The Well Fed Family’s Breads DVD has a wealth of information about phytic acid in grains, but did you know that beans also contain phytic acid? Phytic acid is the component of beans, grains, nuts and seeds that helps store the energy needed for the new seedling until the time comes for it to be used for plant growth. That’s good for the plant but bad for our nutrition. The phytic acid grabs on to some important nutrients like magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc making them unavailable for our bodies and taking them on out through the digestive tract and beyond.
In addition to phytic acid beans, grains, seeds and nuts contain enzyme inhibitors that keep the seeds from sprouting until the conditions are right for a plant to grow. These enzyme inhibitors are irritating to our digestive tract and are often what causes digestive problems to many people when they eat grains, nuts or beans. All of these protective measures make sense from the plant’s point of view, but when we want to use the seed or bean for our own food it is paramount that we be able to digest it and to absorb the nutrition from it.
Thankfully it is fairly simple to reduce the effects of phytic acid and the enzyme inhibitors when we prepare beans. Starting with dried beans, wash them in a colander under plenty of running water discarding any pebbles or rotten beans, and place them in a bowl at least twice as large as the a mount of beans you are preparing. Cover the beans with warm water. For every pound of beans add at least 2 Tblsp of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or fresh whey. Stir the beans and leave them in a warm place for at least 7 hours, preferably longer. The phytic acid begins to be neutralized after 7 hours but the digestibility of the beans gets better the longer you soak – 12 hours or longer is best.
After the soaking period drain the beans and rinse well again. Place them in a large pot and add fresh water to cover the beans. Bring them to a boil and use a spoon to skim off any foam that rises to the top. Once you have skimmed the beans reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Let them simmer for 2 – 4 hours until tender. Check the water level occasionally and add water as needed to keep the beans from drying out. You can also cook them in a slow cooker on low. The time needed to cook will depend on the size and age of the bean. Large beans that have been stored for a long time will take the longest to soften. Try to purchase beans and use them within a year. Old beans are tough beans.