Every year, as spring inches closer, folks begin getting into their gardening groove. I totally understand. When it comes to getting the most bang for your nutritional buck, certainly not much beats growing, harvesting, and preserving your own food. But what are those of us with a brown thumb to do?
We love our Farmer’s Markets and CSA programs are great, but there is another simple solution to growing your own food that even my brown thumb has failed to mess up – sprouting seeds!
Growing sprouts can be done year-round, right on your kitchen counter and the ‘equipment’ required is likely items you already own. Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to sprout a seed.
Sprouting seeds is an easy and frugal way to make certain potentially problematic foods like beans, grains, and lentils more easily digestible.
There is a good body of research that shows that sprouts are potential nutritional powerhouses and that sprouting a seed before consuming it increases nutrients, may lower carbohydrate content, and makes the whole experience a healthier one.
There’s generally less controversy (but not a lack of it) with soaking legumes than with the soaking grains research.
How to Sprout a Seed or Legume
You can purchase a sprouting kit, but most of what you need you likely already have on hand. Maybe try to find something to reuse to fit the bill.
- Glass canning jar (a quart will work best for legumes and grains, pint size for seeds)
- Canning ring lid or rubber band
- Tulle or similar netting, like from an onion, garlic, or citrus bag, washed
- Legumes or seeds that you can eat – raw sunflower seeds, dry beans, lentils, or a whole grain like rice, spelt, barley, or quinoa are good choices.
- OR seeds purchased “for sprouting” like broccoli or radish (i.e. not in the gardening section, but in the healthy food section)
I’ve sprouted sunflower seeds, pinto beans, lentils, rice, spelt, broccoli and radish seeds.
Sprouting Seeds – Step by Step Instructions
- Measure your seeds/legumes/grains. A half-cup of beans or lentils in a quart jar is a good starting point for one batch. About a tablespoon of sprouting seeds in a pint jar is good if you want sandwich sprouts, like from radish or broccoli seeds (below).
- Rinse your seeds, legumes, or grains (lentils below).
- If you haven’t already, wash your netting well with hot and soapy water.
- In the jar you’ll use for sprouting, cover your seeds/legumes/grains with fresh, room temperature water. You should have double the water as compared to seeds/legumes/grains. Legumes, in particular, will expand a lot.
- Put netting over the open mouth of the jar, and attach it with the canning lid (use a rubber band in a pinch, but the lid is optimal). Choose whatever has smaller holes than what you’re sprouting. When I do little seeds, I start with the tulle, then move to the onion bag after they start getting long sprouts.
- Allow sprouting seeds to soak in the water for around 6 hours. Legumes and whole grains will need closer to 12 hours for soaking.
- Drain the water out and rinse well. Leave the netting on and allow water to run into and out of the jar through the netting. NOTE: For more than a cup of legumes or whole grains, you can drain directly into a colander and finish the sprouting process there. You may want to place a plate under the colander to catch the extra water as it drains.
- Set the jar partly upside down in a bowl. This will allow the water to continue to drain out through the mesh, but the seeds/legumes will stay in.
- Every 12 hours or so, rinse the seeds right through the mesh with clear water and pour the water off. Set up again in the bowl to drain.
When to Stop Sprouting
- If you’re going for sandwich sprouts, allow them to grow until they’re about an inch long. Sunlight will increase the nutrients further by adding chlorophyll to the mix.
- For lentils and legumes, a little tail from a half-inch up to an inch or so is great. You can always taste them to see if they taste good and are easy to eat.
- For whole grains, a tiny sprout will do just fine.
A Few Extra Pointers
- When soaking grains or legumes in a colander, you’ll want to ensure air circulation. The best way to do this is to make sure you don’t do too many at once – to the point where the beans are so cramped they get moldy.
- To remove the outer hull of the seed, immerse the seeds in water and swish them around until the hull rises to the top.
- Important note I found: “Soy and kidney bean sprouts are toxic and should be avoided. Sprouted lentils, black eyed beans, partridge peas, peanuts and vetch retain phytates which cause poor digestion and gas,” here, and although the author doesn’t source his post, he’s right about many of his facts.
Why Sprout Seeds and Legumes?
Did you know sailors who crossed the Atlantic centuries ago used to sprout lentils and other seeds to avoid scurvy, the Vitamin C deficiency that became common on long voyages without access to fresh food?
The act of sprouting releases new vitamins and nutrients in seeds, one of which is Vitamin C (which really isn’t all that natural or available in your winter glass of orange juice).
That’s not the only health benefit of sprouting – it even cuts the carbs, calories, and glycemic index in legumes and grains and makes them much more easily digestible. Sprouts allowed to get tiny leaves also capture chlorophyll from the sun, which has its own list of health benefits, best when fresh.
You can easily capture that nutrient-unlocking process in your own kitchen, on the cheap.
How do Sprouted Seeds Taste?
Weird. Or no different at all, depending who you ask.
Because you’re using up some of the starch in the sprouting process, things like lentils and rice taste a little sweeter. They’re more like plants than seeds now, so that makes sense.
I really don’t notice it (much) in something like pintos once they’re all made into refried beans. I’m guessing the longer the sprout, the more the taste will change, and I haven’t seen any research that shows that the nutrition will be increased more the longer the sprout.
For legumes, I would stop after the sprout appears. I’m guessing that you don’t actually want the tiny plant to use up too much of its stored energy; save that for yourself!
Don’t try to sprout brown rice for five days. Take my word on that one. I kept waiting for longer sprouts, but clearly something was happening, because it tasted so sweet it was almost unpalatable. Not a fun stir fry night! You only need to soak brown rice in warm water for 22 hours to make it germinate, says ABC Science.
See how the tip of the rice is accented after a basic overnight soak? That’s all you need to see to know you’re dealing with living food!
How do you Cook Sprouted Grains/Legumes?
Just cook as you normally would. You’ll probably find that the legumes cook much faster than soaked dry beans, but don’t count on it!
I used a normal amount of water for the rice and had to cook it longer to absorb it all, because the soaked rice already had absorbed some water overnight that I hadn’t accounted for. If you drain the soak water off, you can get away with using less water to cook, or just have fluffier/more moist rice. RELATED: Instant Pot Mexican Brown Rice
You can use the cooked, sprouted beans or grains in any recipe. You can also dehydrate the grains and grind them into flour, which can be used in recipes that don’t adapt well to soaking (like cookies!). Here are my sprouted spelt cookies with raisins, delicious whole grain bread/rolls with sprouted flour, and find instructions for making sprouting flour at home here.
Small sprouted seeds go well on salads or in sandwiches, or as a run-through-the-kitchen snack. Be sure to refrigerate sprouted seeds if you’re not cooking them, and store things like sprouted sunflower seeds in the freezer for longer term (dehydrate in a low temp oven or dehydrator first).
Remember that you just got rid of their enzyme inhibitors and turned them from seeds (stored energy) into plants (growing energy) – they’ll now decay faster!
Added Bonus: Sprouting increases the mass of your seeds and legumes (because of the little root/sprout itself). It’s like getting 25% more free! How often can real food cooks make use of that advertising gimmick? 😉
Sprouting seeds and legumes is soooo easy, AND it’s a neat kitchen science experiment to do with kids! To sprout dry beans, just plan ahead a few extra days, and you don’t even need any fancy equipment.
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