Water, a dash of salt, a pound of raw almonds, twenty-four hours. This simple equation is all is takes to transform something ordinary into something incredibly delicious and nourishing. By harnessing — and in this case, by encouraging — the force of nature upon a little seed, we unlock vast potential, almost as if a door has been opened and a flood of energy unleashed. Sound a little trippy? Embrace your inner hippie and come along on a biochemical nutritional geekery magic carpet ride with me.
Almonds, on their own, seem like a healthy snack. In their raw form they are free of roasting oils and seasonings that would never be found in nature (BBQ or wasabi almonds, anyone?) and seem to be the best choice, as any wellness magazine would tell you. But in reality, almonds contain a host of warriors that fight against digestion and mineral absorption when consumed raw, and can cause more harm to the body than good.
I first learned about the chemical makeup of almonds (and most other nuts and seeds) from the nutritional tome Nourishing Traditions — if you haven’t picked up a copy for yourself, I suggest that you do. I learned about the anti-nutrient contained in nuts and seeds that exist to protect the reproductive potential of the plant. Phytatic acid is what prevents much of the digestion of almonds and hinders the absorption of minerals in the body, often encouraging digestive upset, mineral deficiencies and a whole host of other problems, potentially leading to leaky gut and autoimmune disorders.
(Note: this isn't a phenomenon unique to Nourishing Traditions. My understanding of these complex mechanisms has been deepened in every chemistry and nutrition course I have taken since.)
Take a difference perspective: if you were a plant, you would want to protect your DNA-containing embryo that would help your species propagate. It’s the same reason why fowl protect their eggs and wheat kernels are so difficult to digest without some form of processing. The organism needs those seeds to survive in order for the organism’s lineage to survive.
It doesn’t only happen with wheat and almonds — when birds eat berries they are able to fully digest the fruit, but the seed of the blackberry or blueberry they just consumed passes whole through their digestive system and is spread across the country through their waste. This is one of the ingenious mechanisms of biochemistry that allows plants and animals to work together, in synergy.
So if we take into account the anti-nutrients contained in almonds and why those anti-nutrients exist, should we even eat almonds and other nuts in the first place? Yes, I contend, but in small doses, and with proper preparation.
There is a process — called soaking, sprouting or “activating” — that helps to neutralize the harmful phytic acid and make the minerals within an almond more bio-available (meaning, our bodies can better absorb the nutrients). By soaking nuts overnight in clean water with a pinch of salt, we activate the almond’s growing response and thereby “turn off” the production of harmful phytic acid. Think of it this way: the almond has been on the defensive, trying to protect itself and its genetic material for the future. But now, under the right circumstances, it is being encouraged to grow, to start a sprout, and to eventually produce more almonds. In this “safe place,” it no longer needs phytic acid to protect itself, but now can use all of its resources — resources that are nutritious to the human body — to propagate.
This is certainly more time-intensive than eating raw almonds straight out of a package, but it is worth it in the long run to reap the health benefits and negate the detriments of phytic acid on the body. Plus, by soaking/sprouting/activating the almonds, you open up a whole new flavor profile and an opportunity to customize. With my typical recipe, I soak and dehydrate almonds without the addition of spices, but you can also created your own mixes with the addition of a few herbs and spices, plus a little extra time in the oven to promote a roasted, toasted flavor.
Look at this as one big science experiment and have fun with it — that’s half the reason why we get into the kitchen in the first place, to tinker and to play.
1 lb. raw almonds
2 quarts water
dash of sea salt (or an acidic medium like apple cider vinegar)
2 Tbsp. olive oil or sweetener like honey or maple syrup
1 Tbsp. sea salt
1-2 Tbsp. dried herbs, spices, etc.
Soak the raw almonds overnight in fresh water with a dash of salt or apple cider vinegar. This helps to begin the sprouting (or “activating”) process that removes many of the phytates and other anti-nutrients contained in the nut which prevent digestion and adequate mineral absorption.
After soaking, drain and rinse the raw almonds, shaking as much water off as possible. At this point you may begin the dehydration process to create unflavored activated almonds, which are delicious in their own right. Simply spread the almonds on a lined baking sheet in a single layer, and leave them in the oven for at least 12 hours at the lowest setting your oven has (usually 170 degrees). At the end of 12 hours, taste an almond - if it's crispy and crunchy, you're finished. If there's any lingering moisture within, it still needs some more time under the heat.
Or, if you're interested in adding some flavor, you may do the following: In a large bowl, toss the almonds with olive oil, salt and dried rosemary to coat. Spread on a lined baking sheet and leave in the oven for at least 12 hours at 170 degrees — the almonds are adequately dehydrated when they are crunchy and have a slightly sweet, toasted flavor.
Try creative flavors and combinations:
dried rosemary + sea salt
smoked paprika + cayenne + garlic salt
pumpkin pie spice + maple syrup
cumin + chili powder + lime zest
oregano + tomato paste + olive oil + sea salt
honey + sea salt + sesame seeds
ginger + turmeric + honey
garam masala + sea salt
(This is a re-post of an article I wrote for my old blog. I've come across some discussion about phytic acid in some recent academic work, plus I've been snacking on almonds pretty frequently, so I thought it was high time I shared it with you!)