Much like making homemade almond milk, which I have done for years now, preparing sprouts at home, has now become a weekly thing for me. I absolutely adore sprouted foods and all of their many benefits. But, I have to be honest when I tell you the sprouts they sell at the store creep me out, a bit. Knowing just how short their shelf life is, it makes it hard for me to believe they are fresh and that their exposure to harmful bacteria has been limited. I would much prefer to make my own at home, where I know how fresh they are and exactly how they were handled. I started doing this late last year and I have become obsessed.
Sprouting is a way of creating “living plants”, loaded with nutrients and vitamins such as Vitamin C, B E and carotene. Some believe sprouted foods contain up to 15 times as many nutrients as their unsprouted counterparts. Sprouting also helps the absorption of minerals due to their ability to be better digested. Some people refer to sprouted foods as “pre-digested”, for this reason.
Sprouting takes time, but it’s much more of a waiting game, it doesn’t require a ton of work. Sprouted foods simply requires you to have patience and to be paying attention, tracking their sprouting time and making sure to tend to them, when needed. That’s about it.
As we discussed in both the nut butter and nut milk posts – many nuts, seeds, legumes and grains contain natural chemicals that protect them while growing, both from sprouting prematurely and also from predators. These protectors also act as enzyme inhibitors to us, meaning we get much less of the crucial nutrients from these foods than we should be. Plus, this “armor”, of sorts, makes digesting them much more difficult. Soaking these foods releases these chemicals, helping you to absorb your food’s essential minerals and nutrients. Additionally, by soaking the nuts with the removal of these nutritional inhibitors and toxic substances, the flavor and taste is much more ideal and appealing.(read more in depth about these chemicals and why we soak)
So, we are back to the soaking idea again. Soaking is not only necessary for sprouting to occur, but we are also unlocking the full nutritional potential of these foods, as we did with the nut butters and nut milks. After soaking, when that natural protective armor has been removed, the sprouting process can then occur. So basically, if soaking is the first step of increasing the nutritional benefits of these foods, then sprouting is the incredible finishing move to creating the perfect nutritional superfood out of something that would otherwise leave us feeling bloated and tired, due to the strain they would typically put on our digestion.
Sprouted foods, also known as “activated foods” are incredibly nutrient dense foods, they encourage production of healthy bacteria that aids in our digestion and in turn, boosts our immunity. Sprouts are great on salads, on top of soups or stews, in stir fries, inside of wraps or sandwiches, in smoothies – really they are great in any dish that you want to add a nutritional boost to.
WHAT CAN YOU SPROUT?
Most seeds, legumes, grains and some nuts will sprout, but be aware some will not. Because many nuts you find in the stores have been pasteurized or treated with heat in some way, they aren’t technically raw and although soaking can activate and allow us access to their nutrients, sprouting likely won’t happen. Oftentimes, when I am simply looking for traditional sprouts, I will buy premixed ready to sprout blends of organic seeds and legumes exclusively meant for sprouting. It gives me a nice wide variety and I know that, since everything in the blend is meant for sprouting, it will do just that. See the bottom of this post for pre-made sprouting blends that I recommend. For the step-by-step photos, I used this organic blend, Spicy Salad Mix, which contains lentils, alfalfa, red clover, radish and black mustard seeds.
Once sprouted, you can also cook grains and legumes, as you normally would. Sprouted quinoa cooked in place of regular quinoa, is one of my favorite things as are sprouted lentils. Once sprouted, grains and legumes not only cook quicker than their dried counterparts, but they are, as you now know, much easier to digest and taste much better, as well.
Much like fermented or cultured foods, sprouted foods are susceptible to contamination from bacterial growth. If you take great care in keeping a clean environment, tools and hands, and you should be more than OK. I have never had an issue. In fact, I feel much better about consuming my own sprouts, where I am careful, rather than sprouts that sat on the shelf of the grocery store for who knows how long, traveling through god-knows what to get there. Always store your finished sprouts in the fridge, in a covered glass container and consume within a few days.
Some professionals recommend cooking your sprouts. I have never found this to be necessary.
SOAKING AND SPROUTING TIMES
Much like the nut butter and nut milk posts, I wanted to provide you with a simple guide with soaking and sprouting times for various seeds, legumes and nuts. I am also including a few gluten-free grains on this list. Obviously there are many more foods than what is on this list, that can be sprouted. Also, as I mentioned above – most nuts, will not sprout, so I haven’t include nuts on this list, besides almonds.
Soak your seeds (beans and/or grains) in a wide mouth mason jar with fitted with either a spouting lid, a sprouting screen or a piece of cheesecloth big enough to cover the opening, held on with the jar’s metal ring or a rubber band. Cover the goods you are sprouting with at least 2 to 3 times as much filtered water. When making sprouts for salads, I usually go with 1-2 tablespoons of a seed legume blend and approximately 2-3 cups water. Allow to soak for the appropriate time (see above chart) on the countertop. This blend, that I have been using, calls for soaking 8 hours, so I get it set up to soak overnight and do the remaining steps the next day.
To drain, pour out the water through the cheesecloth or the sprouting lid, run fresh water through the lid and over the food, shake to rinse thoroughly. Drain again and repeat one more time.
After draining the water out, make sure the lid is fitted on securely and tip the jar upside down into a bowl, so any excess water drains out. I place my draining jar under a dark towel on the countertop, basically you just want it out of direct sunlight and at room temperature.
Continue this rinsing and draining process every 8 hours or so, or at least twice a day, until the food is done sprouting.
Most foods will start sprouting on day 1 and will be fully sprouted in 1 to 4 days. The sprouts are ready when you can see little tails, 1/8-inch to 2-inches in length. For grains and legumes, they that are about the same length as the original food, pre-sprouting. Once the sprouts are ready, I give them a final rinse and place the jar in a sun lit area for about an hour or so, to green them up a bit and make sure they are fully dry. Damp sprouts will spoil. Once dry, add the regular metal lid back to the jar and store in the fridge.
When sprouting grains, once they are ready – refrigerate them. Sprouts will keep 2 to 3 days. Enjoy on salads, on top of soups or stews, in stir fries, inside of wraps or sandwiches, in smoothies – really they are great in any dish that you want to add a nutritional boost to. You can also dehydrate the sprouted grains to grind into a homemade sprouted flour. This is something I haven’t tried yet, but I cannot wait to. Here is a great post from Nourished Kitchen on how to make sprouted grain flours.
NOTES: As an alternative to the jar with the sprouting lid or cheesecloth, for larger batches of sprouts many people use nut milk bags for sprouting. The process and the steps work the exact same way, but I personally find trying to come up with a way to hang the bag so the excess moisture will drain out, to be more of a pain that it’s worth, so I always opt for the jar.
Wide mouth quart sized jar
Sprouting lid or Sprouting Screen
Alternative to the jar and lid method: nut milk bag
RESOURCES FOR SPROUTING SEEDS
High Mowing Seeds has an incredible selection of organic seed/legume blends for sprouting. A 4 ounce package makes you 8 batches of sprouts. A little goes a long way.
Cultures for Health has a nice selection of sprout mixes.
You can also find great options at your local organic grocer, oftentimes in bulk. If you are buying in bulk and are highly sensitive to gluten, please be wary of cross contamination. This is always a concern with bulk bins.