While picking the produce from your vegetable garden, you may wonder why you should bother growing and eating sprouts. It’s true that sprouts make a wonderful fresh food in winter, when gardens are slowing down, but the health benefits offered by these tiny greens shouldn’t be overlooked at the peak of the produce season.
Sprouts are simply newly germinated seeds. They’re grown without soil or fertilizers, feeding on water, air and the nutrients in the embryo of the seed, and they’re harvested after they show their first tiny leaves, called cotyledons, but before they develop true leaves.
Big Nutrition, Tiny Package
As a health food, sprouts stand alone. They contain up to 100 times the enzymes—specialized proteins required for every bodily process from breathing to brain function—than other uncooked fruits and vegetables.
The quality of protein and the fiber content of seeds, beans, nuts and grains substantially increases when sprouted, as does the essential fatty acid and vitamin content. According to researchers at the universities of Pennsylvania and Minnesota, soybeans average a 300-percent increase in vitamin A and a 500 to 600 percent increase in vitamin C when sprouted. Sprouting also converts the starches into simple sugars, making them easily digestible.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University examined the inverse relationship between the size of the plant and the nutrition it provides and explained that when you eat a sprout you are actually eating the entire plant at a very young age. The root, stem, leaves and fruit of the plant are contained in the seed—and there’s a lot of nutrition there, often in parts of the plant that Westerners tend to throw out. Food components found in these commonly discarded leaves and stems have been associated with the prevention of four leading causes of death: cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
Grow Your Own Sprouts
Growing sprouts at home is fun and easy if you follow a few simple but vital guidelines. First, most seeds need to be soaked because dry seeds are dormant. Arugula, basil, chia, cress, mustard and flax seeds do not need to be soaked, but for all other seeds, mix three parts of water to one part seed. Soak the seeds for 8 to 12 hours, so they can absorb the amount of water they need to end their dormancy. Remove floating seeds and debris once the seeds have finished soaking.
Line your sprouting container—any shallow plastic container with drainage holes—with a damp paper towel. Spread the seeds in the container as evenly as possible. They can be somewhat dense as long as air will be able to flow through the seeds. Air circulation is important for successful germination.
Rinse seeds under high pressure—the spray nozzle on your kitchen sink is perfect—at least three times a day. Rinsing cleans the seed, as well as provides the moisture needed for germination. This will cause the seeds to move around in the container, but you can move the seeds back into an even layer by gently shaking the container. Allow the container to thoroughly drain. Although you want the seeds to stay damp at all times, you never want to leave them sitting in a puddle of water.
Harvest sprouts in three to five days, before you see their true leaves. Some sprouts will keep their hulls. These are edible and nutritious but can be removed if you don’t like the crunchy texture. Simply remove them gently by hand. Give the sprouts a final rinse after harvesting, and allow to drain and dry for a full 12 hours before you store in the refrigerator, where they should remain fresh for one week. If they smell bad or become discolored, compost them and start again.
Sprouts lose a lot of their health benefits when heated, so it is best to eat sprouts raw. Add them to salads, sandwiches and dips.
Store excess seeds in a manner that will maximize germination. Seeds should be kept in a dry and dark area, with temperatures ranging between 55 to 70 degrees F. The shelf life of seeds can be doubled by refrigerating and increased by four to five times if stored in the freezer. To refrigerate or freeze, place the seeds in a plastic storage bag and place the plastic bag in a plastic or glass container with a tight-fitting lid. This will help reduce problems caused by condensation.
Sprouts are one of the easiest, most nutritious and inexpensive health foods you can add to your diet. Have fun experimenting with different seeds and flavors.