Lentils are a great source of protein and go well in soups and stews. However, their beneficial properties are even more apparent when they are soaked before cooking. These benefits include:
- Increased mineral absorption
- Decreased phytic acids, polyphenols, tannins, enzyme inhibitors, gas and bloating, and cooking time
- Easier digestion
- Improved texture
Lentils should be soaked for at least two hours and up to eight hours for maximum benefits.
Always drain the lentils and discard the soaking water before cooking. You will find that many of the unwanted compounds that are reduced by soaking are retained in the soaking water.
Do not cook your lentils in the same water you soaked them in.
In this article, we’ll provide you with information on how all of these advantages make it well worth it to soak your lentils before cooking them. After reading this, you’ll never cook your lentils without soaking again!
1. Increased Mineral Absorption
Soaking raw lentils allows for necessary minerals to be more easily absorbed by your body when you eat them.
Zinc, iron, and calcium are all important minerals that your body needs to keep your immune system, metabolic processes, bloodstream, and bones all healthy and in proper working order.
When you soak lentils, you also increase the absorption of protein, of which lentils have an abundance, to aid with muscle and tissue creation and repair.
2. Reduced Phytic Acids
Phytic acid is found in many seeds, beans, and nuts including lentils; its primary function is to store phosphorus.
It can become problematic because phytic acid binds to essential minerals, making them unavailable for absorption by your body.
When you soak lentils, you decrease the concentration of phytic acids in the lentils you consume in two different ways.
The first way soaking reduces phytic acids is by the production of phytase, an enzyme that attaches to and breaks down phytic acid.
The second is by leaching phytic acid into the water (which should be discarded) before the lentils are cooked.
3. Easier to Digest
Soaking lentils also activates another enzyme called amylase whose job is to break down starches.
Since starches are complex sugars that can be difficult and time-consuming for our digestive systems to handle, having that starch content already broken down before consumption allows for easier digestion.
4. Reduced Polyphenols and Tannins
Tannins and polyphenols are known for their antioxidant properties, but they can also prevent the absorption of minerals such as iron by binding to them.
Similar to phytic acid, soaking lentils encourages the activation of polyphenol oxidase which binds to polyphenols and tannins to break them down.
In addition to this, polyphenols and tannins are leached into the soaking water and discarded before the lentils are even cooked. Thus, this allows for more iron to be absorbed by your body.
5. Less Gas and Bloating
Complex sugars called oligosaccharides found in lentils can cause excessive bloating and gas because our bodies are unable to efficiently break down these sugars. By soaking lentils before cooking, these oligosaccharides begin to break down in the water.
By the time they are consumed and reach your digestive system, they are much easier to handle, and the resulting gas and bloating are far less than if you had consumed unsoaked lentils.
6. Reduced Enzyme Inhibitors
While lentils contain many good nutrients, they also have anti-nutrient factors known as anti-nutritional enzyme inhibitors. These inhibitors bind to beneficial enzymes and prevent their ability to aid in the absorption of essential nutrients.
Anti-nutrients commonly found in lentils include proteolytic enzyme inhibitors, lectins, chymotrypsin and trypsin inhibitors, and oligosaccharides.
All of these can be reduced by soaking lentils before cooking in order to ensure the maximum amount of essential minerals and nutrients available for absorption upon consumption.
7. Decreased Cooking Time
Soaking lentils before cooking can decrease the time required to cook raw lentils. By increasing their water absorption by soaking, the chemical reactions which occur during cooking happen more quickly.
If you soak your lentils overnight, then it will only take about five to seven minutes to cook in the morning.
By contrast, unsoaked lentils require about fifteen to twenty minutes to be fully cooked.
8. Improved Texture
Lentils have a reputation for being a bit tough and chewy, especially if overcooked or salted before cooking. To improve the texture of your lentils so that they are softer and more palatable, it is recommended to soak raw lentils before cooking.
Not only will it improve the texture of your food, but it will also allow the lentils to complement the other ingredients of your soup or stew.
While it does add an extra step to your food preparation, there are many advantages to soaking raw lentils before you cook them.
Increasing the absorption of zinc, calcium, protein, and iron and reducing the amount of phytic acid, tannins, and polyphenols, and anti-nutritional enzyme inhibitors are just a few of the nutritional benefits of pre-soaking lentils.
Reduced bloating and flatulence and easier digestion are also added bonuses to soaking lentils, which help your body process them more efficiently.
In addition, pre-soaked lentils cook faster and tend to taste better by having a softer, more appealing texture than the potentially tough texture of unsoaked lentils.
Remember to soak your lentils for any amount of time before cooking but ideally two to eight hours for optimal benefits. Never cook lentils in the water they were soaked in because that water contains all of the disadvantageous compounds which have leached out of the lentils during soaking.
Overall, there are many reasons to soak your lentils before cooking that make it well worth the extra time to ensure you are reaping all the benefits of this delicious plant.