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How To Sprout Seeds For Eating


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In the 1973 classic on sprouts and sprouting, The Beansprout Book, Gay Couter says, “I’m convinced that sprouts do contain a varied and powerful battery of nutrients, rivaling citrus fruits in vitamin C and beef in protein, and surpassing almost any other known food source in completeness.”

The author goes on to say that sprouts are delicious, economical, and an ideal food for weight watchers (one fully packed cup of mung, alfalfa, or radish shoots, for instance, contains only about 16 calories).  Finally they are exceedingly easy to grow for anyone who wants fresh and natural food all year round.

difference between sprouts, greens, baby leaves

The Difference Between Sprouts, Microgreens and Baby Leaves

Sprouts: When seeds are moist, they germinate or “sprout”, in other words the case or hull of the seed is split by an emerging root and the beginning of shoots (even if the seed is not in soil). This process can happen in a couple of days. You eat the entire sprout.

Microgreens: The first step of growing sprouts or microgreens is the same: you soak the seeds overnight to snap them out of their dormancy. For microgreens you continue to grow the seed hydroponically or in a compost-based potting soil in a sunny spot, watered daily until the first (or first few) leaves are fully developed. They are much smaller in size than “baby leaves” and can be sold before being harvested  – the plants can be bought whole and cut at home, keeping them alive until they are consumed.

Baby (Salad) Leaves:  Microgreens are like baby greens in that only their stems and leaves are considered edible but baby leaves are (usually) lettuce leaves harvested much later than microgreens, the young leaves and petioles of any plants grown for harvesting beyond the seedling stage but before eight true leaves develop, usually  when they are two or three inches high.

Growing Sprouts

You can spend money on sprouting technology or you can just press into service equipment you already have in your kitchen. Before we can go into detail on how to grow sprouts you have to chose one of a series of different methods, using different types of equipment.

Container Choices

  • Automatic sprouter – commercial kitchen appliance that essentially farms sprouts for you. Set it up with water in the bottom tray and seeds in the top tray, then let an automatic sprinkler keep the sprouts watered;
  • Non-automatic sprouter – a commercial sprouting container, usually with a series of layers nested on top of each other, allowing water to be rinsed through all the layers two or three times a day;
  • “Sprouting lids” with different coarseness of grid that fit onto the top of a mason jar and allow water to be run into the jar and emptied out easily, leaving the seeds in the jar;
  • Mason jar with a homemade “lid” held in place by an elastic band (metal mesh or fabric – cheesecloth, mutton cloth or nylon netting)
  • Coffee percolator (good for small seeds). Scour well and place drained seeds in strainer and lower into pot. Cover. Rinse and drain frequently.
  • Tea strainer (good for individual servings of small seeds). Set strainer containing drained seeds into teacup or small bowl, cover with a dish towel held down by a saucer;
  • Colander (good for larger seeds). Set drained seeds/beans in colander and set in large bowl. Cover with a dish towel and a dinner plate.
  • Unglazed ceramic flowerpot and saucer. Soak pot by submerging in water for some minutes. Plug drainage hole. Place seeds on bottom, cover with saucer and place in a shallow pan of water;
  • Any wide-mouthed container, plastic, china, enamel, unglazed pottery – especially if it has its own lid.
commercial sprouter
Alfalfa seed in commercial sprouter (non-automatic)

Seed Choices

Some general points:

  • Virtually any vegetable or herb seed can be used for sprouting with the exception of potato and tomato seeds which are not recommended as they can be poisonous if eaten in large quantities;
  • You want to use organically produced seeds that have not been treated with chemicals to prevent pests and diseases spreading in seed;
  • Look for seeds that are labelled “seed quality” (which is meant to have a high germination rate for sprouting ) as opposed to “food quality” (which is meant to be cooked and has a lower germination rate);
  • You need to experiment for find what tastes good to you and what you feel has a pleasing texture;
  • Sprouts have all sorts of different tastes. Some of them are sweet, some spicy, some bitter, etc. Many people mix several species of seed together in one sprouting to make exciting taste and texture combinations, e.g. a mix of alfalfa, fenugreek, red clover and radish seed for flavour and spiciness on sandwiches. Another common mix is mung beans, brown lentils and wheat.
    Here is a list of some very commonly used seeds for sprouting, with a few comments on their characteristics:
  • Alfalfa, small, crunchy, with a mild taste;
  • Beets, taste slightly earthy and very sweet, have colorful stems in dark red or magenta and bright green leaves;
  • Broccoli, thick, hefty sprouts with a nutty, spicy flavor (a bit like radish)
  • Fenugreek, bitter taste usually not eaten on its own but can greatly enhance a mixture;
  • Lentils, crunchy texture and a rich, nutty flavor, come in various colors, good for visual contrast in food;
  • Mung beans, thick, juicy sprouts with white stems, crunchy texture and a very mild taste, great addition to stir-fry;
  • Mustard, earthy taste and a spicy kick, a bit like horseradish;
  • Peas, green, crunchy with a mild fresh, sweet taste that goes well with most other flavors;
  • Radish, taste similar to mature radish but less spicy, leaves are slender with red tips, look lovely as a garnish;
  • Red clover, crunchy texture, dark green sprouts with a mild, earthy taste. They go well with most other flavors;
  • Spelt berries, nutritious, chewy grain with a mildly sweet taste;
  • Sunflower seeds, thick, juicy leaves with a deep, nutty flavor.

Growing Method

I am going to describe the process for the use of a mason jar or other similar container, but it will be only slightly different if you are using a commercial sprouter.

Step 1

  • Measure out the seeds you want to sprout. (One ounce of dried seed will equal roughly one cup mature sprouts.)
  • Rinse the seeds with cold water through a strainer, eliminating dust and possible pesticides. Pick out any seeds that appear damaged in some way.
  • Place the seeds in a container of warm water (at least four times as much water as seeds, because the seeds will swell up) and stand in a warm place for eight hours or, in cold weather, for up to 16 hours.

Step 2

  • Rinse in cool water again. Remove floating seeds, seeds with cracked or broken hulls and any that look as if they have not started to germinate.
  • Place the selected, swelled seeds in your container, leaving at least a third of the container empty for air circulation and expansion of the sprouts.
  • Cover the mouth with cheesecloth, netting or a thin mesh screen, fastening securely with string, rubber band, or Mason jar ring.
  • Stand the container in a warm-ish place, free from direct heat and drafts. Sprouts grow fastest in warm temperatures. Between 75°and-85° F. is the ideal sprouting temperature.

Step 3

Rinse the seeds twice a day by running clean water into the jar and then inverting the jar for a few minutes until it is completely drained. (During the process of germination, chemical changes take place in the seeds, releasing carbon dioxide, other gases, and heat. Cool water ventilates the sprouts and prevents their overheating, souring and spoiling by removing residues. The sprouts need to be moist but never left standing in even the smallest puddle of water.)

Step 4 – Days 3 , 4 & 5

You will notice considerable growth in your sprouts. The outer shell or husk of seeds will be falling off. Continue to repeat the rinsing process twice a day.

Most sprouts will be ready to eat the evening of the third, fourth, or fifth day (depending on the type of seed). The sprouts are ready when you see leafy green sprouts that have dropped their hulls. They are at their peak when the leaf develops a cleft or divides in two. (When the jar is about half full, you can if you like put it on a sunny windowsill to green up the sprouts a bit more.)

Each variety tastes best at a different length, and the perfect harvesting lengths are very much a matter of taste. The flavor varies at each point along the way in many sprouts. As you are tending your sprouts, keep tasting until you find the optimum day.

Step 5. Harvesting

Remove the sprouts from the jar and check over the sprouts once more, removing those that show no signs of having sprouted (often hard seeds found at the bottom of the container).

Immerse the sprouts in a bowl of fresh, cool water. Push them gently down to the bottom of the bowl and let the seed hulls rise to the top. Pour off the hulls, and rinse again if necessary. (You don’t have to get all of them). Avoid breaking the tender shoots.

Drain them completely in a salad spinner or very gently wrapped in a dish towel and store them in the fridge in an air-tight container lined with paper towel.

Step 6. Storing

The sprouted bean has a refrigerator life of 7-to-70 days, depending on the variety. For the first seven days the sprouts show a steady increase in the amount of vitamin C, even after refrigeration. From that time on, they begin to lose their potency.

Sprouts may be dried very successfully. Spread them on a cookie sheet and leave in a warm room or place in a very slightly heated oven until they are dry. They can be re-hydrated for adding to stews and casseroles.

Grind the dried sprouts in a blender and store in a tightly covered jar. This nutty, delicious sprout powder can be used as an additive to beverages, baked goods, baby foods, desserts, nut butters, spreads, etc. It is a nutritious food concentrate, apparently with more food value than the original dry seed, and will keep for a long time. Wheat, rye, soy, sesame, and alfalfa are all excellent candidates for drying.

A Word Of Caution
Sprouting seeds require a certain amount of humidity, a condition in which bacteria also thrive. Hygiene is crucial. Clean your equipment thoroughly before starting sprouting and follow the rinsing schedule scrupulously. Never consume spouts that look or smell “off”. If they smell bad, turn color, or grow mold, compost them and start again. Another way to reduce the risk of illness is to cook the sprouts, which will kill all of the bacteria – but it would be sad not to experience the crunch of fresh green sprouts in a salad or sandwich mixture!

Using Sprouts

Sprouts are a nutritious addition to fresh salad or cooked soups, stews or casseroles.
Spelt sprouts can be added to your morning granola, raw bread recipes, and even baked into cookies.
Sunflower sprouts are delicious in the usual dishes—salads, sandwiches, bowls, etc.—but their sweet flavor also makes them a welcome way to pack some more nutrients into a fruit smoothie.

All sorts of sandwich fillings can be made using sprouts:

  • Avocado, cream cheese and sprouts.
  • Egg salad with sprouts.
  •  BST instead of BLT

When using soy, garbanzo, pea, and some of the tougher beansprouts, you will want to steam them for 10 minutes first.  Then you can add other vegetables with the sprouts being added at the last minute for a few minutes only.  Seasonings to use with sprouts include soy sauce, salt, pepper, parsley, curry powder, or other herbs of your choosing.  Sprouts can also be used to create both sweet and savory pies as well as meatloaf and bread.

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From The Beansprout Book by Gay Courter (illustrations by Lorraine Badger). Copyright 1973 by the author. Reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York.
Sprouting Seeds: The Simple Guide to Growing Food Indoors › sprouts


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