Why should I soak seeds and grains before I bake bread?

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Soaking things in water before cooking and baking with them is an oddly important tradition for many people in many parts of the world.  Certainly, in Germany, where my mother is from, you would never get seeds or grains in bread that had not been soaked first.  It is not an automatic thing to do in the UK, and for years the British broke their teeth on unpleasant granary bread covered with nasty bits of seed and grain that really could have been gravel and the only person who was happy about it was the dentist.  It’s a mystery and it still goes on today.

recipes for vegetarian bread
Danish rye with molasses, soaked grains and seeds

Soaking seeds and grains (especially grains) before you bake with them is important for many reasons:

1.  It makes them soft so they are more pleasant in the mouth and easier to chew completely so they won’t break your teeth, take out your fillings, and are easier to digest.

2.  It plumps them full of moisture so they don’t suck moisture out of the dough while it is rising.  This is especially important when you are baking sourdough bread which sits around for so long – plenty of time for the seeds and grains to refresh themselves at the expense of your bread.

3.  It makes them more digestable, breaking them down before they hit your tummy.

4.  Once soaked and rinsed, the levels of phytates that are found in seeds and grains are somewhat reduced which may better for your health.

When you are soaking seeds and grains, use water than is room temperature or colder so you don’t spoil the seeds and grains (ie they go bad by sitting around in tepid water).  They spoil easily and will give you a tummy ache if they do. Always drain and rinse them well before adding them to the bread unless the recipe says otherwise.

Soaking raisins and other kinds of dry fruit is nice too because it makes the fruit all plump and lovely and delicious in your bread, and it does not get stuck in your teeth leading to faster tooth decay and the need for emergnecy tooth picking in public.  If you are soaking fruit, you can use the liquid in which the fruit was soaked as part of the liquid you need in the bread.  If you are making a grown up bread, use rum or brandy or wine.  If you are making a bread for all, use water or tea or juice.

Nuts and dry fruit soaking in brandy to make Stollen
Fruit and nuts soaking in rum for Stollen

Once again, make sure the liquid you are using is room temperature or colder so as not to cook the fruit.

7 thoughts on “Why should I soak seeds and grains before I bake bread?”

  1. Your wonderful website…yes, soak the grain 1st! We may have met at WAP but want to send you some seaweed to soak in the water used to soak the seeds and grains before baking the bread. It makes so much sense. Thank you SIMON RANGRR
    Where shall I send it with instructions?

    1. Hi Audrey, thanks for your comment. I usually soak them over night. If it’s a hot season, I put them in the fridge to soak. If it’s not too hot, I just leave them on the counter.

  2. I am making your Vollkorn Brot recipe for the first time and am so excited to relive some taste memories I had back in 1974 when I did a semester of college abroad. I have a question about the grain soak. If soaking the grains, should I reduce the amount of water I mix with the yeast? Thank you in advance for the guidance.

    1. Hi Scott, thanks for this and I am thrilled. I always drain the seeds and grains and rinse them off so I don’t include soaking water to the dough. As such, I maintain the water level. Other recipes call for a certain amount of water and then the water is put into the dough so that the “new” water level seems smaller than usual. It’s really up to you!

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