When soaking grain (or flour) with salt or an acidic catalyst, phytic acid is broken down by the phytase enzyme. Phytase is an essential enzyme for good digestive tract and bone health. The enzyme is found in plants and catalyzes the hydrolysis of phytic acid into a usable form of phosphorous for the plants, but the human body will typically not produce phytase. By adding lactobacilli into our gut microflora though, there will be some production of this important enzyme—making it easier for humans to digest food with phytic acid!

This enzyme is killed if frozen, left at about 176 degrees for ten minutes, or if left soaking at 131-149 degrees for an extended period of time, for this reason the naturally present phytic acid in plant-food can only be used to human advantage if food is kept under these temperatures while preparing. Phytase also dies off as it’s stored, so for this reason it’s best to grind flour fresh, right before it’s needed.

The amounts of phytase within plants vary, but its levels are high in some grains including wheat, rye, barley, and buckwheat; it’s particularly low in in corn, millet, brown rice and oats. With proper preparation nearly all the phytic acid can be neutralized from food. (8 hours of wheat or rye fermentation using a wild yeast starter is sufficient to neutralize all the phytic acid within grains rich in phytase; and a food like rice, which hardly has any phytase in it but is very high in phytic acid, can have 96% of the phytic acid eliminated by soaking for 24 hours using the accelerated soaking technique.)

Soaking and sprouting may seem like a lot of work, but like many new tasks it becomes far easier and less time-consuming once you learn how to do it and become familiar with the processes. Soaking flours in the process of bread making, nuts for a crispy snack, and cereal grains for a hot breakfast are some of the simplest ways to begin.