Audio Q & A: Grain Use In History

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Welcome to the Question and Answer series at GNOWFGLINS! Many questions come through the comments or the contact form; some of them can be better answered by reaching out to all of you for your input. So, please jump in with your thoughts, suggestions, and best advice to help a reader out.

Here’s a question I received recently from Amy @ Homestead Revival. This lovely gal was inquiring about the eCourse in particular, but I think this is applicable to everyone, whether or not enrolled. This question became the basis for an audio file answer within the eCourse (shared below).

“Wardee, I’m considering the ecourse, but I wanted to ask you about the philosophy behind Nourishing Traditions. I’ve read some of the introduction and I am not sure I agree with some of their conclusions. I’m having a hard time with the fact that … grains need to be soaked. I understand they feel that the phytic acid needs to be removed, but I don’t see any evidence in scripture that they practiced these methods. I do recall Jesus and the disciples picking grain and eating it right out of the field… “

Here’s what I wrote back:

“While the Scriptures don’t come out and say that grains were soaked, keep in mind that bread was a staple of the diet in those days – and it was naturally leavened and given much time to rise. This is fermentation or souring, which is a method akin to soaking.

And even though Jesus and His disciples did glean from the fields on occasion, I *believe* they would have been eating primarily natural-yeast risen breads and slow cooked porridges and stews in people’s homes. (Also note that in older translations of the Bible, the grain they gleaned was named as corn.)

The Bible diet also included raw honey, raw milk, raw cheese, yogurt and naturally pickled foods (like olives). The people consumed many rich probiotics and healthy fats to increase gut health and balance out the phytic acid. A healthy gut and immune system can overcome deficits in the diet. (Quote from Sally Fallon Morell.)

Our culture lacks this balance. So while soaking (or sprouting or fermenting) is important, in my opinion, it should be part of a balanced, old-fashioned diet.

Here’s a rather long, but excellent, quote from an article at the Weston A. Price Foundation called “Be Kind to Your Grains.”

“Most of these anti-nutrients are part of the seed’s system of preservation—they prevent sprouting until the conditions are right. Plants need moisture, warmth, time and slight acidity in order to sprout. Proper preparation of grains is a kind and gentle process that imitates the process that occurs in nature. It involves soaking for a period in warm, acidulated water in the preparation of porridge, or long, slow sour dough fermentation in the making of bread. Such processes neutralize phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Vitamin content increases, particularly B vitamins. Tannins, complex sugars, gluten and other difficult-to-digest substances are partially broken down into simpler components that are more readily available for absorption.

Animals that nourish themselves primarily on grain and other plant matter have as many as four stomachs. Their intestines are longer, as is the entire digestion transit time. Man, on the other hand, has but one stomach and a much shorter intestine compared to herbivorous animals. These features of his anatomy allow him to pass animal products before they putrefy in the gut but make him less well adapted to a diet high in grains—unless, of course, he prepares them properly. When grains are properly prepared through soaking, sprouting or sour leavening, the friendly bacteria of the microscopic world do some of our digesting for us in a container, just as these same lactobacilli do their work in the first and second stomachs of the herbivores.

So the well-meaning advice of many nutritionists, to consume whole grains as our ancestors did and not refined flours and polished rice, can be misleading and harmful in its consequences; for while our ancestors ate whole grains, they did not consume them as presented in our modern cookbooks in the form of quick-rise breads, granolas, bran preparations and other hastily prepared casseroles and concoctions. Our ancestors, and virtually all pre-industrialized peoples, soaked or fermented their grains before making them into porridge, breads, cakes and casseroles. A quick review of grain recipes from around the world will prove our point: In India, rice and lentils are fermented for at least two days before they are prepared as idli and dosas; in Africa the natives soak coarsely ground corn overnight before adding it to soups and stews and they ferment corn or millet for several days to produce a sour porridge called ogi; a similar dish made from oats was traditional among the Welsh; in some Oriental and Latin American countries rice receives a long fermentation before it is prepared; Ethiopians make their distinctive injera bread by fermenting a grain called teff for several days; Mexican corn cakes, called pozol, are fermented for several days and for as long as two weeks in banana leaves; before the introduction of commercial brewers yeast, Europeans made slow-rise breads from fermented starters; in America the pioneers were famous for their sourdough breads, pancakes and biscuits; and throughout Europe grains were soaked overnight, and for as long as several days, in water or soured milk before they were cooked and served as porridge or gruel. (Many of our senior citizens may remember that in earlier times the instructions on the oatmeal box called for an overnight soaking.)”

Here is one of the audio files from the eCourse, “A Historical Grain Perspective.” You’ll hear me re-read the above quote from the WAPF, another quote from Sally Fallon Morell, share some of the same information from my printed answer, and also talk about the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Please forgive me if I botched up any of those traditional food names from above! (It is 7 minutes and 14 seconds long.)

When it comes down to it, these things are pretty simple, and pretty common sense. I don’t think we need a really deep answer here. We just need to pay attention to old traditions – demonstrated round the world through cooking that is much slower and more thoughtful than the cooking we see today.

What do you think? Can you shed any light on the historical use of grains in the Bible or in any other old culture? Got a question for the Q & A series? Use the contact form to let me know.

I’m sharing this post in Real Food Wednesday, hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

This post may contain affiliate links. We only recommend products and services we wholeheartedly endorse. Thank you for supporting Traditional Cooking School by GNOWFGLINS with your purchases. Our family thanks you!


  1. Jami says

    Great information Wardee.

    It’s so important to remember… and be reminded of these things, because our modern media and society is always pushing us in the wrong direction it seems. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

  2. says

    Thanks Wardee. This Q & A section really opens up the mind to things I never thought of asking. I appreciate such thorough answers. Now I not only know why I’m supposed to soak, but where it fits in historically.

  3. says

    I just enrolled. You know it’s interesting to know what people ate during Jesus’ time. It’s nice to go back to the basics of food. Just in case I end being in a culinary school, I would like to incorporate these into the curriculum too.

  4. says

    I just did a podcast interview the other day with Peggy Sutton who owns To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co.

    If you go and listen to the podcast, she actually quotes the scripture regarding grain and how to eat it. She also tells some stores about sprouted grains throughout history.

    I’d quote her here but she shared so much information — you really have to go listen!

    Here is the link:

    Just click on the button that says Listen to CHEESESLAVE on BlogTalkRadio

    Ann Marie
    .-= Ann Marie @ CHEESESLAVE´s last blog post… New Podcast: Baking with Sprouted Flour with Peggy Sutton =-.

  5. Rebekah says

    Thanks for this post. I have been wondering this very thing for a long time. Weston Price is a great organization, but naturally emphasizes the human over the divine. I guess I really wanted to know what the ancient Hebrews and Jews did, as I believe a lot of the instructions God gave to them/practices they followed were practical as well as spiritual.

  6. says

    Another way grain from Biblical times is different from today’s modern grain is the amount of gluten. Our modern grains have been modified and are vastly different from grains of Jesus’ time.

  7. says

    Ann Marie – I do want to listen to that podcast – thanks for sharing the link.

    Amy – Yes! Thank you for pointing that out. That’s one reason why I like spelt so much.

    To everyone – Don’t you wish you knew more? I do! I’d like to go back and “see” what they did – the stews, the cereals, the bread, the pickling, the cheese.

  8. gabrielle says

    i am no expert on grains, but i did grow up on a ranch and ate various grains off the stalk ripe in the fields. my experience is that these grains are plump with rain water or irrigation, not dry and hard like a wheat berry you buy- that would break your teeth!

    before they are harvested and dried out for long-term storage, grains are living plants full of natural waters- kind of like soaked/sprouted!

  9. Kristin says

    A good analogy, biblically anyway, is raw milk. We know they drank raw milk/dairy products because there was no other way. Pasteurization did not exist.

    It is the same thing with grains. They had to be fermented (naturally leavened with sourdough) as there was no other way to make it at that time. Commercial yeasts did not exist until the mid-19th century.

    There are many people that are being led astray regarding soaking & fermenting grains by this information:

    This article has been widely disseminated here in the Southeast.

  10. Kristin says

    That is great news, Wardee, I’m looking forward to your article refuting the one I mentioned. I wrote something via email for friends a few years ago refuting it myself. Frankly, without exception, the women I know that continue to eat unfermented grains have serious health issues (as well as their family members).

    The article also mentions Ezekiel Bread. I know a number of women that switched to this thinking it will solve all their weight issues. They fail to recognize that Ezekiel Bread is yet another miracle for, as we know, since the flood, man must eat animal products to thrive.

  11. Kristin says

    Oh, and yes, Ann Marie. The author did end up with cancer. Some sort in a portion of her digestive system as I recall. Colon, perhaps.

  12. Heather H. says

    I guess I’m still confused about this whole issue. I can’t seem to get past the fact that only 10% to 30% of the phytic acid content is reduced by soaking, sprouting, or sour leavening. It just doesn’t seem that this could possibly be worth it, considering that 70% to 90% of the phytic acid remains in the grain to be eaten.
    Aren’t we just deluding ourselves?
    I actually like soaking grains, and find the cook time reduced, the flavor better, and the texture smoother. So, for those reasons I soak.
    I am still extremely confused about the pesty little acid! I have read that it is an anti-nutrient, i have also read that it is a antioxidant and prevents colon cancer. Maybe we should all stop eating grains entirely until we get this figured out :)

  13. says

    @ Heather

    Sally Fallon Morell made a comment about this on the WAPF chapter leaders’ list that when we eat plenty of fermented foods and have an abundance of healthy probiotic flora in our gut, we actually produce phytase in our intestines.

    Additionally, it is important to note that sourdough fermentation removes 100% of the phytic acid. So sprouting grains is very good, but using sourdough is even better.

    It also depends on what types of grains you eat and how often. Oatmeal, soy and peanuts are particularly high in phytic acid and other anti-nutrients. So you want to make sure those are properly fermented and eaten in moderation.

    There’s more on this on my podcast/post w/ Rami Nagel — just go to my archives and you will find it.

    I don’t think we have to be perfect about this. Good, better, best as Sally Fallon Morell says.
    .-= Ann Marie @ CHEESESLAVE´s last blog post… Learn to Cook Traditional Food: An eCourse with Wardee Harmon =-.

  14. says

    “It involves soaking for a period in warm, acidulated water in the preparation of porridge, or long, slow sour dough fermentation in the making of bread. Such processes neutralize phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors.”

    (I’m still trying to understand this.) I’m not a scientist, but if I remember my Gr.12 chemistry, you don’t neutralize and acid with an acid… ??
    .-= Marg´s last blog post… Organizing photographs =-.

    • says

      Marg – Ann Marie is right, according to what I’ve read. It is not exactly that the acid neutralizes an acid, but rather that the acid triggers the release of the proper enzyme that neutralizes the troublesome acid.

  15. says

    I’m not a scientist either — and I have no memory of high school chemistry — LOL!

    However, here’s how I understand it:

    Phytates are broken down and deactivated by phytase (an enzyme). Kinda like lactose is deactivated by lactase. This is why so many people who are lactose-intolerant find that they can digest raw milk, because raw milk has not been heated and the lactase has not been deactivated.
    .-= Ann Marie @ CHEESESLAVE´s last blog post… Learn to Cook Traditional Food: An eCourse with Wardee Harmon =-.

  16. says

    Okay, so the acid triggers the release of the phytase? Where does the phytase exist? Already in the grain?

    If phytates are an acid, why don’t they release the phytase?

    • says

      The enzymes in all seeds (grains, beans, nuts, seeds) are locked up by enzyme inhibitors until the time of germination. This is God’s way of protecting the seed from spoiling. The enzymes are needed for a young plant to grow, but being unstable, if they weren’t bound up, the seed would spoil.

      The process of soaking in acidic water (or germination) removes the inhibitors so the enzymes can get to work.

      I don’t know why phytates don’t release phytase – it seems to be the other way around. :)

  17. says

    Hi Wardee,

    I’ve been having a think about this blog post. And then it occured to me that the Essene people did have a history of sprouting their grains to make bread. The Essenes were meant to be ancient Jewish people who became before Jesus (some beleive Jesus was a Essene). Christianity is said to be influenced by the Essenes aswell. But I don’t have may reliable resources to back this up. It is still interesting nontheless.

  18. Angela says

    Wonderful article.
    I did want to point out though that although older translations of the Bible used the word “corn” that is a term for grains in general. Corn as we know it (maize) is a new world crop unknow to Europeans until the discovery of the Americas.

  19. says


    I am in Oregon too. :)

    I have some Northwest grown heirloom emmer wheat which is currently going through the sprouted stages, in my repeated attempts at trying my hand at homemade manna bread. The first rounds, I made the mistake of rinsing the soaked grains, while the time before that, I think I added water- both huge mistakes. Anyhow, I hope I do better this time. I learn better hands on via trial and error anyhow, lol 😛 I am doing a small quantity until I master it though, as I do not like food waste.

    Thank you for inspiring others towards nourishing traditions.


  20. Sarah says

    Regarding the comment that in the bible the disciples ate grain straight from the field, it should be kept in mind that often the grain would sprout in the field on the stalks because of harvest-time rains.

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