What is sprouting?
The basic principle of sprouting is taking all kinds of seeds, beans, grains or pulses first soaking them and then rinsing and draining them over the course of a few days. I’ll just use ‘seeds’ to cover beans, peas, grains, seeds and lentils.
When the seed is dormant it contains enzyme inhibitors and anti-nutrients which inhibit the assimilation of minerals. When the seed is soaked the process of germination begins and the seed starts to grow into a living plant bursting with energy. Enzyme inhibitors are broken down or discarded and enzymes are produced. Enzymes are involved in the digestion and absorption of nutrients and in all cellular function in the body.
During this process the nutrients in the seed are broken down into their simpler forms. For example proteins are broken down into free amino acids (easier to absorb) and complex carbs break down into simpler carbohydrates (these are easier to digest).
The fiber content of the seed increases as does the vitamin content, especially B-complex and the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E.
During soaking and sprouting the anti-nutrients (like phytic acid) within the dormant seed are destroyed so minerals such as zinc, calcium and magnesium are no longer inhibited, they also bind to the proteins during the sprouting process and this makes them easier for our bodies to use.
Sprouts also are alkalizing – many illness are linked to excess acidity in the body.
Plus sprouting your own seeds is:
- Cheap – you don’t need a lot of seeds to get a good amount of sprouts so a bag will last you a ages – and you can make your own sprouters.
- Fun – I love see how the sprouts are getting on each day – it reminds me of growing cress in a hollowed out egg shell and then painting a face on the egg when I was about 6 – perhaps that was just our school maybe? 😉
- Green – growing your own cuts down on packaging and large scale manufacturing emissions.
- Wholesome – in ideal world I’d have a big veg patch but right now sprouting seeds is just about enough to give me a bit of that Good Life* feeling!
You can sprout a whole host of seeds, grains nuts and beans and in most cases you can eat them raw – soy and kidney beans aren’t recommended unless you’re going to cook them. For a full list of which seeds to use and their specific instructions I recommend you visit the very thorough Sprouts People website.
There is a whole world of sprouting equipment out there including multi-level trays with holes for draining. Personally when I used one of these I found smaller seeds and the skins of the beans blocked the holes during draining but I know there are different kinds and lots of people swear by them.
I sprout seeds and beans just using a plastic food container, rinsing and draining them using the lid. This works fine for me – they have lots of space to grow.
The most common method is to use a glass jar with either a sprouting lid with a fine mesh (sold in health food stores) or a piece of muslin secured over the top with a rubber band. That’s the method I’ll describe below:
How to sprout seeds
1 Pick your seeds
I like to use a mixture of mung beans, aduki beans, chick peas and green lentils all together. I sprout alfalfa seeds in a separate batch as they take less time.
You can buy ready mixed packs of sprouting seeds or just get them separately – organic if you can.
To get a crop enough for two people for a few days I use around 2 tablespoons of the larger seeds in a couple of jars and ¼ tablespoon of the alfalfa seeds in another two – it’s definitely not an exact science and I usually end up with more than I was expecting!
2Soak for 6-12 hours
Examine your seeds removing any little stones, sticks etc. Rinse them thoroughly in lukewarm water before you soak them to remove bacteria. Place the seeds in your sprouting jars or trays and cover with at least 2-3 times the volume of water. Smaller seeds like alfalfa need stirring a little at first to make sure they’re all wet and not forming a lump. Leave them overnight and in the morning remove anything which has floated to the top like hulls or very hard dead seeds.
3 Drain – rinse – drain – repeat
If you’re using the jar method, fix the muslin or sprouting lid over the top of the jar and turn it upside down to drain them. Leave the jar upside down so the seeds are not sitting in water but air can still get to them. A draining rack works well for this or stand them propped at a 45 degree angle in a tray.
At least twice a day you repeat this process of rinsing the seeds in lots of fresh water and then draining them.
After a couple of days of repeated rinsing and draining your seeds will have started to sprout, this is a good time to start your next batch. How long you leave your sprouts to grow is a matter of personal taste but for something like alfalfa they’ll be ready in 3-4 days and larger seeds and beans will take another day or two.
4 Harvest and store
What was previously a small handful of dry seeds is now a jar full of protein, fiber, vitamins and enzymes! To store them give them a final rinse removing any loose bits of husk that float to the top of the water. Sprout People have a good de-hulling method. Make sure they are really well drained leaving them out to dry for a little while before storing them in freezer bags or airtight food boxes. Properly stored they will last in your fridge for a good few days but eating them fresh is best of course.
5 Eat them!
Sprouts can be eaten on their own or added to just about any meal. They work really well in salads, wraps and stir fries. Most are good to eat raw apart from soy and kidney beans. Sprouted nuts like almonds can be used in desserts and you can use sprouts in juices and smoothies too.
You can make bread from sprouted grains and some people who are intolerant to grains can digest this form of them more easily – if you want to read more about this I recommend Paul Pitchford’s Healing with Wholefoods book.
*For those not around in the UK in the 1970s and 80s The Good Life was a BBC sit-com about a couple who give up their regular lives to become self-sufficient and grow all their own veg. We loved it!