Soaking in a simple mineral solution (like salt) and low-temperature dehydrating helps to break down much of the phytic acid and make the nutrients in nuts more available to the body.

While many traditional cultures naturally soaked or sprouted seeds, this step is hardly ever taken with large scale production since it is time consuming. It is, however, simple and inexpensive to do at home and can greatly increase the nutrient content of the seeds and nuts you consume.

How to Soak Seeds and Nuts

There are two parts to soaking nuts and seeds: warm water and salt.

The warm water will neutralize many of the enzyme inhibitors and increase the bioavailability of many nutrients, especially b-vitamins. The salt helps activate enzymes that deactivate the enzyme inhibitors present in nuts.

When soaking grains or beans, a more acidic substance is often used, but since nuts and seeds contain less phytic acid than grains/legumes but more enzyme inhibitors, the salt is more beneficial.

Within 7-24 hours (depending on the seed or nut), many of the enzyme inhibitors are broken down. At this point, a dehydrating process beings to return the nuts to a crisp texture. I’ve found that nuts that have been pre-soaked taste much better and don’t end up undigested in little ones diapers.

What You Need:

  • 2 cups of raw, organic nuts or seeds (it is better to soak one kind at a time)
  • 3-4 cups of warm filtered water (to cover nuts)
  • 1 tablespoon of salt

What to Do:

  1. Place the warm water in a medium bowl or jar (half gallon or larger). Add the salt and let dissolve.
  2. Add the nuts or seeds, making sure they are completely submerged in the water.
  3. Leave uncovered on the counter or other warm place (not the refrigerator) for at least 7 hours, preferably overnight.
  4. Rinse in a colander and spread on a baking sheet or dehydrator sheet. Bake in the oven at the lowest temperature (150 F is optimal) or dehydrate until completely dry. This step is important, as any remaining moisture in the nuts or seeds can cause them to mold. Dehydrating time can often be up to 24 hours, so a dehydrator simplifies the process but isn’t necessary.
  5. NOTE: If you plan to use nuts or seeds to make homemade almond milk or any other variety, this is the optimal time, as they are already softened. This is an important step in the homemade nut milk process as the enzyme inhibitors are mostly removed and the nuts are already softened to make a more creamy milk.

A Step Further: Sprouting

Sprouting goes a step further from soaking and reduces the levels of enzyme inhibitors even more. Often, products sold as sprouted nuts and seeds are merely “activated” by the process of soaking, but certain seeds can sprout after several cycles of soaking, rinsing, and giving exposure to air to allow germination.

Raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds are the best candidates for sprouting, and some nuts like pecans and walnuts will not sprout. If you want to add this additional step, soak the seeds with the process above. Then rinse and follow the normal sprouting process until sprouts occur.  This will only work with non-irradiated seeds and only certain varieties. This step does further reduce enzyme inhibitors, but except for those with digestive problems or severe nutrient deficiencies, this step is not often necessary and soaking alone is sufficient.

To Soak or Not to Soak?

Not all nuts and seeds can be easily soaked. Flax and chia seeds gel when soaked and are very difficult to work with. For any nuts or seeds that can be soaked, you’ll have to weigh the benefits and see if the process is worth the time investment for you.

Personally, I like this step simply because the seeds and nuts taste so much better once they are soaked and it makes the nutrients more available. If you consume a lot of nuts or seeds, this process may be especially helpful to you, as the higher levels of enzyme inhibitors may be more problematic. Soaking and dehydrating organic raw nuts and seeds also creates an end result similar to roasted nuts, but without the added vegetable oils or high temperature roasting that can damage the nutrients and enzymes in these foods.

High quality pre-soaked and sprouted nuts and seeds are now available (I personally like this brand), but you can accomplish the same end result by soaking your own at home. It takes a little time investment, but is well worth the taste and nutrient benefits in my opinion.

Do you have any experience with soaking nuts and seeds? What method do you use?

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Reader Comments

  1. Soaked walnuts have a much richer almost buttery flavor and definitely none of the bitterness that plain raw walnuts have! Also, I have found almonds much easier to digest, but cashews were not our favorite after soaking. I may not have dehydrated them long enough, or the soaking process just left them a little more chewy. I love my soaked nuts though!

    • Thanks for that comment about soaking walnuts. I must try it as I find walnuts often bitter.

  2. Great post as usual:)
    How do you soak the more difficult seeds that gel, like chia seeds?

  3. For health reasons, we do not use sodium chloride in our kitchen; we prefer to use potassium chloride instead. Does the salt need to be sodium based or will non sodium salts work as well?

    • Well it is quite unlikely that your potassium chloride salt is 100% potassium chloride; potassium chloride has a slightly different (less pleasant) taste to sodium chloride so the two are usually mixed together to create a low-sodium salt, rather than non-sodium salt.
      However even if your salt is 100% potassium chloride, theoretically it shouldn’t matter too much as sodium and potassium salts have almost identical chemical properties; but it will depend on the exact mechanism the enzyme inhibitors are denatured by. I’ll spare you all the technical details but in a nutshell (pun completely intended) there are certain chemical reactions that go one way if you use a lithium salt, and a different way if you use a potassium salt due to the size of the metal ion; sodium is in the middle so it is likely the reactions (to deactivate the enzyme inhibitors) will still work if you use potassium, but perhaps not quite as well as if you were to use sodium. For example, the “yield” of deactivated enzyme inhibitors may be 75% for sodium and 45% for potassium. Soaking the nuts for longer will help – so try for the full 24 hours rather than 7!

      Hope this helps 🙂

  4. What if you want to make almond butter? Should the almonds be completely dehydrated?

    • Yes. If not, any remaining moisture may cause the almond butter to spoil quickly.

      • I have been soaking almonds for years and now soak pecans. I can’t believe how good they taste! I have made almond butter with them and it’s so much better than store bought. 🙂 my system is to soak them during the day, then put them in the oven all night.

  5. I’d love to share this with my mom, who has acute kidney disease. However, because of this she has to have next to no salt in her diet. What do you recommend for people in the same or similar situation?

    • There is a possibility that the salt is used as a dessicator, rather than because it is involved in any chemical processes. If that is the case, you could try using the same amount of sugar instead, as it will also act as a dessicator. Alternatively, throw in some cider vinegar or lemon juice (apparently this is supposed to help); or just soak them in normal water (but you won’t get the full nutritional benefits this way).

  6. How long do you bake them in the oven at 150 degrees?

    • I use my nuts in smoothies. I soak them and then freeze them rather than drying them. Do I still need to dry the nuts in order to completely remove the physic acid?

  7. Hi Katie! Thanks for this. If you were going to make a cashew butter, do you think you’d soak, dehydrate, and the grind, or would you skip the dehydration step?

    • I would definitely dehydrate still. If not, there would be moisture in the nut butter, which would cause it to spoil quickly.

  8. This is really helpful! If we plan to use the nuts for nut milk, is dehydration necessary? Or can the nuts be used directly after soaking and rinsing?

    • They can be used right after soaking and rinsing and are even better for nut milk at this stage.

      • To make nut milk what is the ratio of nuts to water?

        • A typical ratio is 1:3, with coconut flakes it’s 1:2

  9. I have a question: I get most of my nuts and seeds from a homemade granola I always have around. Would I be able to dry the nuts and seeds during the 25 minutes at 350 degrees that I cook the granola at?

    Or would I have to soak, dry, and then roast for 25 minutes? Or would that 25 minutes be harmful to the nutrients I just freed up?

    • Roasting can harm some of the nutrients. Have you ever tried a soaked and dehydrated granola? If you did want to just roast, it should be fine, but I’d keep the granola in the freezer until ready to use, just in case there was any moisture left.

  10. Hi. I bought a bag of cashews at the Whole Foods Market for the first time while driving through the US. they weren’t cheap. When I opened them up to eat, they were terrible. Not dry and crunchy like I thought they’d be, but soft and chewy. Obviously were soaked, I guess, as I’ve never had them before. But after reading this, I guess they were not properly dehydrated. Reminded me of nuts that had got wet and soggy like if they were put in the fridge.

    • nooooo you bought raw cashews, which are chewy and not cruncy (since they are not roasted). Raw cashews are good for soaking, cashew milk, gravies, etc. Roasted cashews are good for snacking

  11. My 11 year old daughter is in charge of soaking and dehydrating the nuts. She has almonds going right now with the recipe you just discribed. We love the almond milk the dried nuts make. It seems to last longer in the refrigerator and not separate as much.

  12. How do you store the nuts after soaking & dehydrating them? And how long do they last? Currently I keep all my raw nuts & seeds in the freezer until I need them.

    Thanks,
    Heidi

  13. Do you soak legumes if you do eat them? Do you soak quinoa? I always see some of that in my lil’s diaper 🙂 Thanks!

  14. Hello, I have a question for you.

    You mention »irradiation« of seeds. Are you referring to gamma radiation, which seems to be a growing hazard nowadays? I imagine it must be even less wholesome than microwaving, but never imagined seeds or nuts would be processed this way. Am I mistaken?

    • Many nuts are passed through ioninzing radiation to kill any bacteria and prevent the possibility of sprouting.

  15. After you soak walnuts can you simply allow it to air dry on the kitchen counter for 2 days? I guess I am wondering if you have to bake them or place them in a dehydrating machine? Thanks for your answer!

    • They have a high chance of growing mildew or mold if you don’t redry them in a dehydrator or oven

  16. Should I soak quinoa which is already sprouted? I learned that it’s actually a seed not a nut. We don’t eat grains so I want to continue eating quinoa. Thanks you.

    • If it is already sprouted, it has been soaked too.

      • Thank you. I didn’t know that. It says on the bag to cook it or if you want to eat it raw you have to soak it in water for 45 minutes. I did that and it is hard. Now what?

  17. I soaked raw, organic cashews for the first time last week and then used my dehydrator. They were the best nuts we’d ever had! Can’t wait to do it again this week!

  18. Is there one dehydrator that stands out as being more effective or what have you? Or, are they all pretty much the same? Just wondering in advance of purchasing as I didn’t see one that Katie had linked on this page when talking about dehyrating. It’s just too hot to consider using my oven in the summer and Fall. At least I would be able to put the dehydrator in a place that would not heat up the house any further.

  19. I’d also like to know if there is a general rule for how long you bake the nuts in the oven… thanks!

    • Typically for at least 8 hours. You are more dehydrating than baking though because the temperature is so low.

      • Oh, wow! That makes sense… time to go get a dehydrator I think! Thanks for the fast reply 🙂

  20. ‘ll have to buy the nut’s already dehydrated, as I don’t have one.

  21. I have heard not all need to be soaked. I do soak pinto beans and the like. Almonds also, but do you soak split peas? I heard that those did not matter. I have never soaked cashews or pumpkin. These are already shelled. Is that how you soak them? So many questions.

  22. Hi Katie,
    Would like to that’ll a million for giving us such an awesome healthy natural ways of living. Could you please tell me what salt should we use sea salt or normal salt. And I do not have oven or dehydrator how should I store the nuts after soaking and rinsing. Thanks Katie

    • Sorry for spelling mistake thanks a million

      • Thanks for the reply

  23. My husband and I were just talking about how soaked almonds taste so much better! Yum:) Crunchier and even a better flavor! I’ve been soaking souring grains for almost two years now but have just started to religiously soak our nuts too! It really helps to buy in bulk and soak and dehydrate them all (usually a 3 lb. bag) and put extra in the freezer to keep fresh. It works awesome!

  24. Is it necessary to rinse the nuts after soaking before drying?

  25. Do you know if soaking and then dehydrating flax seeds gives the same benefits as eating immediately after soaking?

    I like to use ground flax as a topping on oatmeal and yogurt, in smoothies, etc. I’ve heard that dehydrating after soaking negates the benefits of soaking. Can you weigh in on this?

  26. Hi Katie, Would you soak macadamias? I read macadamias and hazelnuts are low on phytic acid, so I am wondering if they are an exception. Thanks Sandra

  27. Hi Katie,
    Do you remove the skins of the almonds after they are soaked? I see in your photo that there are no skins on the almonds. Thanks for all your healthy advice!

  28. I don’t have a dehydrator, and my oven only goes as low as 180. Should I just spread them out on a cookie sheet & put that on my seedling mat? That is where I ferment my Keifer & Kombucha. I have it in the living room that has a wood stove. If not, how should I dehydrate after soaking?

  29. Hi–love your site Katie! thanks so much.
    I do not feel comfortable leaving my gas oven on overnight. Would the oven light being on be warm enough to dry out the nuts? How long would that take?
    thanks.

  30. I have read that there are no truly raw Almonds sold commericially in the United States. They have been pasteurized (required by law)and you should not soak them because they will get soggy. Yet I still see people are soaking raw almonds. I would appreciate some information on this.

    • Look on GreenSmoothieGirl.com website. She has a group buy once or twice a yr. & you can get TRULY raw almonds.

  31. Hi. This might be a silly question. But if you sproated pumpkin or sunflower seeds would you then still dehydrate them afterwards?

  32. While it’s best to rinse all grains before cooking, pre-washing is especially advisable for quinoa in order to remove the bitter saponin coating on its outer hull that sometimes remains after processing. To do so, simply run cold water over quinoa in fine-meshed strainer, rubbing the seeds with your fingers. (Avoid soaking quinoa, however, as saponins can leach into the seeds.) After rinsing, place quinoa and water in a covered pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the grains become translucent and the germ appears as a thin white ring around each grain. Fluff with a fork.

  33. Should I do this with sprouted quinoa too? If not what is the best way to get rid of the saponin coating and cook it?

  34. I recently learned that I need to cut back on foods that are high in oxalates and that includes many nuts, legumes and other seeds. Has anyone researched whether soaking would reduce the oxalate content? It seems like it might.

  35. Is dehydration process part of storing the nuts for better self life after soaking or deactivating enzymes itself? I do not have access to oven or dehydrator, can I eat right after soaking nuts for respective times and rinsing. For example, soak them daily for daily intake. Is it enough for better absorption of nutrients?

    Besides, Is adding salt important? How do you soak ground flex with salt? Currently, I soak ground flex in water overnight and eat it after workout. Should I add salt in it? What is the quantity ratio per one tsp of ground flex to salt?

  36. I eat a lot of nuts and seeds so I will try the soak method. I want to replace coconut for some of the nuts and was wondering if that is good, equal or not a good substitute for protein. I want to add more protein but I have a sensitive digestion.

  37. Hi,
    Recently in a group on fermentation it was brought up to do a honey and nut ferment and one reader questioned why to soak the nuts. I refered to them this article and was wondering how you feel about doing a nut ferment? WOuld it do the same as soaking? More?
    Many thanks,
    Mike

  38. If I’m going to use cashews in a recipe where they will be ground/blended into a sauce, do I need to soak them and dehydrate them or will just soaking them do the job?

  39. Hi Katie – I’ve tried searching for answer to this question and the internet doesn’t seem to have one so I’m soliciting your opinion 🙂 Nut prices have gone up so dramatically and I’ve noticed that Wegman’s carries three “healthy” varieties of nuts (like walnuts and almonds): 1) raw, unroasted 2), organic, and 3) raw and organic. The pricing for #3) is getting ridiculous so I was wondering what the second best option is…. going with raw, or organic?

  40. I usually soak almonds and then either make milk out of them or store in fridge for snaking but I was wondering if the pasteurized almonds sold as “raw” have less phytic acid because of the pasteurization than truly raw almonds.

  41. So I’m trying to soak raw organic almonds for the first time. I have followed every step so far. You mentioned to make sure the nuts are submerged in the water. However, I’m finding that half of the almonds have sunk to the bottom and the other half are floating to the top. I can’t seem to find a tool such as a potato masher to fit into the jar I am using to keep them all submerged. Is this a necessary step I need to take or is it fine just as I’ve described it? Thanks!