Having written a story on growing fodder for livestock some months back, I was able to glean a bit of info on the benefits of sprouting. I learned that barley sprouts are a nutritious alternative to commercial feeds that can be grown at any time of the year.
My research didn’t end there, though. It led me to Anette Larkins, the 70-something woman who looks like she’s in her 40s. Her secret? She’s a raw vegan who sprouts seeds as part of her diet. Sprouting for health and beauty? Who doesn’t want to look 30 years younger? She calls it her “fountain of youth.”
So I continued studying the merits of sprouting. Sprouting is simply growing common plant foods like seeds, grains, nuts and legumes in a warm, moist setting, to be harvested after just several days. It’s a convenient way to enjoy fresh vegetables on your salad, sandwich, wraps or smoothies, no matter what season of the year. Raw vegans have been sprouting for decades, but lately, even those who are only mildly health-conscious have quickly caught on.
Common backyard veggies like lettuce, cabbage, arugula, celery, radish, broccoli, leeks, parsley, squash, turnip, alfalfa and mustard are now being grown – without soil — on kitchen counters. Likewise, grains and seeds that used to be only consumed as such, are now doing time in the water, sitting in jars and bowls on countertops: wheat, barley, oat groats, spelt, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, rye and rice; as are lentils, peas, pinto beans, kidney, lima, black, adzuki, mung, sunflower and sesame seeds. Nuts like almonds and peanuts are not being left out, either.
The Benefits of Sprouting
So what are the much-lauded merits of sprouting? Why wait several days to enjoy seeds, when you can otherwise cook and consume them right away?
Seeds are nutritional powerhouses. But the nutrients they contain are protected by anti-nutrients, also called enzyme inhibitors, which are a self-preservation system that protects seeds while growing, and prevents them from sprouting prematurely or being eaten by animals, pests and humans.
Sprouting diminishes these anti-nutrients. With moisture and just the right temperature (55 to 70 degrees F), seeds that are dry and lifeless quickly come to life. Dormant enzymes are activated, and begin to break down dense proteins into simple amino acids. Likewise, complex starches are processed into simpler glucose molecules, making them bio-available – in other words, easier for our stomachs to digest.
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Some of the seeds’ anti-nutrients are in the form of phytic acid, which in and of itself is difficult to digest, too. This acid can bind minerals like calcium, iron, manganese and zinc in the gut, preventing them from being properly absorbed. It also reduces the digestibility of proteins, fats and starches. But when seeds are soaked and sprouted, this acid is neutralized, allowing the body to obtain the optimum amount of nutrients from ingested foods.
This is good news for people with weak or sensitive guts, or those who have difficulty tolerating gluten — yet another protein found in grains that poses digestibility problems. For those who have issues like these, sprouting wheat is highly recommended. Wheat berry sprouts are great when added to oatmeal, homemade bread, whole grain cereal, pancakes, muffins and cookies; or stirred into cooked rice, kneaded into pizza dough, sprinkled in salads; or mixed into soups, casseroles, pasta sauce, stuffed peppers and meatloaf.
When seeds and grains are sprouted, not only does their digestibility improve, their flavor and nutrient level increase as well. Numerous studies have shown that sprouts carry higher amounts of protein, fiber, fatty acids, vitamins (A, E, C and B), folate, beta-carotene and minerals (iron, zinc and potassium). Some claim that vitamin levels increase up to 5 times, and in particular, vitamin C as much as 30 times!
Sally Fallon, president of the Weston Price Foundation and author of the book Nourishing Traditions, adds another important health benefit: “Sprouting inactivates aflatoxins, potent carcinogens found in grains.”
Not all seeds can be sprouted, though. Seeds that have been polished, pasteurized, irradiated or treated with chemicals won’t sprout. To make sure you get seeds that will, buy only raw, organic ones from reputable sources.
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Sprouts are prone to spoilage, too, just like any raw or fermented foods we eat. Contamination with salmonella, E.coli, listeria and other bacteria can lead to food-borne illnesses. Before sprouting, rinse seeds thoroughly, and use only purified or filtered water for soaking. Always wash your hands thoroughly before handling your sprouts. Keep kitchen counters and sprouting equipment clean. Store finished sprouts in the fridge in sealed glass containers and consume them within 3 days. To reduce the risk of infection, health organizations recommend eating sprouts cooked.
How to Sprout
The easiest and cheapest way to sprout at home is to use a wide-mouthed jar fitted with a sprouting lid, a nylon net, cheesecloth or any mesh material that’s big enough to cover the opening. To hold the net in place, use an elastic or heavy rubber band. (You can also use a bowl and a colander for this purpose.) Fill a third of the jar with your chosen seed or grain, and soak them in warm, clean water overnight. In the morning, drain the jar and replace with fresh water. Shake it, rinsing the seeds as you do. Drain again, replace the water, and rinse until the water is clear. Make a final and thorough drain. Lay the jar on its side to make sure the air can flow and the seeds can “breathe.” Leave it on the kitchen counter away from sunlight. Repeat the process of rinsing and draining every few hours, or at least twice a day until your sprouts are ready.
Most seeds will sprout on the second day but others take up to five days. You can refer to this table to see the standard sprouting time for specific seeds.
Your sprouts will be ready when they grow tiny tails, 1/8 inch to about 2 inches long. They’re at their peak when the shoots are roughly the length of the seed itself. Give them a final rinse and expose them to the sun if possible, to green them up a bit and allow them to dry. (Damp sprouts can spoil easily.)
Store in the fridge or enjoy right away!
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