The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Phytic Acid: Digging Deep

Mylissa20's picture

Phytic Acid: Digging Deep

A while ago I found a post about phytic acid on this site that got me researching the subject.  I had never heard of it before and wanted to be as informed as possible.  I have since found loads of information but still have some questions.  Since the folks who follow these forums are so amazingly informed on just about everything, I thought I would pick some brains.  Here are my questions:

1.  I have read that both a sponge/soaker and using a recipe that calls for dairy (yogurt, milk, etc) will properly neutralize and/or compensate for the phytic acid in whole wheat, leaving vitamins & minerals free for absorption.  The question is how much?  Is a 6 hour sponge as good as a 10 hour? 12 hour? How much calcium is needed to neutralize the phytic acid? Will milk do, or is yogurt preferable? Does the fat content of the milk make a difference?

2.  I read that a warm, acidic soak (adding vinegar to the water) recreates an environment similar to soil and better allows the grain to begin the breakdown of the phytic acid, a type of pre-digestion. (see quote)

"The acidic medium contains friendly bacteria such as lactobacilli, enzymes and other beneficial organisms that degrade and render inactive the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. This warm acid water activates the enzyme phytase which also neutralizes the phytic acid in the grain. Phytate degradation in the stomach and small intestine also occurs as a result of this activated dietary phytase. Furthermore, the acidic solution also helps to predigest the grain resulting in all the less work for your digestive system.When these enzyme inhibitors are broken down in this soaking grains process, they can no longer hold hostage the many enzymes within the seed. The enzymes can then be released, they can proliferate and they can work their magic."

The sponge that I use (which I would imagine is comprable to the soaker this person uses) does not contain vinegar, but does contain yogurt.  Should I switch to one that uses vinegar instead?

3. Are there any of you out there who think worrying about phyic acid is a joke? :)  If so, do you have research to back you up? (I'd like to read it!)

I know this is some pretty crazy questioning, but I am just the type that likes to draw on every resource available to be as informed as possible about what I am preparing for my family. I have found one or two sources for answers to some of these questions, but not enough to truly consider it "fact" if you know what I mean.

Yerffej's picture

The simple answer is sourdough.  Use sourdough to make your breads and phytic acid becomes a non issue.  I realize from your question that you are looking for more depth in the answer and for that I suggest a look here:


Mylissa20's picture

Thanks! I do love sourdough, and have been making my own for a few months now, but my husband prefers to have variety between regular whole wheat and sourdough, so I am trying to maximize my non-sourdough whole wheat to the best of my ability (and find a system that will work for multiple types of bread)

suave's picture

Look, I won't mince words - everyone who advocates one cure (or one poison) approach is a hack and, likely, a swindler.  Human body is such a complicated and still poorly studied system that anyone not involved in selling directly to the public knows to hedge his or her bets when it comes to discussing benefits and dangers of pretty much anything that goes into it.   Yes, there's an ample amount of research that shows that consumption of phytic acid reduces bioavailability of minerals, although there's a certain degree of consensus that with a balanced diet this effect is neglible for most of the population.  There's also a growing field of research into possible health benefits of phytic acid, which is known to bind toxic heavy metals, such as copper and is now though to have some antioxidant and anticancer properties.

Mylissa20's picture

The more I learn about traditions of bread-making, the more I come to understand that generations of evolved breadmaking involving starters, sponges, etc was more than just a lack of modern convenience.  It is our hectic modern life that has altered these tried-and-true methods and thus brought to our attention the physical or even medical implications of our haste.  I have read up on the cancer-fighting agents of phytic acid, and as far as I know, pre-digestions of phytic acid do not remove it from the bread, only bring it down to levels that allow our bodies to absorb the nutrients available in the wheat.  Just because an ingredient has benefits, does not mean that it should not be consumed in moderation, if you know what I mean :)

smaxson's picture

I recall that Peter Reinhardt says 8 hours in one of his books (sorry I didn't stop to look up which one), and I have heard that 8 hour number other places so it is probably an industry standard minimum time in the baking industry. So, your whole grain wheat   bread dough should spend at least 8 hours "wet" so that the yeast, bacteria and enzymes can reduce the phytic acid levels to below the health risk level. It is the universal opinion among bakers that too much phytic acid has some long term health risks. This is not single source quackery opinion as the above post might indicate! There are flavor benefits to sourdough in whole grain breads, and there is some indication that there may be health advantages too. Sourdough, sponges, bigas and soakers are in order for your whole grain loaf preparations.

Re the above comment about the benefits of phytic acid with heavy metals: your wheat should be from a source free of heavy metal contamination, and so this research into possible benefits of phytic acid should probably be considered as indicating potential medical application of phytic acid in the same line as the chemicals dentists take to protect themselves from chronic mercury poisoning. Yes, it probably has specialized medical uses. There are very definite and well known and documented disadvantages of overconsumption of phytic acid in whole wheat products for the majority of people, and if you ain't a doctor don't go there! The ancients knew the disadvantages of phytic acid instinctively, and there are quite old archeological finds of sieves to remove excess bran (and not just for the tables of royalty), the unleavened bread of the Bible was roughing it, a sure sign of hard times, etc.