Soaked Granola Bars

Of all the things I am reading about the traditional foods diet, soaking grains is probably the most confusing. Not confusing due to the labors involved, but confusing as to the benefits of soaking. I am all for making work for myself, but am I making more work for a reason? Is there actual value to soaking, say, oatmeal in whey inoculated water for a day and then dehydrating it for many hours before using it? On taste alone, I would say yes - since these granola "bars" were superior to any granola I've ever made at home. But as for nutritionally, I would say that for me the jury is still out.

Soaked and Ready Oats.

It is so easy for me to read and believe almost anything written relating to healthy diet. It wasn't hard for me to banish my microwave to the basement (for occasional Husband-usage only) and to commit to using my cast iron pans for almost all stove-top duties. After a while, it wasn't even hard for me to give up canola oil - though that was probably the most difficult given the overwhelming insistence that for years health and diet sources told me was the superior and healthiest oil to use. But giving up non-soaked grain, oatmeal in particular, proves to be the highest hurdle to date.

The flavors that come from soaking and sprouting grains and then grinding them is reward enough for the extra demand for my time and devotion. But soaking oatmeal in whey-water and then drying it... well, that isn't so intoxicating. You need the bit of acid to kick-start the process in things, like oatmeal, that won't sprout. The smell of the dehydrating oats was pleasant enough (I am so lucky that my Mom never got rid of the food dehydrator that we used years ago - it's now proudly perched atop my childhood play table in the basement), but the taste of soaked then dried oats was not so much. Aside from looking rather like dog kibble, it had a certain fermented sourness that I knew I would have a hard time passing over on my picky boys.

A sure way to get this one to try something is to have him help me make it!

Cultures around the world have soaked or fermented grains before consumption for generations. Americans, and our independent and inventive spirits, appear to have successfully removed this extra work from our lives and perhaps that may play a role in some of our collective poor health. Obviously, I don't think just because we have modernized and something has a Whole Grains Seal of Approval that it is going to be healthy - I'm certainly not going to run out and buy General Mills cereals. But sometimes I think it is probably speculation at best. Other cultures are subject to other climates and geographic anomalies that we New World-ers are not. The coconut and palm oils well used by tropical cultures are readily available in those areas, and maybe my northerner ancestry will never do well with them. It's hard to say, but so far, I'm happily using coconut and olive oil most of the time; I am choosing not to worry too much about it.

We do know that the phytic acid present in all grains, nuts and seeds can be reduced greatly by a gentle pre-treatment of either acidulated soaking or sprouting. According to Sally Fallon (who is very well-researched), "untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in unfermented whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss." How about that, Sally Field?

Last week I read this post at Kitchen Stewardship bulleting the differences between soaking and sprouting and the benefits (or disadvantages) of each. It is confusing to know what to do or what is best for human consumption. We all will "live until we die", I suppose, but sometimes I wish I was a more science minded type who could really know and decipher all the dietetic contradictions I come across.

No matter what I have read and the confusion I feel, I still wanted to try this recipe for soaked granola bars from Kitchen Stewardship. I made a half batch using the soaked and ready oats, and let the Boy-O dictate the add-ins: equal parts chocolate chips and coconut. Since the soaked and dehydrated oatmeal is so crunchy, the recipe is better than any other granola I've tried. (I chose the baking method: 10 minutes at 325 degrees.) I couldn't cut true bars from them, but rather have large chunks that are easy to pick up and eat. Because you essentially make a caramel from honey and butter, the chocolate melted - masking all remaining traces of whey flavor from the oats. The final result was a richly satisfying snack that the Boy-O loved, and I felt good about giving him. Since I have the dehydrator now, I will be making more soaked and ready oats.

Soaked and Ready Oats (Kitchen Stewardship)
makes enough for 1/2 batch of Soaked Granola Bars (easily increased)
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1/3 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 T. whey
Place the oats and wheat flour in a non-reactive bowl. Measure water and add whey to the water, stir to mix. Pour water/whey over oats/flour, and stir well. Let sit for at least 7 hours at room temperature. (I didn't have any standing liquid at all, and didn't need to drain any off. Most of the liquid should be absorbed.)

Spread in a thin layer on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Since I dehydrated, I lined the dehydrator tray with parchment - and dehydrated at 147 degrees for about 12 hours until completely dry. Kitchen Stewardship recommends drying until hard and crispy in a 250 degree oven for 2-4 hours.

When dried and cooled, break into chunks resembling oatmeal size. You can pulse in a blender or food pro, or even break by hand.

Kitchen Stewardship really does have many great recipes, and I love them as a resource for both soaking/sprouting grains and for using sourdough starter. The soaked granola bar recipe is actually from the ebook Katie Kimball wrote called Healthy Snacks to Go. I have never purchased an ebook, and am thinking that this may be my first one. There is something about holding a book in my hands, even though I appreciate the paper-freedom of the computer, especially in the kitchen. (Obviously, since the "M" key and some punctuation near my right hand are sticking on this kitchen netbook... How do you even clean that?)

Meanwhile, I'll likely go on sprouting and soaking a number of things. It is true that the more fermented foods you introduce your taste buds to, the more they will accept and even crave them. And, while I can't see cooking up a bowl of "soaked and ready" oatmeal in the morning, I can see making more of this delicious granola. I may eventually try eating it plain, but likely will need to add some sweetener, maybe maple syrup.
What do you think about sprouting and/or soaking? I am anxious to hear some thoughts from other fermenters and experimenters!