Sprouting is the practice of soaking, draining and then rinsing seeds at regular intervals until they germinate, or sprout.
Seeds that can be sprouted
Other seeds that can be sprouted include adzuki bean, almond, amaranth, annatto seed, anise seed, arugula, barley, basil, navy bean, pinto bean, lima bean, broccoli, buckwheat, cabbage, canola seed, caragana, cauliflower, celery, chia seed, chickpeas, chives, cilantro (coriander, dhania), clover, cress, dill, fennel, fenugreek, flax seed, garlic, hemp seed, kale, kamut, kat, leek, green lentils, pearl millet, mizuna, mustard, oats, onion, black-eyed peas, green peas, pigeon peas, snow peas, peanut, psyllium, pumpkin, quinoa, radish, rye, sesame, soybean, spelt, sunflower, tatsoi, triticale, watercress, and wheat berries.
However, many sprouts are in fact toxic when eaten, like kidney beans. Some sprouts can be cooked to remove the toxin, while others will be toxic either way and should be avoided at all costs. So before eating any sprouts, find out if that species is edible as a sprout.
With all seeds, care should be taken that they are intended for sprouting or human consumption rather than sowing. Seeds intended for sowing may be treated with chemical dressings. Several countries, such as New Zealand, also require that some varieties of edible seed be heat-treated, thus making them impossible to sprout.
Many varieties of nuts, such as almonds and peanuts, can also be started in their growth cycle by soaking and sprouting, although because the sprouts are generally still very tiny when eaten, they are usually called "soaks."
Moisture, warmth, and in most cases, indirect sunlight are necessary for sprouting. Some sprouts, such as mung beans, can be grown in the dark. Little time, effort or space is needed to make sprouts.
To sprout seeds, the seeds are moistened, then left at room temperature (between 13 and 21 degrees Celsius) in a sprouting vessel. Many different types of vessels can be used. One type is a simple glass jar with a piece of cloth secured over its rim. ‘Tiered’ clear plastic sprouters are commercially available, allowing a number of "crops" to be grown simultaneously. By staggering sowings, a constant supply of young sprouts can be ensured. Any vessel used for sprouting must allow water to drain from it, because sprouts that sit in water will rot quickly. The seeds will swell and begin germinating within a day or two.
Sprouts are rinsed as little as twice a day, but possibly three or four times a day in hotter climates, to prevent them from souring. Each seed has its own ideal sprouting time. Depending on which seed is used, after three to five days they will have grown to two or three inches in length and will be suitable for consumption. If left longer they will begin to develop leaves, and are then known as baby greens. A popular baby green is sunflower after 7-10 days. The growth process of any sprout can be slowed or halted by refrigerating until needed.
Common causes for sprouts to turn out inedible:
- Seeds are allowed to dry out
- Seeds are left in standing water
- Temperature is high or too low
- Insufficient rinsing
- Dirty equipment
- Insufficient air flow
These problems are easily solved by an automatic sprouter that mists and drains the sprouts at regular intervals. To control temperature, in the winter a warming blanket can be placed under the sprouter, and in the summer small fans in the lid if it's very hot and humid.
Mung beans can be sprouted either in light or dark conditions. Those sprouted in the dark will be crisper in texture and whiter, as in the case of commercially available Chinese Bean Sprouts, but these have less nutritional content than those grown in partial sunlight. Growing in full sunlight is not recommended, because it can cause the beans to overheat or dry out. Subjecting the sprouts to pressure, for example, by placing a weight on top of them in their sprouting container, will result in larger, crunchier sprouts similar to those sold in Polish grocery stores.
Nutritional information and precautions
Sprouts are rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins and phytochemicals, as these are necessary for a germinating plant to grow. They are also rich in nutrients essential for human health.
Some legumes can contain toxins, which can be reduced by soaking, sprouting and cooking (eg, stir frying). Joy Larkcom advises that to be on the safe side “one shouldn’t eat large quantities of raw legume sprouts on a regular basis, no more than about 550g (20oz) daily”.
Buckwheat greens contain fagopyrin, a naturally occurring substance in the buckwheat plant. When ingested in sufficient quantity, fagopyrin is known to cause the skin of animals and people to become phototoxic, which is to say hypersensitive to sunlight, particularly if juiced or eaten in large quantities. Due to the growing popularity of sprouts in general, and a widespread ignorance as to the toxic dangers posed by buckwheat greens specifically, many people are today suffering unnecessarily.
Sprouting and the Living foods diet
Advocates of a raw food diet promote the use of sprouting as an effective way to increase the nutrient value, and digestibility, of beans, seeds and nuts. Sprouts are in fact the most nutrient dense food on earth – nutrient density refers to the amount of nutrients per calorie. This is why many people on a low-calorie diet make sprouts and baby greens the mainstay of their diet, especially blended for easier digestion.
Many raw food dietitians avoid grains in favor of nuts and seeds. While raw nuts and seeds contain enzyme deactivators that harm the stomach, and cooking nuts and seeds denatures their fats and oils, soaked or sprouted nuts and seeds have natural oils and active enzymes at the same time.
One main criticism of the raw foods diet, especially the insistence on the health value of sprouted nuts, seeds, and occasionally grains, is the very intensive labor time require for food preparation. Not only does it take a long time and lots of labor to sprout nuts and seeds, but the sprouting process makes them not as shelf-stable. Furthermore, unlike most cooked foods, there are very few commercial avenues for purchasing such foods. Most "raw foods bars" (such as Lara Bar) are raw but not sprouted (and therefore do not have active enzymes) because the bars would not keep as long on the shelf. The same is true of most nut and seed butters, except for Blue Mountain Organics which makes "Better Than Roasted" nut and seed butters which are from nuts and seeds that are soaked and then dehydrated.
- Larkcom, Joy ‘Salads For Small Gardens’, p.98 Hamlyn 1995 ISBN 0-600-58509-3
- "PDF Article by Gilles Arbour" (PDF). Retrieved 2004-06-15.
- Arbour, Gilles (December 2004). "Are buckwheat greens toxic?". Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients. Find Articles. Retrieved 2007-02-04. Check date values in:
- The Raw Truth by Jeremy A Safron, (Celestial Arts, Toronto, 2003) ISBN 1-58761-172-4 (pbk.)