hand-drawn illustration of beans sprouting

Can we ferment beans?

Yes, we can! And if you have ever made togue (mung bean sprouts) in the past, then you have (kind of) fermented beans yourself. We’re talking about soaking and sprouting, two simple techniques that transform food but are supremely underrated. 

Soaking and sprouting help ferment beans and, according to fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz, they are “the most effective way to realize the powerful nutritive potential” of these accessible and affordable crops that are the nutrient-rich staples and backbone of numerous diets worldwide. We’re talking grains, beans, seeds, and nuts. (For the purpose of this article, let’s group them into one category and call them seeds, since they generally “reproduce” and develop into plants.) 

Sprouted sunflower seeds
Meet the mighty seed

As you know, seeds are sturdy, self-contained products determined to survive. They have enzyme inhibitors that protect themselves from germination until they have the right conditions–moisture, oxygen, sunlight. These protective properties are the likely reasons why when some people eat them, they get digestive issues like stomach cramps and bloating. 

Beans are rich in starch which allows the fermentation to happen when they are soaked in water. These white speckled beans are from Kalinga in the Cordilleras.

Seeds also have hard outer coatings that work like armor. The coating has phytates that have been called “anti-nutrient” because they inhibit nutrient absorption such as iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium.

The phytates are actually the main storage form of phosphorus which the seeds will need when they grow and develop into plants–so it makes sense that the seeds have them. 

Soaking and sprouting are the simplest way to begin the fermentation of beans. Soaking mimics some of the conditions that activate germination.

The sprouts are ready when they have tails. Patani and fragrant beans from Sagada, Mt. Province.

The seeds, particularly grains and beans, are rich in starch, which allows the fermentation. The process then neutralizes the enzyme inhibitors and breaks down nutrient inhibitors (called phytic acid) in the seeds. Broken-down phytic acid also converts to inositols, which improve insulin sensitivity to help regulate blood sugar and hormonal health.

Benefits of soaking and sprouting

Seeds are tough, sturdy suckers; soaking and sprouting soften them for easier digestion. This means less digestion issues. And with the phytic acid broken down and easier digestibility, nutrients become more bioavailable and readily absorbed by our bodies. Soaking and sprouting convert the starch to maltose, which lowers the glycemic index of the sprouts.

Togue soaked and sprouted

Another benefit of soaking and sprouting is shorter cooking time. Dried unsoaked beans take forever to cook, and can be quite energy intensive. I find that soaking and sprouting shorten my cooking time by half or a third.

Hydrated seeds and sprouts can also be transformed into smooth creamy spreads easily like hummus while protecting your blender or food processor’s motor from wear and tear.

General guide on soaking and sprouting

Ready to give sprouts a try? The process of soaking and sprouting to begin the fermentation of beans is not hard, but it does require a bit of planning and attentiveness so that you do not forget about them. If you’ve already started fermenting vegetables, then this should be fairly easy for you. Here’s a quick guide to get you started. 

Togue, sprouted from munggo sourced from organic farmers in Capas, Tarlac.
  • Make sure to use raw dried seeds. Do not use those that have already been roasted or irradiated. Pick out any debris. 
  • Transfer them into a bowl with filtered or dechlorinated water and make sure they are submerged in at least 3 inches of water. Remove any seeds that float. Let the seeds soak overnight. 
  • The next day, drain, rinse, and let sprout in a sieve over the counter while keeping them covered so that they do not photosynthesize from the light. This leads to bitter flavors.
  • Keep them moist by rinsing the at least twice a day (more frequently in the summer), allowing the grains, seeds or legumes to germinate. And make sure to drain well.
  • Avoid stinky beans! Best to soak and sprout when the weather is a little cooler or to place your bowl/jar in the coolest spot in your kitchen! And rinse regularly!
  • Sprouts are ready when they grow tails the length of the bean, grain or seed
Soaking and sprouting chart
Illustrations by Mabel David-Pilar
Commonly used seedsSoaking duration (hours)Sprouting duration (days)
Almonds8 to 12 hoursNo sprouting needed
Black beans8 to 12 hours3 days
Cashews (raw)3 hoursNo sprouting needed
Garbanzos8 to 10 hours2 to 3 days
Lentils6 to 8 hours2 to 3 days
Munggo8 hours2 days
Pumpkin seeds6 to 8 hours3 days
Quinoa6 to 8 hours2 to 3 days
Rice (pigmented)8 to 12 hours2 to 3 days 
Sunflower seeds6 to 8 hours3 days
Eating sprouts
  • Some sprouts like lentil sprouts, mung bean sprouts or togue, or sprouted seeds like sunflower seeds may be eaten raw. Just add them to salads or slaws for texture, or in vegetable ferments for additional nutrient and crunch. Try adding them to lugaw as topping, or as added protein in your onigiri.
  • To cook sprouted grains and legumes, add 2x water, let boil then simmer. Scoop out the foam that will form on the surface of the water. Or you can cook them together with rice much like those Korean multigrain rice dishes.
  • When cooking sprouted beans, add salt only when they’re cooked, and let simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Adding salt at the start of the cooking will result in the beans taking longer to cook.

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