Nuts are a nutrient-dense snack and perfect for when the munchies strike! Satisfying but not sinful, they come highly recommended by the American Heart Association as part of a healthy diet.1 Although it’s easiest to have these crunchy nuggets straight from the pack, have you wondered if you should be soaking or peeling certain nuts first? In some parts of the world like Asia, almonds, for instance, are soaked overnight and peeled the next morning before consuming. So is there some science behind this ritual and should you consider soaking nuts before having them?
What Happens When You Soak Nuts
When you soak nuts, it becomes easier to peel off their skin. That’s not all, though. There are also certain changes to the nut itself when you soak it. While some nutrients are lost along with the skin, you may find that the positive effects of soaking more than make up on other fronts.
The Benefits Of Soaking Nuts Before Eating Them
1. Wash Away Dust
Nuts are often stored for lengths of time and may be processed in various facilities without being washed. As a result, they may have surface dust on them. This is especially true for those you buy loose from a local grocer. By soaking the nuts you may be able to remove dust and other contaminants stuck to them.
2. Purge Tannins
If you find nuts are hard to digest and cause you discomfort after eating, tannins could be to blame. Tannins are phenolic compounds found in grains, fruit like bananas and apples, some berries, as well as nuts. They are meant to protect the nut before it germinates and occur predominantly in the skin. Unfortunately, tannins also hamper your body’s absorption of the nutrients from food. They do this by inhibiting your digestive enzymes and limiting the utilization of minerals and vitamins.
Tannins also tend to form complexes with the proteins you consume. These complexes are again difficult to digest. High quantities of tannins may even adversely impact iron absorption by the body.2 By soaking the nut you get rid of much of the tannins.
Another challenge with tannins in nuts such as walnuts is that they give them a slightly bitter taste that many people find unpleasant. Soaking the nut is thought to purge the tannins and remedy this situation.
3. Lower Phytic Acid Content
Phytic acid is a natural antioxidant with its share of benefits. However, it is also known to create problems with the minerals your body absorbs from your diet. This storage compound in nuts “chelates” metal ions like iron, zinc, and even calcium in food. What this means is the phytic acid binds to these ions, creating salts that are insoluble and hard to absorb in the gastrointestinal tract. This essentially deprives your system of the minerals in an easily usable form.3
Phytic acid also inhibits pepsin and trypsin, enzymes that help ease the digestion of protein. The former assists with the breakdown of the proteins when they are in your stomach, while the latter aids protein digestion in your small intestine.4
By soaking nuts, you reduce their phytic acid content. Removing this “antinutrient” allows your body to use the minerals in the food you consume – including the ones in the nuts! In fact, one study found that as much 60 percent more magnesium and 20 percent more zinc is absorbed from food when the phytic acid was removed.5
4. Break Down And Soften The Nuts
Research has shown that nuts like almonds have a rigid structure and your stomach finds them hard to break down during digestion. In fact, raw almond tissue often remains intact post digestion. If you have a sensitive stomach, digestive trouble, or gluten sensitivity, soaking nuts can make them much easier to digest. By processing the nuts, even just soaking them, you can modify the speed at which they are broken down in the body.6
The removal of tannins, phytic acid, and the softening of the nuts all together make it easier to chew them and break down internally as well. This is a good option if you have faced irritation of the gut after eating nuts but still want to consume them for their nutrient content.7
5. Peel Away The Skin Easily
After you have soaked the nuts, the seed coat or skin comes away much easier. But should you peel off the skin from the nuts before eating them? There are many differing views on this front. Removing the skin does make it easier to digest the nut. Ayurveda, for instance, recommends soaking and removing the skin of almonds to access their nutrient content more easily and to make them taste less bitter.8 The challenge, however, is that flavonoids, compounds that can help lower lipid levels in the body as well as with improve gut health, are found in abundance in the almond’s skin. Which is why some researchers suggest consuming your nuts with the skin left on.9 Till research is able to take a firm stand on this, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to throw away the skin. Just remember, if you have a problem digesting nuts, it may just be better to discard the skin.
How Long Should You Soak Nuts For?
Dr Janardhana Hebbar, senior Ayurvedic doctor and CureJoy expert consultant, recommends soaking the nuts for different lengths of time depending on what kind you’re having. For instance, almonds may need about 12 hours in water, while others like walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, or hazelnuts need to be soaked for just 8 hours. Cashews are ready in 6 hours and macadamia nuts need just a brief 4-hour soak.
The soaking itself is quite simple. Rinse the nuts once and put them in a dish. Add water until the nuts are covered properly. After the designated time, rinse again and enjoy. If you’re planning to peel them, you should find the peel comes away easy after soaking. Variations on the method include adding a spoon of salt to the water.
Just be careful to toss out the water you soaked the nuts in – it is full of impurities and everything else you just worked so hard to get out of the nuts. After soaking, you can also dry the nuts in an oven at a low heat setting and crisp them up.
Your Doubts Answered
|↑1||Go Nuts (But just a little!). American Heart Association.|
|↑2||Chung, King-Thom, Cheng-I. Wei, and Michael G. Johnson. “Are tannins a double-edged sword in biology and health?.” Trends in Food Science & Technology 9, no. 4 (1998): 168-175.|
|↑3||Zhou, Jin R., and John W. Erdman Jr. “Phytic acid in health and disease.” Critical Reviews in Food Science & Nutrition 35, no. 6 (1995): 495-508.|
|↑4||Selle, P. H., V. Ravindran, A. Caldwell, and W. L. Bryden. “Phytate and phytase: consequences for protein utilisation.” Nutrition Research Reviews 13, no. 2 (2000): 255-278.|
|↑5||Torre, M., A. R. Rodriguez, and F. Saura‐Calixto. “Effects of dietary fiber and phytic acid on mineral availability.” Critical Reviews in Food Science & Nutrition 30, no. 1 (1991): 1-22.|
|↑6||Kong, Fanbin, and R. Paul Singh. “Digestion of raw and roasted almonds in simulated gastric environment.” Food biophysics 4, no. 4 (2009): 365-377.|
|↑7||Soaking and Sprouting Beans, Nuts, Seeds, and Grains. Gluten Intolerance Group.|
|↑8||How to have Almonds most effectively? Ayurveda Magazine.|
|↑9||Chung-Yen, Chen, Paul E. Milbury, Karen Lapsley, and Jeffrey B. Blumberg. “Flavonoids from Almond Skins Are Bioavailable and Act Synergistically with Vitamins C and E to Enhance Hamster and Human LDL Resistance to Oxidation1, 2.” The Journal of Nutrition 135, no. 6 (2005): 1366.|