One of my very favorite takeaways from Sandor Katz’ fermentation residency was his countertop bowl of fermenting grains. The way he does it, it’s a big ol’ bowl, where any bits of leftover grain from a meal get tossed. He adds a bit of sourdough starter, or idli batter or whatever other starter he has on hand, with some liquid from time to time, then gives it a stir and uses it to make delightful pancakes a day or so later. It’s a super simple meal, quick as can be, and it can be easily jazzed up with the addition of fermented vegetables, cheese or eggs.
The first new practice I wanted to institute back at home was this grain bowl. However, we’re a family of two and I don’t eat a whole lot of grains, so it quickly became obvious that this would be more like another pet to care for than like a convenience food in my house. My husband is a fan of good old fashioned oatmeal for breakfast, though, I so I suggested he might enjoy fermenting his oats before cooking them. Not only would it definitely improve the flavor (a little bit of sour, a lot of complexity), but it would also reduce* the quantity of phytic acid naturally present in grains, nuts and seeds. Phytates aren’t great, because they bind to nutrients, preventing us from absorbing them.
He tried it, and now he’s totally hooked. It’s his almost-everyday breakfast. He now removes 3/4 of the oats about every other day (every 3rd day in cooler weather) and then adds fresh oats into the already fermented oats. For him, 2 to 3 days is the right amount for peak deliciousness. The oats are not mushy, they cook more quickly, and regular fermenters will immediately recognize the sour, yeasty flavor and aroma. If they go too long, you may see a yeasty film on top, experience a slimy texture or end up with a super cheesy aroma, so if you’re going to push it to the 3 day mark, make sure to give it a good stir at least daily. That will disrupt the surface and keep stuff from forming and it will serve as a bit of a check-in for you.
Fermented/Soaked Oatmeal Recipe
This is not so much a recipe as a guideline, because this is a truly simple practice that doesn’t require much instruction. If at any point you don’t want to feed your grains, just eat them all and start again when you’re ready to enjoy them again. This is so easy to get going that there’s really no need to keep your “starter” alive if you feel like a break. If you want to scale this up or down, go nuts. A 1:1 1/4 ratio of oats to water by volume will get you where you need to be.
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 2 1/2 cups filtered water
- 3 tablespoons phytase-rich grains (optional: see below). If using extra grains, use a 1:1 ratio, by volume of extra filtered water.
- Put oatmeal and other grains, if using, in a medium bowl, preferably a glass one with a lid that fits. add water. If using the phytase-rich grains, add an equal amount of water, by volume (for example, 3 tablespoons extra grains, 3 tablespoons extra filtered water).
- Cover the bowl and place it at a room temperature spot away from direct sunlight. Let it sit for 2 to 3 days, stirring daily, and taking notice of changes in aroma and texture when you stir. The water will absorb into the oats overnight, and some of the oats will not be submerged after that time. As long as you stir daily and your house isn’t crazy hot, you should be fine. If your house is crazy hot, consider a 24 hour to 48 hour fermentation instead.
- When you’re ready to cook your oats, remove about 3/4 and cook them how you normally would. Jake basically just warms them on the stove, or cooks them for 1 minute in the microwave.
- He recommends eating them with coconut oil or butter, fruit (especially blueberries and peaches) nuts, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, candied ginger, dried fruit, jam or some combination of the above. I think the sour flavor would lend itself very well to some savory breakfast oats. Try it with fresh herbs, cheese, sesame oil and soy sauce or topped with a poached egg!
- Don’t forget to feed your grains! Add your fermented oats to 1 1/4 cups of water and 1 cup of fresh oats (or more or less if you wish, just keeping to the volume ratio of 1 part oats, 1 1/4 parts filtered water. Cover your bowl and repeat.
*Notice that I wrote “reduce” rather than “eliminate.” If you have difficulties with nutrient deficiency or absorption, I would follow a bit of advice from Amanda Rose of phyticacid.org (an excellent site on Phytic Acid [update: it appears that this site has gone away. One reader suggested using the wayback machine to check it out if you’re so motivated]) and add roughly 10% of a grain that contains more phytase and therefore more readily breaks down phytic acid during soaking. The addition of other grains will dramatically reduce the amount of phytic acid in your oats. Great options include barley, spelt, rye and buckwheat.