The cashews and walnuts have dried, the macadamias are in the dehydrator, the Brazil nuts and almonds are soaking and the chestnuts are waiting in the freezer. Are we nuts?
Soaking and drying nuts is an old trick that makes them easier to digest. Nuts and other seeds naturally contain enzyme inhibitors to protect them from predators until they're ready to sprout. In our bodies, these enzyme inhibitors go to war against our own digestive enzymes. This puts a strain on our digestion, keeps us from getting the most nutrition from the nuts, and can lead to other enzyme-abuse-related health problems.
The general method is to cover the nuts in filtered water with about a tablespoon of sea salt per pound of nuts. They should soak about 12 hours, with the exception of cashews and almonds, which are already cooked even if they’re labeled raw. Don't soak these for more than 7 hours or they'll get soggy. After that, the object of the game is to dry the nuts on as low a temperature as possible to achieve crispy perfection within 24 hours. Lower temperatures preserve more of the nuts’ good enzymes, which start dying off at 118 F and give up altogether at 180 F.
Walnuts, pecans and almonds will dry quickly on the lowest heat, 115 F. Peanuts and Brazil nuts go for 135 F. Macadamias are the most stubborn of all, but I finally got them to cooperate at 145 F. Cashews are already cooked and don't have any enzymes to lose, so oven-roasting them at 200 F brings out a rich roasted flavor. Chestnuts don’t need to be soaked, just scored and oven-roasted until they pop. If you don’t have a dehydrator, all of these nuts dry beautifully on the lowest setting of your oven. The higher temperature (around 150 F) deepens the flavors and still saves some enzymes, so you get the best of both worlds. When the nuts are crispy, send them straight to the freezer so their delicious oils don't turn rancid.
Since nuts grow in shells and on trees with deep roots, I’m usually not picky about buying organic. My one exception is for the peanut (technically not a nut), because in America it’s often grown rotationally with cotton, a heavily sprayed crop. American peanuts can also contain high levels of carcinogenic aflatoxins. I am currently waiting to receive my first pound of organic, aflatoxin-free Jungle Peanuts. Since mandatory pasteurization went into effect, really raw almonds are only available straight from the farm.
Nuts are a perfect snack, packed with vitamins, minerals and a satisfying combination of carbohydrates, fats and protein. Give soaking a try - your enzymes will thank you.