I must confess, I am nuts about nuts and need to really hold myself back and not over-consume them.
Sprouting nuts and seeds before eating is nothing new, it has been done in Europe and East Asia for thousands of years. Different forms of soaking, sprouting and also fermenting seeds has been done by almost every culture around the world.
Nuts and seeds are very healthy and nutritious but only if your body absorbs those nutrients. We humans are not designed to break down anti-nutrients (phytic acid, lectins, tannins, polyphenols) from plant compounds that lock up or deplete minerals, vitamins and other nutrients. Phytic acid is present in nuts, seeds as well as in beans and grains- especially in the bran or the outer hull portion. Seeds and bran are the highest for phytates. Raw, unfermented cocoa beans and cocoa powder are also high in phytates. Research shows that you absorb around 60% more magnesium and 20% more zinc from your food when phytate is absent. In other words, if you remove phytates, you help increase vitamin and mineral absorption in your body.
In a phytate rich diet, your body can suffer from the lack of calcium and phosphorus with poor bone growth, rickets, narrow jaws and tooth decay. You may also develop anemia and decreased mental functioning due to the lack of iron. It has also been shown that high amounts of phytic acid consumption decreases vitamin D stores.
Phytase is the enzyme that neutralises phytic acid and liberates the phosphorus. This enzyme co-exists in plant foods that contain phytic acid. Unfortunately, most of us do not produce enough phytase to safely consume large quantities of high phytate foods on a regular basis. However, the probiotic lactobacilli, and other bacterial species of digestive microflora in your gut are able to produce phytase. People with healthy intestinal flora have an easier time digesting foods with phytic acid than those with unhealthy or unbalanced microflora. Another good reason why gut health is so important for your overall health.
Soaking and sprouting seeds and nuts can significantly help to break down those anti-nutrients, making them more digestible and absorbable and so you get the nutrients from them such as protein, calcium, magnesium, selenium, zinc, iron, B12. Nuts also have high amounts of enzyme inhibitors, which are useful to seeds and nuts because they prevent them from sprouting prematurely, but they can be very hard on your digestion. Soaking nuts will help neutralise these enzyme inhibitors, encourage the production of beneficial enzymes which also make nuts much easier to digest. Sprouting also activates phytase, therefore reducing phytic acid even more.
Soaking is the process of putting nuts and seeds (or legumes) in warm water for a period of time. You must first soak before you can sprout.
With all my nuts I buy them raw and in bulk (best if organic). I take big glass bowls for different nuts and soak them in warm water (where I also add a pinch of sea salt). Adding sea salt helps to neutralise the enzymes.
After the soaking, I discard the water I soaked the nuts and seeds in and wash them once more, as that water contains anti-nutrients. I use the below guidelines in terms of time how long I soak the nuts.
Macadamias- 2 hours
Cashews- 2-4 hours
Brazil nuts- 3 hours
Walnuts- 4 hours
Almonds- 8 hours
Pecans- 6 hours
Hazelnuts- 8 hours
Pistachios (raw not salted)- 8 hours
Pine nuts- 7 hours
Pumpkin seeds- 7+ hours
Sunflower seeds- 7 hours
After soaking the nuts, I dry them with kitchen towel or kitchen paper and put in the oven to dry at max 65C (150F) for 6-8 hours. You can also use a dehydrator if you have one. Check if they are totally dry and crunchy. Beware that if nuts are not completely dry, they can develop mould. After they have cooled down, I put them in the freezer and take out a handful when needed.
Sprouting is used after soaking and it further enhances the digestibility of nuts, seeds and legumes. Sprouting makes them also more nutrient-dense.
It's a matter of preference, but I prefer not to sprout my nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds (only soak and dehydrate them). Sprouts can be subject to contamination which can result in bacterial growth such as E. coli, leading to food-borne illnesses. You should always properly prepare the sprouts, properly store then and consume sprouts within a few days, fresh and straight out from your fridge. I do however sprout other seeds, such as broccoli and radish.