Winter weary friends, are you tired of staring out your window at a yard completely blanketed by snow? Are you longing to see the earth again?
Gardening outside is out of the question this winter, at least in my area. It will be a few more weeks before all that snow is melted and the ground is ready again for growing. You can still get the spark of life from a seed, right in your own kitchen. Read on to find out how to grow sprouts, and their amazing nutritional benefits.
All you need to have your own supply of crunchy and nutritious sprouts is a glass jar, a lid with tiny holes, and a little bit of counter space. Rinsing the sprouts takes only a few minutes of your time every day. Your reward is watching the seeds come to life and unfurl their tiny shoots, gradually filling up the jar.
The second part of the reward is enjoying the fresh sprouts in your salads and sandwiches. Sprouts give you a huge nutritional reward for this small output of time and materials.
How to Grow Sprouts
You can sprout just about any type of seed, providing it has not been irradiated or heated to destroy the enzymes. Mung bean and alfalfa seeds are easy to find. You can sprout that bag of lentils in your cupboard. Fenugreek seeds from the spice cupboard make sprouts with a lovely flavor. You can sprout broccoli and radish seeds, sesame, chia, different types of beans, wheat, sunflower seeds, and the list goes on and on.
You will need a quart size mason jar, or other glass jar of a similar size, and a lid with tiny holes. This will allow you to easily rinse your sprouts and drain the water. There are many lids available that are made just for sprouting. Some can even be propped at a downward angle so that the sprouts can drain constantly. My sprouting lid is just simple plastic with a mesh of holes.
Try to use organic seeds, as you don’t want your sprouts to be dusted with chemicals. Many companies offer a wide variety of organic seeds packaged for this purpose. You probably already have a few things in your food pantry that will sprout. The hardest part is choosing from all the seeds that are available. With only a small investment of time and materials, it is easy to experiment.
Begin by pouring in just enough seeds to cover the bottom of your jar. Don’t give in to the urge to pour in a lot of seeds. Trust me, they will expand and fill up the jar as they grow. Cover the seeds with water and leave them on the counter to soak. Smaller seeds such as alfalfa or chia only need to soak for 4-6 hours. Larger and more dense seeds take longer, and you can leave them to soak overnight.
Drain the water from the seeds by tipping the jar and pouring the water out through the holes in the lid. Shake the jar to get rid of the extra droplets. You don’t need to worry about damaging the sprouts by shaking them too hard.
Leave your jar on a counter out of direct sunlight. Sprouts do not need to be in a completely dark place, but in direct sun they will quickly get green and leafy. Towards the end of the process you can put them in the sun for a day if you want them to get a little greener.
Rinse your sprouts at least three times a day. Keep the lid on the jar, and slowly run warm water right through the holes in the top. Shake the sprouts around in the water for a few seconds, and then drain the water. You can roll the seeds around in the jar so that they coat the sides, to keep them from staying in a damp pile at the bottom of the jar.
Mother Nature takes care of the rest. Some seeds will sprout in 3 or 4 days and others might take close to a week, so be patient. Soon you will have a jar full of crunchy goodness.
You can cover the finished sprouts with water in a large bowl and agitate them to separate the seed hulls. The hulls will sink to the bottom of the bowl, so you can remove the sprouts. I repeat this process a few times to remove as many seed hulls as I can. Then I spread the sprouts out on paper towels to get rid of the excess water before refrigerating them. I don’t want them completely dry, but they shouldn’t be dripping wet when they go into the fridge.
Sprouts are more than just a pleasant crunchy taste in a salad. They are a nutritional powerhouse, loaded with vitamins, protein, minerals and phytonutrients all wrapped up in a very small amount of calories.
The soaking process washes away the phytate that is present in nuts, seeds and beans. Phytate locks up minerals and keeps them from being absorbed, so now you are making all those minerals available. Water activates enzymes in the same way that it does for a seed which is planted in the ground. This stimulates the production of vitamins and protein that are necessary for the growth of a plant.
Protein quality improves as different amino acids are activated in the seeds. A cup of lentil sprouts has seven grams of protein, which is more than you can get from a large egg.
Dr. Clive M. McKay, a professor of nutrition at Cornell University back in the 1940s, spent years researching the nutritional benefits of soybean sprouts. He found that vitamin A and vitamin C can increase by 300 to 500 percent in the sprouted seeds. A Cornell University study in 2012 showed an increase in vitamin C and some phytonutrients in mung bean sprouts.
A Canadian study in 2001 showed an increase in vitamins A, C and E, along with some other phytonutrients, when wheat grains were sprouted. Studies in Germany and Finland have shown that folate levels increase significantly in sprouted grains. The bottom line is that the sprouting process maximizes the nutritients that are available in these foods.
There are many phytonutrients available in different types of sprouts, but perhaps the most interesting and widely studied is the sulphoraphane found in broccoli. In 1997 a Johns Hopkins professor named Paul Talalay found in his research that broccoli sprouts had over 20 times the amount of sulphoraphane as mature broccoli. This is important because this compound is chemopreventative, meaning it increases our ability to ward off certain types of cancer. Sulphoraphane is lately showing promising results for the treatment of autism.
The enzyme amylase increases in sprouts, and breaks down some of the starches in seeds, beans or grains, which makes them easier to digest. Beans and legumes have a type of starch called oligosaccharides, which can cause gas and the more serious intestinal symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. When you sprout these foods the level of oligosaccharides can drop by 90%.
Home Grown Versus Store Bought Sprouts
The most compelling reason to sprout your own seeds at home is the high incidence of food poisoning that is found in commercially made sprouts. These plants grow in a moist environment that is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. All it takes is contact with equipment that isn’t clean, contamination from animal products or workers with poor hygiene for an outbreak to occur.
For this reason you should make sure when you grow sprouts at home that you are washing your hands and keeping your equipment clean. Also make sure meats and meat juices don’t come into any contact with your sprouts. When they are done sprouting, be sure to refrigerate them.