Growing your own sprouts at home can be easy if done right. Here are a few helpful tips to get you started.
"I'm convinced," says Gay Courter, "that sprouts do contain a varied and powerful battery of nutrients, rivaling citrus fruits in vitamin C and beef in protein, and surpassing almost any other known food source in completeness."
And if that isn't enough to convince you to try raising and eating your own homegrown shoots, Gay Courter (author of The Beansprout Book) adds that the squiggly little vegetables are delicious, quite economical, and an ideal food for weight watchers (one fully packed cup of mung, alfalfa, or radish shoots, for instance, contains only about 16 calories).
Perhaps most important of all, sprouting is fun — and easy for hikers, students, farmers, salesmen, truckers...or anyone who wants to enjoy fresh and natural food all year round. "If you can reach a supply of water twice daily, and if the temperature is within the range of comfort for human habitation," Gay says, "there's no place too small or remote for sprouting!"
Choosing Seed Sprouts
Experts contend that virtually 99 percent of all vegetation is edible in the sprout stage, but you shouldn't try to cultivate either potato or tomato sprouts, which are said to be poisonous if eaten in quantity.
The most common beans, seeds, and grains for sprouting are alfalfa, lentil, mung, rye, soy (yellow), wheat.
There's no reason not to experiment. Test seeds planned for your vegetable or flower garden. The only problem is finding seeds that will sprout consistently and sprouts that taste good. When trying a new or esoteric sprout, begin by sprouting only one tablespoon of dried seeds as a test.
Buying Sproutable Materials
"Seed-quality" beans are generally recommended for sprouters, as compared to "food quality." Seed quality means that the seeds are meant to be grown and therefore will sprout. Food quality means the seeds were meant for cooking in their dry, unsprouted state, are of a lesser grade, and have a lower germination rate.
Luckily it is becoming easier to purchase seeds, beans, and grains specifically grown for sprouting. These can be found in health-food stores and specialty shops, and are available from many excellent mail-order houses.
How to Make a Sprouter
You can spend between $5 and $25 to purchase sprouting apparatus that will successfully sprout most beans, but there are probably a dozen containers in your kitchen that will work equally well, as I found when testing seeds and beans for sproutability.
My basic sprouting system requires any receptacle large enough to hold the finished sprouts, but this container must not be transparent, wooden, or metallic. If you wish to sprout in glared pottery, it must be high-fired stoneware and never low-fired earthenware, which may contain toxic lead sulfate in its glaze.
Containers of plastic, china, enamel, and unglazed pottery are excellent choices. Since the sprouting container must be kept covered, anything that comes with its own lid is a good choice, including bean pots, crocks, canisters, coffeepots, fondue pots, cookie jars, chafing dishes, large plastic storage containers (Tupperware, Rubbermaid), and plastic ice-cream boxes.
A container with a wide diameter is best when sprouting larger quantities of sprouts. Try to have your sprouts in as few layers as possible, for even circulation of moisture and air.
Once you have selected your container, you will need only a few other pieces of equipment:
- Measuring cups (2-and 4-cup)
- Paper towels
- A large wire mesh strainer
Organic Sprouting Seeds Theory
When dried seeds or beans become moist, they wake from their dormant state and begin their irreversible growth process. During this process of germination, chemical changes begin to take place; carbon dioxide, other gases, and heat are released. These gases and residues create wastes that will accumulate if not permitted to dissipate. One of the most important steps in the sprouting process is to keep removing these wastes by rinsing the sprouts with fresh water to prevent the crop from souring and spoiling. Cool water ventilates the sprouts and prevents their overheating and destruction.
While sprouts demand a constant supply of moisture to grow, they cannot be allowed to sit in water or they will rot. It's not difficult to sprout if you make certain that the sprouts are always moist, but never left standing in even the smallest puddle of water.
Sprouts grow fastest in warm temperatures, free from drafts and away from direct heat. In cold weather, soaking times may be increased a few hours and the sprouts can be rinsed in slightly warmer water. Between 75-and-85 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal sprouting temperature.
Air must be allowed to circulate in the sprouting container. There should always be about one-third of the sprouter left empty for air circulation. Remember that sprouts expand, and provide plenty of growing room for them.
Basic Sprouting Method
Select the seed or bean you wish to sprout. I highly recommend that neophytes try the mung bean first, for both its reliability and universal taste appeal. A few dried beans go a long, long way. I usually sprout 1/4 cup dried beans at a time. Depending on the variety, this will yield approximately 2 cups at maturity, or about 4 servings.
An easy way to figure the yield is: 1 ounce of dried seed will equal 1 cup mature sprouts. Thus, 1/2 cup, or 4 ounces, will equal about 4 cups sprouts.
A good timetable is to start soaking beans after dinner one night. Place them in the sprouter the next morning. Rinse every evening and every morning. Most sprouts will be ready to eat the evening of the third, fourth, or fifth day. Step-by-step, here is the procedure:
- Place the beans in the strainer and rinse fur a few minutes in cool water to clean off any impurities, dust, or pesticides.
- Soak the beans in at least 4 times as much warm (80° F) water as beans.
- Let the soaking beans stand in a warm place for 8 hours or over night. In cooler weather, it is wise to let the beans soak as long as 12 to 16 hours.
The beans will have at least doubled in bulk during the over night soaking process. You may notice some small gas bubbles at the surface of the soak water, indicating that the sprouts are already releasing energy and heat in the early germination process.
- Place the beans back in the strainer and rinse in cool water.
- If a seed refuses to sprout, it just sits there, softens, and rots, giving off an unpleasant, unappetizing odor. Now is the time to remove the seeds that are not germinating. Floating seeds indicate sterility, as do any with cracked or broken hulls.
- Place the selected, swelled seeds in your container. Spread them evenly along the bottom.
- Soak four sheets of paper toweling in warm water and carefully lay them dripping wet on top of the, beans.
- Cover and set the sprouter aside. Let stand at room temperature in a convenient place, near the kitchen sink.
- In four hours sprinkle the paper towels with a few drops of water. This will help the seeds sprout faster, but this step can be eliminated if you don't have the time during the middle of the day.
- In the evening, set aside paper towels and let water run into the container to about one inch above the sprouts. If you have time, let the sprouts stand in the water for 5 to 15 minutes. This helps them plump up and grow faster.
- Cover and tilt the container, letting the water flow out from the tiny opening between the lid and rim. It will be necessary to drain seeds that are smaller than mung beans into a strainer first and then tap them back into the sprouting container.
- Some seeds may cling to the sides of the sprouter. Flush them with water and drain into the strainer. Repeat until all beans are in the strainer.
- Drain completely!
- Gently stir the beans with your hands or a wooden spoon so that the bottom sprouts move toward the top to encourage even sprouting. Push the seeds that cling to the sides down to the bottom.
- Moisten towels with water. Spread over the top of the sprouts. Cover and set aside.
Already you will notice considerable growth in your sprouts. The outer shell or husk will be falling off.
- Fill the container with water, drain well. Moisten towels, cover, and set aside as you did on Day 2.
- You may choose to remove the husks that float to the surface when the sprouter is filled with water.
- Moisten towels in the middle of the day, if you have a chance.
- Repeat rinsing process in the evening.
Days 4, 5 and 6
Repeat the procedure for Day 3, if sprouts are not finished.
This procedure may sound tedious. But as soon as you have learned the steps, you will find that you spend less than five minutes' total time each day tending your sprout garden.
Other Sprouting Methods
Here are some other methods that are commonly used for sprouting.
- Jar or Bottle Method. Use a bottle or jar with a wide mouth. Place drained seeds at the bottom. Cover the mouth with cheesecloth or a thin wire screen, fastening securely with string, rubber band, or Mason jar ring. Each time the sprouts are rinsed, invert the jar for a few minutes and drain completely. If jar is glass, store in cupboard out of sun or direct light.
- Coffee Percolator. This is good for small seeds. Scour well and place drained seeds in strainer and lower into pot. Cover. Rinse and drain frequently.
- Tea Strainer. Useful for sprouting individual servings of small seeds. Set strainer containing drained seeds into teacup or small bowl, cover with paper towels, and then place saucer on cup.
- Colander. Useful for larger seeds. Place drained beans in colander and set in large bowl. Cover with wet towels and dinner plate.
- Unglazed Flowerpot or Flowerpot Saucer. Soak pot by submerging in water for a few minutes. Plug drainage hole. Place seeds on bottom, cover with saucer, and place in a shallow pan of water.
How to Harvest Sprouts
When are they ready to eat? There are no hard-and-fast rules about when to harvest a sprout. Each variety tastes best at a different length, and three "experts" will give you three different perfect harvesting lengths, sometimes varying by several inches in their recommendations. The flavor varies at each point along the way in many sprouts, so settle the controversy by pleasing your own palate. As you sprout, keep tasting until you find the optimum day.
Post-Harvesting Sprout Preparations
You have hovered over your sprout garden for almost a week. You have faithfully soaked, drained, and harvested the sprouts. Now, what in the world do you do with those funny squiggly vegetables?
Before eating sprouts raw or cooking them, a final rinsing, cleaning, and culling is in order. Place the sprouts in your strainer a handful at a time and rinse with a light spray of water to avoid breaking the tender shoots. Drain completely to avoid adding any excess water to your recipes.
It is important to check over the sprouts once more, carefully removing those that show no signs of having sprouted. These are often found at the bottom of the container and are generally hard as a stone and not something you would want to chew. Also remove any mushy or broken beans. Now is the time to hull the sprouts if you decide to spend the time and effort, if you find them hard to digest, or if you are using a heavy-hulled seed.
Storage and Preservation
The sprouted bean has a refrigerator life of 7-to-70 days, depending on the variety. For the first 7 days the sprouts show a steady increase in the amount of vitamin C, even after refrigeration. From that time on, they begin to lose their potency.
Refrigerate the sprouts immediately when they reach their peak for harvesting. First rinse them quickly in cold water, drain thoroughly, and wrap them loosely in a single layer of damp paper toweling. Place the sprouts in a plastic bag and seal tightly. If you aren't using them up quickly and they begin to wilt or dry out, they may be rinsed again in cold water, rewrapped, and refrigerated.
Sprouts may be dried very successfully. Spread them on a cookie sheet and leave in a warm room or place in a slightly heated oven until they are dry. Grind the dried sprouts in a blender and store in a tightly covered jar. This nutty, delicious sprout powder can be used as an additive to beverages, baked goods, baby foods, desserts, nut butters, spreads, etc. It is a nutritious food concentrate, with more food value than the original dry seed, and will keep for a long time. Wheat, rye, soy, sesame, and alfalfa are all excellent candidates for drying.
Measure out the amount of sprouts you wish to use in a recipe and store the remainder in the refrigerator immediately. Sprouts are measured by placing them in a measuring cup and lightly pressing until the cup is filled to the desired amount. Don't push so hard that they crush or break, but don't fill the cup too loosely, leaving too much air space between the sprouts. If you have measured properly, the sprouts will pop back up after they are pressed in for a moment. A half-cup of mung beans, loosely packed, will measure 3/4 cup, but they can easily be pressed to the 1/2 cup mark without bruising the sprouts.
When a recipe calls for one particular type of sprout, you may experiment by substituting a sprout from the same family group which will behave in a similar manner in a cooked recipe. In salads, soups, and sandwiches it rarely matters what substitution is made. But since no two sprouts taste alike, the flavor will differ in the finished recipe.
Remember that sprouts contain large amounts of water which must be taken into account when experimenting and adding sprouts to your own recipes. This is especially important in baking breads.
When grinding raw sprouts, choose immature ones (usually 2 days old) which haven't absorbed too much water yet. But when using, sprouts raw in salads and sandwiches, the older, plumper sprouts add more crispness and flavor.
This is the basic and most common way to use sprouts as a vegetable. When using soy, garbanzo, pea, and some of the tougher beansprouts, you will want to steam them for 10 minutes first.
- Garlic, onion, scallions, or shallots
- Broth, gravy, or vegetable juice
- Vegetable Oil
1. Heat oil and saute garlic or onion or other seasoning until tender.
2. Add sprouts and stir-fry quickly 3 minutes.
3. Moisten with broth, gravy, or juice.
4. Season and serve. Good seasonings include soy sauce, salt, pepper, parsley, curry powder, herbs of your choosing.
This recipe is hard to believe in, so don't tell anyone that they are eating a vegetable for dessert. It is super nutritious and delicious, with a crunchy nut texture and a flavor similar to that of pumpkin pie.
- 3/4 cup dark-brown sugar
- 1 13-ounce can evaporated milk
- 3/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- Unbaked pie crust
- 1 1/2 cups soybean sprouts, ground
1. Combine sugar, 1/3 of the milk, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
2. Put sprouts through meat grinder. Pack down firmly to measure.
3. Stir sugar mixture, sprouts, and eggs together very well, slowly adding rest of the milk.
4. Pour into pie shell and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit about 45 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean.
5. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
Yield: one 9 inch pie
Sprouted Wheat Bread
Use sprouts that are young; the shoot must not be longer than the grain itself.
- 1 cup ground wheat sprouts
- 1 cup wheat sprouts, whole
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/4 cup honey
1. Pour 1 cup lukewarm water into large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons yeast and dissolve.
2. Add the remaining 2 cups of water, the salt, honey, and oil.
3. Stir in white flour. Beat well. Cover and let sponge double in warm place (80 degrees Fahrenheit).
4. Add ground and whole sprouts to sponge. Work in about 2 cups whole wheat flour. Knead until smooth and elastic. Place in clean oiled bowl, cover, and let rise again in warm place until doubled.
5. Knead again, adding more flour if necessary. Form into 2 loaves
and place in greased pans. Bake at 350 degrees 1 for 1 1/4 hours.
6. Remove from pans. Cool on wire rack.
Yield: 2 loaves.
Meat Loaf with Sprouts
This, makes an extra-nutritious meat loaf. The texture is light, the meat stays very juicy. An excellent cold dish, it slices well for sandwiches.
- 1 1/2 pounds beef, pork, and veal mixture, ground twice
- 1 1/2 cups garbanzo or soy sprouts (packed down to measure)
- 2 beaten eggs
- 2 tablespoons parsley
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 medium onion
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1/3 cup wheat germ
1. Put sprouts and onion through grinder.
2. Mix with ground meat and all other ingredients.
3. Form into loaf and place in lightly greased loaf pan.
4. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 1 hour.
5. Serve with tomato or cheese sauce.
Yield: 4-to-6 servings.
This is a nutritious, delicious snack that keeps well for weeks. Carry it in the car, to school, to work. Serve in small bowls in place of nuts.
METHOD I: This makes the sprouts taste like fresh-roasted peanuts.
- Vegetable oil
- 2 cups soybean sprouts (or garbanzo or pea sprouts)
1. Put oil in deep saucepan to the depth of 1 inch. Heat to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Rinse and drain sprouts thoroughly. Pat dry between layers of absorbent towels.
3. Deep-fry sprouts, a few at a time. Caution: fat will bubble up.
4. Remove when they are golden brown and drain on paper towels.
5. Salt to taste.
METHOD II: Good if you are avoiding fats in your diet.
1. Place sprouts in single layer in a baking pan.
2. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 1/2 hour, until sprouts are golden brown.
3. Salt to taste.
The Portable Knapsack Sprouting Method
Here is a way to carry your sprouts wherever you go, by sprouting in a lightweight, flexible plastic bag. You need only rinse them with water morning and evening to have fresh vegetables for your meals away from home.
You will need the following materials:
- Seeds for sprouting — mung, lentil, rye, wheat, and soy work best. Smaller seeds may slip through the holes you will make in the inner bag (see step 3, below, and step 2 under Directions, below), as the holes stretch during rinsing.
- A heavy plastic bag. I use a yellow bag, the kind that holds garbage scraps, or a bread wrapper. Another possibility might be a packaging bag, the kind of heavy plastic bag used for new sweaters, blankets, or pillows. A small waste-can liner can be used as is, or cut down to size.
- A second lightweight plastic bag. I use the kind that come in rolls and are meant for food storage (11-by-13 inches).
- A few paper towels or a clean white rag.
- Twister seals or rubber bands.
Directions for Knapsack Sprouting
- Soak the beans or seeds in the heavy bag in 4 times the amount of water as there are beans for 8 hours or overnight. Seal bag with twister to keep the water in.
- In the morning, take the lighter bag and punch small holes over about 1/3 of the bag's lower surface, 1 inch apart, with a sharp pointed object.
- Pour the soaking beans through the sieved bag and shake, or hang the bag on a tree limb until all the water is drained out.
- Soak the towels or cloth in water, squeeze out gently, and tuck around the beans in the sieved bag.
- Place the sieved bag containing the beans and moist toweling into the heavy bag. Twist the tops of the two bags together and fasten with tie or rubber band to hold in the moisture.
- Tuck the two-bag sprouting system into your knapsack, glove compartment, suitcase, pocket, balloon basket, parachute, bicycle pouch, or desk drawer and go on your way.
- When you stop for the evening, take the sprouts to a water supply. Remove the inner sieved bag containing the sprouts. Flush with water for a few minutes. Drain completely. Moisten towels or cloth and tuck around sprouts. Place the sieved bag back inside the protective heavier bag. Seal with twister. Repeat in the morning and go on your way again.
- Repeat rinsing and draining twice a day until you harvest your crop.
From The Beansprout Book by Gay Courter (illustrations by Lorraine Badger). Copyright 1973 by the author. Reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York.