Light on Sprouting

IMG_6285I have been joyfully sprouting ever since I stumbled into a workshop at the Farmer’s market a few years ago and realized how EASY it is to make my own sprouts. Sprouts are probably the earth’s most concentrated source of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, proteins and amino acids.  Their nutritional powerhouse status, their incredible variety of tastes and textures, their versatility of usages and ease of growing are just a few of the reasons why you might want to consider making them a staple in your kitchen. In fact, chances are you already have a wide variety of beans, nuts and seeds sitting in your cupboard that you could throw into a bottle for your first trial batch. Read on for the basics of sprouting and find out how you can make fresh sprouted food for your table all year long!

Why Are Sprouts so Incredibly Good for Us? 

Nuts, seeds, beans and grains contain naturally occurring inhibitors to early germination. This makes them difficult to be broken down by our digestive systems in their dormant form. The sprouting process replicates germination which acts like a switch, activating and multiplying many times the nutrient content of the seed or bean while simultaneously neutralizing the inhibitors which make them hard for us to digest. Through this process, the content and absorbability of the protein, calcium, potassium, iron and many other vitamins are also increased, sometimes many times over. In essence we are able to access the living potential energy of the sprout.

Lots of Other Great Reasons to Sprout

In addition to the nutritional content of sprouts there are so many other reasons to get sprouting. One of the big ones for me, living on an island with a short growing season, is that sprouts can be a freshly grown food available even in the middle of winter. What could be fresher than sprouts harvested year-round in your own kitchen (Not to mention more sustainable for those of you looking to reduce your carbon footprint).  Add to this the reduced cost of having home-grown nutrition available so cheaply in the middle of the winter.

Sprouts also mean fresh green nutrition with little or no spoilage. Dry seeds, beans and nuts can be kept in your cupboard for long periods of time and just taken out to sprout as you need them. Compare that to the week or so you get from produce kept in your refrigerator, assuming it is not already wilted by the time it gets to the grocery store.

Sprouting is a great way to teach your kids about nutrition. They love to watch the seeds sprout and to keep track of which ones open first. It is a conversation starter on nutrition that never seems to get old. My heart swells with pride whenever I hear my boys explaining germination to anyone asking why I have bottles of sprouts lining my kitchen window (there is a bit of a pat on the back for myself in there too, lol). Kids aside, I find it exciting and satisfying to watch nature unfold in front of my eyes in just a few days. It’s like fast(ish) food for natural food junkies!

And finally, sprouts can be made from a wide variety of beans, nuts, seeds, etc. This means that not only will you be eating a variety of sprouts that are not available at our local grocery stores but you are adding an incredibly diverse mixture of nutrients to your diet.

How to Do It 

The great thing about sprouting is that while you have a wide variety of beans and nuts to choose from the actual method of soaking and sprouting them is the same for all.

  1. Put your seeds/beans in a mason jar (just a thin layer on the bottom to start until you get a feel for how much they will expand upon sprouting).
  2. Use the round rim of the jar screwed on over a square of mesh (I have also heard of people using cheese cloth rather than mesh).
  3. Fill the jar with enough water to cover the seeds and let them soak overnight (some people add a little salt to this mixture. I have never done this so don’t know the result).
  4. The next morning invert the bottle to drain the water off and then rinse the seeds a couple of times. Shake a little to ensure most of the water gets out.
  5. Empty the water out completely and let the remaining seeds and beans sit in a window sill. They should be moist.
  6. Every morning and evening rinse the seeds with fresh water to keep them damp and mould free (I do this every time I think about it throughout the day).
  7. Watch nature explode in all her glory. When your beans have sprouted, rinse with fresh water and use/serve immediately. This usually takes 2-4 days depending on the seed/bean type.

How to Use Sprouts 

Sprouts can be added to stir fries, sandwiches, salads, wraps, smoothies, juices, soups, or eaten on their own as snacks.

Where to buy your ingredients and materials 

Mason Jars are sold in many places. I bought mine at Canadian Tire but I have also seen them at supermarkets. The mesh I use is just a regular screen mesh and since I have a dad who has things like that lying around in his shed I have yet to purchase it myself. I assume however that you could get it at any hardware store. It just has to be a breathable mesh. I have also seen handy lids made specifically for sprouting at both Food For Thought (now in a bigger and more beautiful location at 84 Gower Street) and at the Real Food Market (now conveniently relocated to my East End neighbourhood on 36 Pearson Street, yay!)

You might want to choose organic seeds and beans for your sprouting adventures. You will get so many sprouts from such a small amount of seeds/beans that it totally makes the investment worthwhile. Organic seeds also mean that you will be getting the sprouting benefit of many, many times the nutrition of the original seed and be confident that there isn’t anything else in there but goodness. Many store bought “raw” nuts and seeds have been pasteurized and irradiated. That means that they will activate (be more nutritious and easier to digest) with soaking but they will not sprout.

Sprouting Caution 

Sprouts can be contaminated with bacteria, like E.coli, which can lead to a growth of food-borne illness (like any living food that is moist at all, such as spinach and other produce that you buy at supermarkets, etc.). Buy your seeds/beans from a quality supplier, wash your hands before handling the materials, rinse your sprouts frequently and eat them soon after they are sprouted. I would also store sprouts in the refrigerator. I read somewhere that some food organizations recommend that you eat them cooked. I certainly eat mine raw, however, I wrote this bit so that you could make your own informed decision. Myself, my family (and many sprout lovers I know) eat raw homemade sprouts  without problem.

What to Sprout? 

Now that you are armed with all the information that you need to get sprouting, here are a list of some of the common beans/seeds that can be used. There are many other options beyond this very short list. Once you get your first basic sprouting under your belt go to one of the many websites that list type of sprout-able seeds, beans, and grains.  Some sites even list the nutrition content of each type.

Some Common Sprout-able Beans and Seeds

Adzuki Beans (4 days), Amaranth (1-3 days), Barley (2 days), Black Beans (3 days), Chickpeas (2-3 days), Lentils (2-3 days), Mung Beans (4 days), Sesame Seeds, Broccoli seeds, Alfalfa seeds (3 days-ish). Experiment as you go. Each type of seed/bean has a slightly different flavour. Some are sweeter than others for example, and while I have yet to try them out, I am told that mustard seeds are slightly “spicy”.

Happy Sprouting Yogis!

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