Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
October 06 2008

Dear Mark: Soaking Seeds and Nuts

By Mark Sisson
48 Comments

Dear Mark,

I love nuts, but they most definitely do NOT love me back! Since going “primal” about 18 months ago, I’ve increased my consumption of nuts and seeds. Well actually, I’ve gone overboard.  (Seems I just can’t have a handful and call it a day.) Now nuts and seeds in virtually any amount cause me to have major digestion issues. It’s indescribably bad, let’s just leave it at that. I’ve read a lot about soaking (sprouting) nuts and seeds and it seems to make a lot of sense to try this. I’d love to have your opinion on this!

Though I haven’t had problems like this myself, I know it’s a common issue for many people. Of course, the more nuts you eat (as we Primal types are wont to do), the more apparent the situation becomes for those who are sensitive. The offending characters, it seems, are lectins, phytates, and enzyme inhibitors, notorious little “anti-nutrients” that put some people’s stomachs through the ringer. Even if you don’t show obvious symptoms, many argue, you may be compromising nutritional uptake by eating raw nuts.

While roasting nuts can reduce these anti-nutrients and perhaps clear up the problem for some people, it may not do the full job for others. Furthermore, though roasting may disable the anti-nutrients, it doesn’t enhance the bioavailability of nuts’ vitamin and mineral content. As I’ve mentioned in the past, there’s some concern about heat rendering nuts rancid.

I’d definitely recommend soaking for people who have problems digesting nuts and even for folks who don’t. Soaking and rinsing raw nuts more effectively deals with the phytates and enzyme inhibitors than roasting does. Another benefit to soaking is enhanced flavor.

When I make nut butter, I like to soak raw nuts (almonds being my favorite, of course) in some salt water overnight. Some people choose to soak a full 24 hours. Right after they’re done soaking, it’s crucial to thoroughly dry them. The best ways to ensure they’ll dry all the way through is to lay them out in a single, sparse layer in the sun or in a warm oven (lowest possible setting—ideally not more than 120 degrees). If you have a dehydrator or don’t mind investing in one, that’s a good route to go as well.

Though soaked/sprouted almonds might be more common, I wouldn’t hesitate to soak other varieties like walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts. (Pumpkin seeds are excellent this way as well.) I’ve heard conflicting reports on a few other kinds like pine nuts and macadamia nuts. Sally Fallon, expert behind Nourishing Traditions, recommends soaking and drying for these varieties but suggests a shorter soak time (no more than 6 hours). If you’re less comfortable soaking these varieties and don’t want to eat them raw, I’d lean more toward the common sprouted nuts.

As always, thanks for the great questions, and keep ‘em coming!

yksin Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Is Flax Bad?

Make Your Own Primal Energy Bars in 10 Easy Steps

The Seasons for Nuts and Seeds

Subscribe to the Newsletter

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

48 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Soaking Seeds and Nuts”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Mark, great comprehensive guide to soaking of nuts and seeds. I have myself experimented with soaking some nuts in salty water overnight and drying them in the sun, it makes them taste amazing and I like to do a batch regularly.
    Its definitely worth the time and hassle for the taste alone. Its great to know that it removes those pesky anti-nutrients as well!

  2. I have never even heard of soaking nuts before. I don’t seem to have any trouble with raw nuts so I don’t know if I would go through the hassel myself. Sounds like a promising option though!

    1. Surely you meant to say you don’t know if you’d go through the *hazel* yourself.

  3. Have you considered soaking in a brine of sodium bicarbonate (i.e. baking soda) instead of salt? I know this works wonders for beans.

  4. I soak nuts in a weak sea salt solution, then dry them on two large sheet pans in my oven. The oven temp only goes as low as 170°F, so I use a wooden spoon to crack the oven ajar just a bit. The thermometer inside the oven indicates that keeps the temp around 150°F and allows the moisture to evaporate. Every few hours I stir/shake them up to assist the evaporation rate.

    Not the most energy efficient way, but it works without buying a dehydrator. Stacking would increase efficiency. I let it go overnight this way or turn it off and restart it in the morning. I only do this on weekends when someone is around the house, but haven’t ever had a problem.

    My large toaster oven goes down to 150°F, but it doesn’t hold as many nuts, so I don’t use that oven as often. I’m looking into buying a smoker that will stay at low temps, so I can soak/dry a larger quantity of nuts that way, too.

  5. I am an avid reader of Sally Fallon and have soaked, salted and dried my nuts and seeds ever since I read her recommendation. The end result is a wonderful improvement over what I used to eat. There is a unique crispness and flavor to them. It is all well worth the effort, which really isn’t much. 😉

    1. There are SO delicious and crispy. Love them. Also love Sally Fallon / Nourishing Traditions. That book taught me so much invaluable information on food. Helped me tremendously when my children were born. Recommend to everyone.

  6. I’m still wondering about eating various squash seeds. Has anyone tried squash seeds other than pumpkin? I did some research and the general consensus is that it is ‘safe’ to eat them. I think I’ll have to give it a try and let you all know how it turns out.

    1. Butternut squash seeds are my favourite! Even better than pumpkin. Roasted in coconut oil and garlic, yum.

  7. New_me,

    Make sure that you post somewhere around here on your findings! I would be interested in other squash seeds too.

  8. if this is applicable: one needs to be aware that the peanut is not a nut – but a legumes – and as such contain the hight antinutrient content mark mentions to a far greater degree than true nuts

    i should suggest avoiding these altogether

    it’s very difficult in some countries to obtain raw nuts – like the UK – and i found out the hard way that soaking already processed nuts is – well – uck?

    M

  9. Dear Mark,

    I have Celiac and am gluten intolerant and bake with blanched almond flour sometimes. I have trouble digesting it though. Can you please tell me if you know anything about soaking actual almond flour, how and if that would help once the nuts are already ground into flour? Thank you.

  10. DEAR CELIAC–about soaking almonds–the point of soaking RAW ALMONDS is to spout them and make them a living food so they are more nutritious and the coating that is harmful comes off. Then you can also slide the almond skin off after 24 hours and it is like blanched. (Therefore you can’t soak almond flour –it is not a live almond anymore). When you soak almonds 24 hrs you will see they grow in size 30 to 40 % and the tip grows out a bit.

    (My wife has celiac too and can’t eat all almond shaped nuts and fruits with almond shaped pits.)
    Roy

  11. I have some soaked walnuts and pecans drying in the oven right now. Do they just need to dry to the touch or do they need to stay in there longer? Thanks.

  12. Lisa,

    I dry two sheet pans of nuts that have been soaked a few hours in a slight sea salt brine (about 4 pounds of nuts at a time, spread out in a shallow layer) in my oven for most of the day, until they have a crispy texture when chewed. Periodically I stir the nuts to allow even drying. I use the lowest tempt setting on my oven (170F°) and keep the door propped open a bit with a wooden spoon to reduce the temperature slightly as well as to allow water vapor to dissipate. Allow the nuts to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

    Be sure the nuts are quite dry and crunchy (they’ll be considerably lighter, too), as they will develop mold if too much moisture remains during storage. Large nuts (like Brazil nuts) need more drying time than smaller nuts, like pecans.

  13. Thanks!
    That’s exactly how I’m drying them. Door propped open, oven set at 170, thermometer hanging steady at 150!

  14. Due to regulations, the only almonds I can get in my area are “steam pasteurized.” Does this kill the nut and make it no longer a living food? Will sprouting work with these?

  15. And can I sprout nuts that were previously frozen? Are they supposed to be cracked first?

  16. Can I soak pre-roasted nuts? My boyfriend bought $20 worth and I’m hoping I can salvage their nutritional value!

    1. You can soak them, but they won’t sprout (obviously) as they are no longer raw.
      Also, they may have been roasted in bad oils (hydrogenated or bad types of oil). Check the label…

  17. @LONE WOLF: If you run a search for raw pasteurized almonds you should fine a few companies that sell nuts who assure customers the nut is still alive. D&S Ranches is one.

  18. why do you recommend salt in your soak water? From research that I read, extra salt is not heart friendly and as I understand it just water will release the phytate and enzyme inhibitors.

    why do you say you have to completely dry the nuts after soaking. It is important to rinse them, but why dry?

    I hope you see this post so long after the article!

    Many thanks for the discussion.

  19. @RawLisa I have the exact same questions.

    Additionally…

    1) How long is the ideal time to dry the nuts? How will I know they’re ready?

    2) What would be the consequence if the nuts are not soaked? I pretty much just buy raw nuts & seeds, make a mix, toss in some dried fruit, and enjoy. Is that so bad? I haven’t experienced any digestive issue.

    Thanks
    Bob

  20. What about buying pre-sprouted nuts and seeds? I don’t have a dehydrator and thought it would just be one step out of the equation.

  21. Mark – I did not read all the comments, so if this was already discussed I apologize. For sure soaking is beneficial. However it may also be that since you were eating mixed nuts EVERYDAY that you developed a food sensitivity, an auto-immune reaction. You already know that grain proteins can slip through the intestinal lining. Well it seems so can an food particle, especially in a damaged gut – which is 99% of America, Primal in recent years or not. I am still researching this but it seems that food rotation is really important. i.e. eat almonds one day and then stay away from them for 3 days. This allows the body to clear any foreign protein that snuck out before the body has time to mount an immune reaction and start to attack the invader.
    Thoughts people?

    1. If you’re rotating foods but love mixed nuts, my first thought is to unmix them: hazelnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, and pecans all belong to different families and may possibly be tolerated on consecutive days. (Note however that cashews and pistachios, for example, are in the same family, as are walnuts and pecans, so neither pair should be eaten too close together.)

  22. Starting to experiment with sprouting almonds. I am unclear if I should rinse off the brine before dehydrating or just drain and dehydrate? Thanks!

  23. So, here’s my question! I found this blog just the other day and am completely hooked. 🙂 I’m going back and forth between going totally Primal, and sticking with a more Sally Fallon type diet. I’ve been known to soak and enjoy delicious steel-cut oats, and I make a mean sourdough bread. The thing I just don’t get is this: why are grains considered totally evil, but nuts and seeds are okay? All of them are seeds, essentially baby plants. All contain phytates, lectins, and other anti-nutrients. What makes nuts and seeds a staple of the Primal diet, and grains not? Grok certainly wasn’t soaking his nuts and seeds, and probably didn’t eat that many seeds anyway, given how small they are and how much of a pain they can be to eat. So, what gives? Is it the fat/protein content?

    I guess I’m just wondering why grains are demonized here and nuts and seeds aren’t, when the research is mixed on the antinutrients contained in both. Thanks!

    1. I think it has to do with the fact most grains are cultivated and require processing, whereas nuts and seeds can be gathered from wild plants.

      Also I think a key to living primal is the 80/20 balance Mark advocates – sticking to the primal doctrine 80% of the time while reserving 20% to balance the demands and realities of living in a non-hunter gatherer society. Personally, I love ice cream, cookies, nachos, and other non-primal fare, so I’ll occasionally indulge. In the end it’s all about what makes you happy and what makes you feel good. Life is short, we’re all going to die at some point, so enjoy your time however you see fit.

    2. Your wondering is understandable. As I make the circuit from Paleo to Primal to Weston Price approach advocating websites, my head starts to hurt. I believe it is safe to say that (a) the science and evidence are rapidly evolving and growing, and (b) there are a lot of individual differences, so one ultimately has to experiment and arrive at one’s own conclusions about what works.

      If I understand things correctly, there are a couple of inaccuracies in your summary characterization of the Primal diet. My take: (1) Nuts and seeds are generally considered snacks rather than staples by most Primal pundits. They recommend keeping your consumption moderate. But, yes, the macronutrient profiles of favored nuts are pretty decent. (2) There is a characterized spectrum of evil-ness for grains, rather than all being deemed totally evil. “Evil” is generally associated with gluten — which nuts lack, and which cannot be defanged by soaking overnight. Many non-carb-phobic Paleos give phytate-removed, gluten-free white rice, for instance, somewhat of a pass. If you sprout wheat and let the grass blade grow enough I suppose a fair amount of the gluten gets converted to something good. I have had symptoms of gluten sensitivity, hence give wheat a wide berth.

      It seems a major part of the issue with grains stems from the fact that they became staples, whereas if they had stayed supplemental to the same degree as nuts they would not have caused the metabolic havoc they have. Moreover, the hybridization and genetic modification of grains has — again, based on my understanding — amplified their unhealthy characteristics. The nuts we eat today are presumably fairly close to what Grok consumed, whereas the grains available today are quite far from those with which he supplemented his diet.

      Hopefully this adds a little clarity for you.

  24. Sorry if I overlooked this detail somewhere, but why do you have to dry the nut after soaking it? I understand mold and such can grow, but if you eat it promptly, does it make a difference nutritionally if the nut is still wet or if you’ve dried it?

    Also, are any of the beneficial nutrients in the nut affected by soaking?

  25. If walnuts are so good for us then I don’t understand the hype on their content of Omega 6 being more than Omega 3 When omega 6 is so bad for you. look forward to a reply.
    Judith

  26. One thing I notice was omitted in the article: Nuts must NEVER be bought raw. The instant that any nut is taken out of its shell, the oils in it start to go rancid. It is better to not eat nuts at all than to eat raw nuts sold in most supermarkets, even if said nuts are soaked/sprouted/roasted, etc. In China and many other countries, nuts are always sold IN THE SHELL. Whole, in-shell, organic nuts have a very long shelf life, and the oils will not go rancid. So far, Whole Foods has told me that in-shell nuts are a seasonal item only, but there are a few places online that sell them year-round. That said, the information on nut preparation in the article was helpful!

    1. I don’t agree with that. Where I live, I never once managed to find in the shell nuts that weren’t rancid but I buy raw shelled nuts that are very fresh and kept cold. I just need to check the date on the package and I’m good to go. The best are fresh in the shell almond though, it’s delicious but oh so rare.

      1. Which in-shell nuts did you find that were rancid? And how could you tell they were rancid? Also how do you know the raw shelled nuts are very fresh? Does it say on the package when they were harvested?…most do not….The sell-by date is not at all a reliable indicator of freshness. Also, most packaged nuts are not kept cold. There is only one nut harvest per year and that is in the fall around October-November.

        The reason I care about this issue is that Americans favor convenience and producers favor profits, but traditionally, nuts have never, ever been sold shelled…This is pure greed. I don’t care how much nitrogen is flushed into the bag or how much Vitamin E they are coated with or even how cold they are kept…shelled nuts ought to be banned…I used to work in China and people love to snack on seasonal sunflower seeds…they buy a whole sunflower head and literally pick the intact in-shell seeds right out…that is the only right way to consume nuts and seeds.

        Also, the establishment public authorities are now telling people to eat more nuts…freshness and wholeness has to be emphasized…not convenience…the issues of rancidity are legitimate, and the fats may not be the only thing that “goes bad” once the nuts are shelled. Sorry to be so inflexible, but I think it’s important we as a society fix this little problem once and for all.

  27. I am not sure if anyone else has mentined but in the link where Sally Fallon describes the nut sprouting process she only indicates that cashews be soaked for 6 hours or less and not the others mentioned in the same paragraph which you also mentioned

  28. I have been primal for a month now and have also experienced some digestion problems and believe it could be the nuts and seeds. About an hour after a handful of trail mix I get a very uncomfortable feeling just below my sternum which feels like something is just sitting there, undigested. I had suffered from IBS and had corrected it with “All Bran Buds” but have gone off of them along with all other grains and the IBS has returned. Not sure if the seed/nut sensitivity would cause that. I was so gung ho about going primal and have experienced a lot of the positive things that come along with it such as energy, weight loss, better sleep and my joint pain has disappeared. The digestive problems are affecting my daily activities and I’m not sure what to do from here.

  29. Hi. I have a question.
    It is said you should soak nuts such as almonds overnight. However when soaking in vitamin c your site says just 5 minutes. Can you confirm what action should be done ? Many thanks.
    God bless

  30. Hi. To roast almonds in the oven at 170 F, how long approximately would that take (or the shortest amount of time I could get away with)?

    P.S. Love your site, thank you for all the great, detailed info!

  31. Mark,
    How do you eat your macademias? Raw? Bought raw, then soaked and dried? Bought raw, soaked and roasted? Bought raw in the shell or out? Bought roasted and sea salted?

  32. hehe makes me laugh when I hear people have problems digesting nuts. Yes, it needs to be soaked. raw nuts have a natural anti-enzymatic property on them making it nearly impossible to digest unless you take enzymes. However, sprouting them makes them digestible.

  33. I was wondering if it the nuts have to be whole to realize the benefits of soaking. Many nuts I buy at the market are broken, so they are not intact seeds.

    1. Wow! Long list of questions! @ Joseph, you can soak pieces of nuts. The recommendation to soak whole nuts is that they are usually fresher. The pieces of nuts can go rancid more easily. Have you tried it yet?