Volume 21 Issue 22 2013-06-14
It’s at this time of year—when the warm breeze starts blowing and the sun actually feels warm instead of only looking so—that I find myself thinking about backyard-fresh garden produce. Vine-ripened tomatoes, plump zucchini, an oversized head of lettuce . . . But why wait for the summer months to taste it all? By sprouting, you can capture that garden-fresh taste right in your kitchen, and in any season, too!
How does it work?
Sprouting involves taking certain seeds (mung bean, alfalfa, soybean, lentil, cabbage, broccoli, spelt, and wheat, for example) and encouraging them to germinate. Once the seed has germinated into a sprout, the sprout is eaten. They can be enjoyed either cooked or raw.
Although sprouting might sound synonymous with hemp clothing or a “back to the earth” lifestyle, it’s actually more common than you might think. In fact, sprouting is widely used in Asian cuisine (think spring rolls), and sprouts are finding their way into gourmet restaurants and onto dinner tables. You’ll find more and more offerings that include sprouts in salads, as a garnish on burgers, or even in breads. Sprouting not only boasts numerous health benefits, but it’s also a delicious way to be healthy.
The taste of good health
Different sprouts have different tastes as well as different nutrient profiles—and they’re quite different than their vegetable or grain counterpart. In fact, it may be healthier to eat sprouted seeds than the seeds’ popular product: the chemical reactions associated with sprouting affect the end product on both the macronutrient (proteins and carbohydrates) and micronutrient (individual vitamins) scales. For example, sprouting in general also increases the amino acid content of the sprouts, especially the amino acid L-lysine. Additionally, sprouting the cereal grains changes the sprouts’ protein structure into a more bioavailable and easily assimilated form. Sprouted vegetables also boast a higher fibre content than their unsprouted forms.
On the vitamin level, the changes between the sprouted and the unsprouted are even more significant. For instance, the vitamin B1 (thiamin) content of bean sprouts is increased by a drastic 285 per cent when compared to the seeds themselves; B2 (riboflavin) is increased up to 515 per cent, and B3 (niacin) up to 256 per cent. Other vitamins, like vitamin C, are increased up to 30 times what’s found in the unsprouted forms. And sprouting can even cause the formation of vitamins like beta-carotene (precursor to vitamin A) and alpha tocopherol (a form of vitamin E).
Easy to do
Sprouting seeds is simple and doesn’t require any unusual materials. First, you need the seeds themselves, and you can purchase these at a health food store or grocery store. Mung beans and alfalfa are two of the most common seeds you will find (and they’re one of the easiest to sprout, too!).
You’ll also need a clean glass jar, paper towels, an elastic, and water. That’s it. If you choose to you can also buy sprouting jars that have aerated lids, and this eliminates the need for the towel and elastic.
The amount of seeds to use for one sprouting differs depending on the seed type; consult the instructions on the back of the package. For mung beans, you’ll need a tablespoon of the seeds. Once you’ve measured the correct quantity, rinse your seeds thoroughly in cool water several times, then drain the excess water and place the drained seeds in the jar. Dampen the paper towel, fold in half, and affix to the mouth of the jar with the elastic. Set the jar in a room-temperature area, in partial sunlight or in a cupboard (although sprouts grown in partial sunlight have higher nutrient levels), and let sit. Rinse the seeds with cool water two to four times per day, always remembering to drain the excess water, and re-dampen the paper towel lid as required. Initially, you’ll notice the seeds swelling; then the sprouts themselves will appear as small greenish-white vegetation popping out from the seed itself. The sprouts are ready when they’ve been growing between three and five days and/or they’ve reached up to three inches in length.
Bigger isn’t necessarily better; if you let your sprouts grow too long, they will begin to develop leaf growth, which means they’re no longer sprouts (an exception to this is sprouted sunflower seeds).
Once they are fully sprouted, remove the sprouts from the jar, rinse again, and pat dry on paper towel. Set in the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel. Putting the whole thing in a plastic bag is optional, but don’t forget the damp towel, or the sprouts will dry out quickly. Consume within a few days for maximum crispness and health potential!
A few words of caution
You may have concerns after reading news stories about contaminated sprouts. However, you can easily avoid or significantly reduce this risk with cleanliness and care. The best ways to avoid bacterial contamination of your sprouts are to rinse them adequately on a daily basis and, most importantly, not let them sit in stagnant water at the bottom of your jar. It’s also important to consume the sprouts within the recommended amount of time.
It’s fun to experiment with different types of seeds, but take note: not all seeds are appropriate for sprouting. Avoid sprouting seeds from the Solonaceae family (potatoes, tomatoes, paprika, eggplant) and rhubarb, since these sprouts are poisonous to humans. Additionally, make sure the seeds you purchase for sprouting are intended for this purpose. Seeds found in the gardening aisle have often been treated with toxic mould inhibitors.
Sprouting is quick and easy to do and is an inexpensive way to introduce a greater nutrient potential to your meals. Balance your budget, boost your health, and get sprouting!
Katie D’Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.
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