Everything you need to know and more about sprouts and microgreens. The food of the future!
Sprouting Your Way to Vibrancy
If you are into eating a living foods diet, then you are probably well acquainted with sprouts. These remarkable gifts of nature are pure, fresh, nutrient-rich, and alive with their vital force intact. If you’re interested in experiencing healing, optimum health, and vitality, then make sprouts — the food for the future — part of your salubrious kitchen and lifestyle.
The Benefits of Sprouts, Wheatgrass & Living Foods
Sprouts: The Miracle of Germination
Yes, sprouts are the food for the future, a food you can grow in your kitchen — or almost anywhere in your home or office — for mere pennies and they’re packed with a powerful nutritional punch. When you sprout a seed, such as alfalfa or broccoli, it goes through a very special process called germination. During germination, seeds become alive and undergo many fast internal changes. And the great miracle of this amazing process is a huge increase in a host of nutrients, which are miraculously created inside the sprouting embryo. Below are some of the things that take place in the germination process.
- Water absorption swells the sprouting seeds from 6 to 10 times their normal size, under tremendous dynamic pressures per square inch
- Enzymes immediately become active and create a host of nutritional changes
- Proteins are converted into free amino acids
- Starches change into simple plant sugars
- Minerals chelate, or combine in a way that increases their assimilation
- Vitamin content increases from 3 to 12 times
- Chlorophyll and carotene content increase dramatically when they are exposed to sunlight
Wheat sprouts, for example, contain four times more folic acid and six times more vitamin C than unsprouted wheat. (One of the best nutritional foods you can consume is fresh wheatgrass juice.) In studies at the University of Pennsylvania, vitamin C content in some seeds was found to increase up to 700% in just the first 72 hours of sprouting! For this reason, some fresh sprouts contain more vitamin C than citrus juices. This also applies to vitamins A, E, the B-complex and others, depending on the variety of seed sprouted. A Yale University study of grains, seeds, and beans showed that sprouting substantially increases all B-vitamins from 20% to 600%. Vitamin E content increases 300% in sprouted wheat after four days of sprouting.
Sprouts are complete foods. Their proteins are called “complete proteins” because in correct combinations they contain all the essential amino acids. They are also called “complete foods” because they contain all other essential dietary nutrients, along with the enzymes to help assimilate them. Simple plant sugars such as maltose are easily digested and enter the bloodstream quickly. For this reason, sprouts are also classed as “quick-energy” foods. Sprouts are live foods because they are living plants.
Nature’s Little Miracle: You start with small, dry, hard seed. Add warm air and a little water, and watch as new life emerges as if by magic from the dormant seed. Vibrant with life and bursting with energy, its tiny size belies the extraordinary activity that takes place while growing. In mere hours and at a cost to you of just pennies, its delicate shoot proceeds to provide the most vital food imaginable.
- Sprouts increase in nutritional content as they grow, and this increase proves to be truly remarkable. The vitamin C in sprouted peas increases eightfold in four days. The vitamin B-complex in sprouted wheat increases six fold, and vitamin E increases threefold, in four days of sprouting.
- Increased nutritional value does not stop there. Many different minerals abound in sprouts, and in an assimilable form. Sprouts provide a storehouse of enzymes, and all vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and grains begin life as sprouts.
- Homegrown sprouts are the freshest, most assuredly organic food available to you. Nothing compares with “picking your own” just before you eat them and knowing they’re free from fungicides and insecticides. When you eat sprouts, you are receiving the plant’s peak nutrition, when nature has mobilized all of its nourishment to bring forth a mature plant.
Not convinced yet about the efficacy of growing sprouts at home? Okay, let’s describe the miracle of sprouting in a more cogent fashion: In a simple glass jar that requires neither sunlight nor soil, and with only a few minute’s work spread over three to four days, you can cultivate over thirty varieties of sprouts.
You need not toil long and hard, sweating under the summer and fall sun, defending your crop from insects and weeds. Yet you are fully assured that your harvest is organically grown, absolutely fresh, and resoundingly cheap. And if you do not have the desire or inclination to do your own sprouting in the comfort of your kitchen, you can find freshly grown sprouts in most natural food stores as well as many supermarkets.
Botanically speaking, all nuts, grains, and beans are seeds of plants. Every seed can create a new plant, and that plant creates a thousand new seeds, and those seeds produce whole fields and forests. This occurs naturally enough in nature, but to imitate this process in your kitchen, you must learn to control the air, water, darkness, and warmth necessary for successful germination. Kids love to take over this hobby at home, too.
Reasons to Grow Sprouts in Your Home
Sprouts are economical; ecological; toxin-free; easy to store; low in calories and fat; tasty and versatile; and simple, easy, fast to grow. Below I will write in more detail about all of these categories.
- Economical: One tablespoon of seeds, costing less than 50 cents, will fill a quart jar with several ounces of delicious, ready-to-eat sprouts. A 4-ounce package will yield several pounds. And this concentrated nutrition is alive — something that can’t be said for most nutritional supplements that cost much more.
- Ecological: Because they are such nutritional powerhouses, their food value is much higher than most other foods per unit of production cost. This conserves energy and saves processing, packaging, and storage costs. And it also avoids “denaturing” and toxic build-up in the food itself.
- Toxin-Free: Sprouts are as sweet and pure as Nature intended food to be. When completely natural and organic, and when sprouting with clean water, they can be free of toxic resides.
- Easy to Store: Seeds do not have to be frozen or preserved to keep them from spoiling. All they require is a few glass jars with airtight lids and a cool, dark storage area. They will store easily in very little space for a year or more. One small, lower shelf (heat rises, higher shelves are warmer) in a pantry will hold enough assorted seeds to feed an entire family for a year. After sprouting, they can be placed in plastic bags or other containers in the refrigerator, again not requiring much space.
- Low in Calories/Fat: Depending on protein content, one fully packed cup of sprouts contains only 16 to 70 calories. And these are simple sugars for quick energy. Sprouts contain no cholesterol and provide essential fatty acids. Several, such as alfalfa and red clover (my favorite), are sweet and satisfying to the taste buds and the body. It is almost impossible to overeat raw, live foods like sprouts. They are the perfect weight-loss and body-purification food for the decade and beyond.
- Tasty & Versatile: Bursting with flavor, you may be surprised how truly delectable they are. You can enjoy a wide variety of new taste sensations. Just add or substitute wherever you use vegetables. They take very little time to prepare when steamed, boiled, stir-fried, cooked or even baked into wholesome, homemade breads. My favorite way to eat sprouts is in their raw form. I even make scrumptious raw hummus using sprouted garbanzo beans, raw tahini, and other ingredients depending on the flavor desired.
- Simple, Easy & Fast to Grow: This “garden in your hand” grows very fast in any weather with very little care. Most of them take less than a minute or two per day to tend to, and you can grow them year-round, nearly anywhere indoors (home or office) without any weather worries. No digging, planting, weeding, pests, or chemicals to worry about either. And no long wait, as in outdoor vegetable gardens. In just 2 to 7 days, depending on the sprouts you are growing, you will have a nutrition-packed, bountiful harvest. When stored in your refrigerator, they will stay fresh for days — even weeks, if rinsed properly. Because they require very little space and travel well, sprouts are the ideal vegetables for campers, boaters, and RV’ers, too.
Here are some of my favorite sprouting seeds, beans and grains. Alfalfa Sprouts, Barley, Broccoli Sprouts, Buckwheat Sprouts, Chinese Cabbage Sprouts, Fenugreek Sprouts, Garbanzo, Green Pea, Lentil Sprouts, Mung Bean Sprouts, Radish Sprouts, Red Clover Sprouts, and Red Winter Wheat Sprouts (I use this to grow wheatgrass and make wheatgrass juice).
Using Sprouts & Raw Foods to Detoxify, Heal & Rebuild Your Body
What happens when you cut your finger? It heals itself. Sometimes though — due to our carelessness — it festers, becomes infected, and begins to give us pain. Pain is our body’s signal to us that it needs help. With a cut finger, the course of action is obvious. Clean it and disinfect it. But what about tiny, invisible “cuts” that we can’t see, which are happening inside our bodies all the time? What do we do about subtle messages of pain coming from them? Too many of us reach for the nearest chemical “pain-reliever,” when we could be doing something more — and better. There is a sword stabbing inside our bodies — a sword that is cutting a swath of ill health in millions of Americans and people worldwide.
Our bodies are being damaged inside, invisibly and mercilessly, by toxic chemical reactions. Toxic chemical additives and hazardous wastes in our air, water, and food supplies will continue to pervade our living and working environments. These toxins are returning to us in everything we eat, drink, and breathe. Thankfully, though, much of the internal damage they do heal automatically, like that cut on our finger. However, when our body is not adequately nourished, it can’t neutralize and expel these poisons fast enough. They build up in our body, and so does the invisible damage they do. Toxic build-up can severely damage our immune system. So how do sprouts help heal the body?
A body that is toxic is like a cut with dirt in it. It is contaminated and may not heal properly. It needs to be cleaned and given the nutrients it needs to disinfect, detoxify, rebuild, and heal itself. Many of us have already recognized this fact of life and have altered our lifestyles to avoid as many chemicals as possible.
Some of us have also recognized this fact of health and are being more careful about our nutrition. There is a food source in Nature that’s full of concentrated nutrients that can help our body detox and rebuild our immune system. I’m sure you can guess the food. That’s right — the answer is SPROUTS!
This is a story about another miracle — a tiny one that we may have overlooked. Consider the parable of the mustard seed. Inside this tiny little seed rests the future mighty plant — a plant that will be many times larger than that tiny germ of life from which it sprouts. A plant that will produce many more seeds, each with another plant resting inside. The mustard seed, then, is much more than a symbol of infinity and of man: it is infinity itself in living form.
Every seed is a plant embryo, waiting for the right conditions to respond with life and germinate into a shooting plant body. Some, like ancient Egyptian wheat, wait for thousands of years. When a seed meets the right combination of moisture, air, and temperature, it begins to sprout forth very fast. Just like us, it strives to emerge into the world with a healthy body and to grow up big and strong. For this reason, sprouting seeds produce a wide and abundant array of concentrated vitamins, minerals, trace elements, enzymes, growth hormones, amino acids, simple sugars, essential fatty acids — all of which are essential to human health as well. These nutrients are charged with energy — the energy of life. Instead of the nine months it takes for us to develop in our mother’s womb, however, these sprouts are ripe and ready for the world in just a few days.
Live foods — of which sprouting seeds, beans, and grains are but one category — are beneficial, natural sources of concentrated healthful nutrition. Sprouts can help a body that is constantly exposed to toxic chemicals and is undergoing immune system decline. If we include sprouts in our diets, we give our body the nutrients and energy it needs to cleanse, detoxify, rebuild, and heal itself. Then those over 70 trillion tiny cells that make up our comparatively enormous body can continue to do what they do best — keep us alive, alert, and feeling vibrantly healthy.
Please keep in mind the following points when you grow sprouts. To prevent infestation and mold, seeds used for planting are treated with chemical pesticides, fungicides, and mercury coatings that can be highly toxic. Imported seeds are required by law to be dyed for identification. Therefore, for your own protection, heed this warning: Never sprout seeds, beans, grains, etc. that have been chemically treated or dyed. Sprout only those seeds that have been explicitly certified as edible. Purchase them from a reliable source. In addition, never sprout for eating any seeds that have even the tiniest amount of mold. Growing molds can produce mycotoxins, which can cause food poisoning. For this reason also, you should thoroughly clean all sprouting containers after each use, preferably in hot, soapy water with a scrub brush.
How to Grow Sprouts & Wheatgrass
Good sprouting technique doesn’t take a “green thumb,” just paying attention to four factors: the right amount of moisture, the correct temperature, the free circulation of air, and minimal light.
By rinsing them a couple of times daily, you keep them moist. You also wash away carbon dioxide and other metabolic wastes that could cause souring or spoiling. Using cool water when rinsing ventilates and cools the sprouts to prevent overheating. Proper draining prevents excessive moisture that can cause mold and rot. The ideal sprouting temperature depends on the seed, but generally lies between 70° and 85°.
To protect the tiny growing things, keep sprouting containers away from cold drafts, direct heat, or any light. For free air circulation, at least one-third of the container must be empty. Sprouts expand 6 to 10 times over a few days, so give them plenty of room to grow. Sprouts are very light sensitive and need to be covered during the early stages of the growing cycle.
Here are the six rules of sprouting:
- Rinse often.
- Keep them moist, not wet.
- Keep them at room temperature.
- Give them plenty of room to breathe.
- Don’t put too many in any one container.
- Keep them covered — no light.
Here’s another point to keep in mind. Although bulk seeds, beans, and grains may appear cheaper than the Handy Pantry seeds, it may not be to your advantage to use them for sprouting. Unless they are packaged as high-germination sprouting seeds, only part of them may sprout. This means that some seeds may ferment and spoil the whole batch. You will have to pick out the unsprouted seeds one by one. Otherwise, any you leave in will add hard spots and a bitter taste to what should be a succulent mass of tender, tasty sprouts.
Growing Microgreens at Home (Video)
The Jar Method: This is by far the oldest and most popular method, as well as one of the easiest. All you need is a standard wide mouth, threaded, quart, half-gallon, or gallon glass jar. One technique is to cover the mouth of your sprouting jar with a muslin, cheesecloth or nylon mesh screen secured with a rubber band over and around the top. This will work, but the screen is subject to mold and mildew build-up and is not as easy as using special sprouting lids designed specifically for this purpose. The steps include soaking, draining, rinsing, harvesting, greening, and refrigerating and it takes only a few minutes a week to get through the process.
The Tray Method: This method is just as easy as the jar method. It is also the best way to sprout several kinds of seeds such as beans and grains at the same time. One of the best sprouting trays for this purpose is the Sprout Garden by Handy Pantry. I use both this garden system and different sizes of glass jars throughout the week. The bottom of their Sprout Garden sprouting tray is covered with holes for good drainage, and will keep even the smallest seed from falling through. The dividers give an advantage over the jar method by allowing you to sprout different seeds separately in each compartment. The depth of the tray and the many holes promote good air circulation. The protective cover keeps out dust, mold spores, and insects.
Another popular use is to plant an indoor garden with soil. The Sprout Garden is very handy for quickly producing a fine crop of wheatgrass, sunflower, or buckwheat lettuce in just a few days. I use the Sprout Garden for making both seed sprouts like red clover, alfalfa, and broccoli, as well as for making wheatgrass, sunflower, and buckwheat lettuce.
The Salad Mixes: There are three pre-mixed salad combinations that I get through Handy Pantry that you will enjoy, too. The 3-part salad mix contains alfalfa, Chinese cabbage, and radish seed. When sprouting, they “fluff up” together into a delightful, tasty combination. They are good alone, together, or mixed with other salad fixings. The 5-part salad mix contains mung beans and lentils besides the above three. This creates a denser, higher fiber salad. Or this mix can be added to soups for a hearty flavor and nutritional boost. The bean salad contains mung and adzuki beans with lentils and radish seed. Adzuki beans are high in fiber, protein, calcium, iron, vitamins A, B-1, B-2, and niacin. This combination is good by itself, or added to various vegetable dishes. The salad mixes can be sprouted using either the jar or tray methods.
The Soil Method: This method is optional for sprouting sunflower or fenugreek and is essential for growing buckwheat lettuce and wheatgrass for juicing. It requires a few special materials and is well worth it. You will need to begin with the following:
- 2 cups of sprouting wheat, sunflower, or buckwheat seeds
- 1/2-gallon jar or large tray for initial sprouting
- Seedling tray, roughly 18″ x 18″ from a garden supply store
- Growing soil to cover seedling tray 2″ deep (use a sifted forest mulch from a nursery — organic, if they have it)
- Watering can equipped with a sprinkler head
- 8 sheets of newspaper and a sheet of dark plastic cut to size of seedling tray
- Mister-spray bottle
- Serrated knife or scissors
While initially this may sound complicated, once you have the materials and have experimented with this process a couple times, it will become like second nature to you.
It is definitely worth it to invest in a good wheatgrass juicer, if you are going to grow your own wheatgrass and juice it. I have three different juicers that work well for wheatgrass that I use personally and also use in my culinary and sprouting classes.
Wheatgrass and other sprout juices are best taken right after juicing for highest nutritional content. You can refrigerate for a day or two if you use an airtight jar. It will keep for a longer period if frozen quickly right after juicing. Wheatgrass juice is a stellar tonic for detoxifying and rejuvenating the body because it is high in all the antioxidants, enzymes, and simple sugars for quick energy and overall body renewal.
The Healing Benefits of Wheatgrass Juice & Broccoli Sprouts
Previously, I wrote about growing wheatgrass in your home and juicing it. I have grown my own wheatgrass for juicing or have purchased freshly made wheatgrass juice at juice bars and natural food stores for decades. Sprouted wheat that grows into wheatgrass about 8 inches long is a potent source of concentrated nutrition. As it grows, wheatgrass concentrates chlorophyll and other nutrients in preparation for becoming a big, fruitful plant.
Wheatgrass itself is not digestible in our stomachs because it is too full of cellulose and other indigestive fibers. But when juiced and strained, all the nutrients are freed up and are readily assimilable by the body. And wheatgrass juice is a very powerful overall body detoxifier. Its high chlorophyll content cleanses the liver, tissues, and cells and purifies the blood. Placed in the nose, a few drops can reduce inflamed nasal passages and sinuses, relieving congestion without chemicals. Gargling will help relieve a sore throat. Wheatgrass is an excellent natural mouthwash and breath deodorizer. It will leave the breath smelling naturally fresh while nutrifying the gums and delicate tissues of the mouth. Some have used it on the skin to relieve pain and skin problems.
As I mentioned last time, wheatgrass and other sprout juices are best taken right after juicing for highest nutritional content. You can refrigerate for a day or two if you use an airtight jar. It will keep for a longer period if frozen quickly right after juicing. Wheatgrass juice is a super tonic for the whole body; it’s rich in antioxidants, enzymes, simple sugars, chlorophyll, vitamins, and minerals.
Growing wheatgrass, buckwheat, and sunflower sprouts, as well as juicing them, seems to stem back to the 70’s to Ann Wigmore and Victoras Kulvinskas. The Boston Institute of Health advocated these methods long before it became a national fad. Ann Wigmore was a hero in the Natural Health movement and left a legacy of books such as The Wheat Grass Book, The Sprouting Book and others.
Because of her insight about the benefits of wheatgrass juice, it seems like everyone now has heard of wheatgrass. The structural breakdown of wheatgrass is so concentrated that one ounce of wheatgrass has the same nutritional value as 2.5 pounds of green garden vegetables. I usually drink 1-2 ounces several times a week either made fresh at home or from an organic juice bar in my neighborhood or other places such as natural food stores when I travel.
There are many other benefits to be found in wheatgrass besides vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It’s immensely rich in chlorophyll, which is known for its ability to nourish the blood and detoxify poisons in the body. Wheatgrass is also a powerhouse of enzymes. Enzymes help the digestion and metabolism of nutrients. Additionally, it is a source of abscisic acid, a plant hormone known for its anti-tumor activity.
Broccoli sprouts are one of the healthiest foods you can eat in the world. You can make them easily in the comfort of your kitchen for pennies! I always make a batch of fresh broccoli sprouts each week and enjoy them in a variety of recipes. All members of the cruciferous family of green vegetables (including broccoli, kale, and spinach) offer a wide range of benefits. They are rich in iron, chlorophyll, carotenoids, lutein, zeaxanthin, indoles, vitamins A and C, and fiber. Broccoli and broccoli sprouts also contain a powerful antioxidant “sulphoraphane” which helps human cells fight the progression of free radicals. A study of researchers at John Hopkins University reveals that broccoli sprouts have up to fifty times more anti-cancer chemicals in them than in the mature vegetable itself.
The delicate sprouts of broccoli provide vitamins A, B, C; potassium and the phytochemicals sulforaphane; indoles and isothiocyanate. Research suggests these phytochemicals may reduce the risk of breast, stomach, and lung cancers.
Broccoli sprouts resemble alfalfa sprouts but they have more flavor. If you don’t like to eat broccoli, then the sprouts will be perfect for you. It takes only three days to grow them from seeds, whereas it takes 55 to 70 days to grow a mature broccoli plant.
I grow these sprouts using both the glass jar method and the tray method (see previous chapter). It’s so easy to grow them that the children in your family can take over this job. And it only takes a few minutes over 3-4 days to grow and harvest this most tasty, nutritious treat. I encourage you to make a fresh batch every week. Your body will thank you and your health will soar.
Sprouts: A Treasure Trove of Nutrients & Vitality Galore
Whether you enjoy alfalfa sprouts, lentil sprouts, red clover sprouts, or sunflower seed sprouts, or perhaps you’ve never tried any sprouts at all and want to learn more about them, here’s some information on the nutritional value of a variety of sprouts with some simple suggestions on how you can incorporate them into your diet. In this chapter, I’ll feature the nutrients found in the sprouts of Barley, Broccoli, Buckwheat, Chinese Cabbage, Fenugreek, Garbanzo, Green Pea, Lentil, Mung Bean, Radish, Red Clover, Red Winter Wheat, and Sunflower Seed Sprouts.
Alfalfa Sprouts: This is one of the most popular, nutritious, and delicious of all sprouting seeds. Alfalfa Sprouts are high in protein, essential amino acids, and eight digestive enzymes. They also boast vitamins A, C, B-complex (including B-12), D, E, and five minerals — iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. When these delicate sprouts are exposed to light, they become rich with chlorophyll, too. Alfalfa sprouts are very tasty, with a sweet, nut-like flavor. They are a lot safer, less expensive, and more fun to eat than factory-field, chemicalized lettuce. They sprout easily on their own or in combination with other seeds. If you are new to growing your own sprouts, you might want to start with alfalfa sprouts. They make a lively addition to the diet in salads, sandwiches, soups, etc. I even blend them in my smoothies to make the smoothie richer in nutrients and fiber.
Barley (unhulled organic): Much like wheat grass, barley grass is also rich in B vitamins particularly thiamine and riboflavin, and also provides protein and many minerals. To grow, soak the unhulled grain overnight and place close together in a tray of sifted organic forest mulch (from any nursery). Cover with wet paper after watering the entire tray and block the light for three to four days with black plastic. Then, expose it to the light for an additional three to four days and continue to water as needed. Cut an inch from the base to harvest and juice in a slow revolution juicer as you would with wheat grass — both juices are very nutritious!
Broccoli Sprouts (raw): These delicious sprouts are so good for you. I eat at least a quarter cup daily, except when I’m traveling and don’t have access to them. They provide your miraculous body with vitamins A, B, and C; potassium; and the phytochemicals sulforaphane, indole, and isothiocyanate. Research suggests these phytochemicals may reduce the risk of breast, stomach, and lung cancers. They resemble alfalfa sprouts in appearance and can be used in a similar way in your meals.
Buckwheat Sprouts: One of my favorites, buckwheat sprouts are rich in protein, iron, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B-complex, vitamin E, and large amounts of rutin and bioflavonoids. Rutin has a powerful, beneficial effect on the arteries and circulatory system. Bioflavoonoids work with vitamin C to help detox the body and build the immune system. Buckwheat lettuce makes a tasty addition to any salad.
Chinese Cabbage Sprouts: These versatile sprouts provide lots of vitamins A and C, minerals, and when exposed to light, are high in chlorophyll as well. They even taste like cabbage and are excellent when chopped up in coleslaw. Do not sprout too long or they will taste bitter.
Fenugreek Sprouts: These medicinal sprouts have a treasure trove of healthy elements in them. For starters, they contain choline (a fat controller) and are rich in protein, iron, and vitamins A, D, and riboflavin. Fenugreek is a strongly scented herb of the pea family. In my private practice, I have used fenugreek sprouts to help with digestive problems, including ulcers. It is spicy and a major component in curry powder. These sprouts are best used sparingly in salads, soups, sandwiches, curries, and rice dishes. I use the fenugreek herb in tea form to help dissolve mucus in the body.
Garbanzo: One of my favorite ways to use garbanzo bean sprouts is in an enzyme-rich, raw-food hummus (it’s rawsome!) that I usually make a few times weekly to enjoy personally and to give away to friends and clients. When making into hummus, you want to use the beans when sprouts are one to two days old. Garbanzos are rich in healthy carbohydrates, fiber, calcium, and protein as well as magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A and C. You’ll want to soak this bean for eight hours, or overnight, then rinse and drain. Spread evenly in a sprouter. Rinse two to three times per day for three to four days. Do not expose to sunlight.
Green Pea: These are rich in chlorophyll, protein, enzymes, and minerals. Whole peas would be sprouted using the above method for two to three days. Do not expose to light.
Lentil Sprouts: Also another one of my favorites because of the variety of colors, lentil sprouts are high in fiber; protein and amino acids; vitamins A, C, B-complex and E; and iron, calcium, and phosphorus. Raw lentil sprouts can be a bit peppery to the taste. Their flavor is more sweet and nut-like when cooked. Lentils sprout well with other seeds. They make a good substitute for celery or green pepper in salads, soups, and vegetable combinations. Sprouted lentil soup is hearty and nutritious and was a staple food in the Middle East in biblical times.
Mung Bean Sprouts: Most people are familiar with mung bean sprouts, commonly used in Chinese cooking and restaurants. Like most sprouts, mung bean sprouts are a nutritional powerhouse. They are high in choline, protein, and the amino acid methionine. As well, they contain vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E. Add to this list the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous and trace elements zinc, chromium, and iron. Mung bean sprouts have a crisp, crunchy texture and a flavor similar to fresh-picked garden peas. They are a tasty addition to salads, vegetable dishes, and oriental main dishes.
Radish Sprouts: These little gems sprout well by themselves or with other seeds and make a spicy addition to any salad or vegetable dish. Radish sprouts are high in vitamins A, B-1, B-3, B-6, and C, folic, pantothenic acids, potassium, iron, and phosphorous. When exposed to light, they turn light green with chlorophyll. Radish sprouts are crisp, slightly hot and tangy, like tiny radishes. If you like spicy foods, you will enjoy these sprouts.
Red Clover Sprouts: One of my top three sprouts, red clover is very detoxifying to the body and very tasty, too. These sprouts resemble alfalfa sprouts and contain many of the same vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. They also turn green with chlorophyll when exposed to light. They add a zestful taste to salads and other dishes and sprout well with other seeds.
Red Winter Wheat Sprouts: One of the most nutritious, delicious, and versatile of all the sprouted grains, these sprouts are high in fiber, protein, amino acids, vitamins A, B-complex, C, and E as well as niacin and pantothenic acid. Sprouted wheat is full of the sugar maltose and has a sweet, nutty flavor. It can be used in a wide variety of ways, including sprouted wheat breads and muffins, and for making wheatgrass juice.
Sunflower Seed Sprouts: These versatile, delicious seeds are filled with nutrients galore. I use the seeds in a variety of ways, including making a delicious nut milk, grinding into a meal to add to piecrusts and breads, add to my smoothie to increase the protein content, and make into sunflower seed butter to replace peanut butter. The seeds (when they are raw and unsalted) provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, essential fatty acids, and disease-fighting phytosterols. And the sunflower seed sprouts are even more beneficial. It outshines the nutritional value of the sunflower seeds because the sprouted seeds are from a plant “in their prime,” says Steve Meyerowitz, known as “The Sproutman,” and one of the world’s leading authorities on the health benefits of sprouts. Several times a week, I blend sunflower seed sprouts into my smoothies to boost their nutritional value.
Nature’s Little Miracle
In a simple glass jar that requires neither sunlight nor soil, and with only a few minute’s work spread over three days, you can cultivate over thirty varieties of sprouts.
As mentioned previously, you need not toil long and hard, sweating under the summer and fall sun, defending your crop from insects and weeds. Yet you are fully assured that your harvest is organically grown, absolutely fresh, and resoundingly cheap. And if you do not have the desire or inclination to do your own sprouting in the comfort of your kitchen, you can find freshly grown sprouts in most natural food stores as well as many supermarkets.
Botanically speaking, all nuts, grains, and beans are seeds of plants. Every seed can create a new plant, and that plant creates a thousand new seeds, and those seeds produce whole fields and forests. This occurs naturally enough in nature, but to imitate this process in your kitchen, you must learn to control the air, water, darkness, and warmth necessary for successful germination.
Let’s Get Started
You need a few simple things—a container, air and water, darkness and warmth, and seeds, grains, or beans. Almost any container that permits drainage can serve as a sprouting vessel, including earthenware crocks, flower pots, bamboo trays, natural or nylon cloth bags, commercial sprouting trays and kits, and colanders. Make sure that the container is not made of aluminum or any metal prone to rust. The container that I use, and the most suitable and simplest, is the wide-mouth glass jar. Most natural food and high-end kitchen stores carry some kind of sprout container. You even can use recycled empty glass jars from mayonnaise, nut butters, and canning jars, but be sure to use a wide-mouth quart (liter) jar and not the small pints or narrow-mouth quarts.
Whatever jar or container you choose, it must be rendered drainable. You can perforate the metal cap by punching holes with an ice pick or hammering holes with a nail. The caps will soon rust unless occasionally lubricated with your favorite salad oil. Instead of the metal cap, I have used cotton muslin, cheesecloth, and even a fine wire mesh that I secure on the rim of the jar with a rubber band. Homemade mesh sprout tops for mason jars are not only economical, they are also easy to make and use. Remove the lids of the jar caps and retain the rings. Purchase from the hardware store a small section of nylon, copper, or non-galvanized window screen. Use the lids as patterns for cutting circles out of the screen, and insert these screen circles back into the rings instead of the lids. As with metal jar caps, the metal rings eventually rust. By then you will qualify as an experienced sprouter, at which time you may feel commercial sprout tops are a worthy investment.
Sold in health food stores or the Handy Pantry, commercial tops fit wide-mouth jars. The more widely available tops are all plastic, while the super deluxe models consist of plastic rings with removable stainless steel screens. Both models come in different meshes, each appropriate for the individual stages and species of sprouts. For instance, the fine mesh is perfect for one-day-old alfalfa sprouts or any-day-old bean sprouts.
Sprouts are very hearty and can survive less than pristine conditions. If your tap water is heavily chlorinated, however, set it in an open container for one day or boil it for one minute. The chlorine will dissipate. Personally, I’m glad that I have a stellar water filtration system that guarantees I’m using only the best-ionized water with a pH of around 9.5 for growing my sprouts and hydrating my body.
Room temperature is a crucial factor in determining the growth rate of your sprouts. It also affects how often you need to rinse the sprouts. For instance, three rinses a day for two summer days yields the same growth as two rinses a day for three winter days. The desirable rinsing frequency depends upon room temperature. If the room temperature is too cold, sprout near a radiator, heating vent, fish tank, or in the warmest room of your home.
Purchasing the Best Seeds, Grains & Beans
Where should you purchase your seeds, grains, and beans for sprouting? Regular supermarkets sell a few whole seeds and grains. But their whole beans are often irradiated or chemically treated to inhibit sprouting. If you try sprouting supermarket beans, you are likely to concoct only a soupy slime. Dead or dying beans may be low quality for sprouting, but still are food, so neither despair over nor discard them. Cook them into soup—exactly what they are sold for.
Garden seeds are dependably viable, but seldom edible. Seeds intended for planting are treated with fungicides and insecticides, which, if eaten in large quantities, can make you very sick or may even be fatal. And untreated garden seeds, measured by the ounce, are prohibitively priced.
The most reliable sources of viable seeds are available in health food stores and through mail order distribution. Among the latter, some even specialize in seeds for sprouting. When I am sampling any new seed source, I buy a small quantity, and I always buy organic. You might locate a bulk mail order bargain price for five pounds of sunflower seeds, but if those seeds sprout poorly, then you’ve bought expensive birdseed. Never stock more seed than you will need until the next fall harvest. That five pounds of sunflower seeds is no bargain if it lasts two years. Germination rates decrease every year, particularly every summer. The identical air, warmth, and light that cause soaked seeds to sprout in a very short time cause stored seeds to deteriorate over a very long time.
Always store unhulled seeds, whole grains, and dry beans in darkness, away from heat. Refrigerate hulled sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and shelled almonds and peanuts. Store in airtight, preferably glass, containers. Most (but not all) plastic containers affect the smell of the air just as they do the taste of water. Particularly avoid plastic bags because they do a poor job of keeping insects either out or in.
An Easy Process
The process of sprouting is really quite simple. As an example, I’ll go through the process of sprouting alfalfa seeds since most people know what alfalfa sprouts are and like them. Measure two tablespoons of seeds. Discard any stones or twigs or foreign matter that might be in the seeds. Place the measured and culled seeds into the jar. Fill the jar three-quarters full with room temperature water. Swirl the jar vigorously, or stir the seeds with a long wooden spoon. Pour off the UFO’s (the Unidentified Floating Objects). Some seeds may float to the top. These may be infertile, and I usually discard them. Drain and fill the jar with water and repeat this step until the water appears clear and the surface is free of UFOs. After the last clean drain, fill the jar one more time, cover with a screen top—because air ventilation is important even at this submerged stage. Alfalfa or clover (my favorite) should soak from three to eight hours, depending upon the room temperature; the warmer it is, the shorter the soak time. For other seeds, soaking times vary. A common denominator is eight hours or overnight: a one-night stand. Let the seeds stand in the water overnight, and while you are sleeping your sprouts will be waking.
To drain the soaking water efficiently, select the proper size screen on the jar top. Choose the widest mesh for maximum ventilation and drainage, but not so wide that you throw out the baby seeds with the bath water. For alfalfa, start with your finest mesh for the first two days, switch to a medium mesh for the third and fourth days, and graduate to the widest mesh for the fifth and sixth days.
Soaking water is rich in water-soluble vitamins and minerals so do not pour it down the kitchen sink. While bean water is unfit for consumption, if you wish to remain sociable and comfortably silent, grain and seed water are ideal ingredients in soups and sauces. Refrigerate what you do not use immediately or else it will ferment into a near beer. Feed all excess bean, grain, and seed water to your house or garden plants.
Next, after draining the soak water, rinse the seeds, always using room temperature water. Cold will shock the sprouts; hot will kill them. To rinse, run the water along the walls inside the jar (not directly onto the sprouts), and fill nearly to capacity. Dislodge any seeds that stick to the top of the walls by gently twirling the jar. Allow the seeds to remain submerged for a few moments, and then pour off the water. I always lean the jar against the side of the sink (in my dish drainer) to drip there for five minutes. And because water will continually collect at the bottom of the jar, you must devise a setup to keep the jar inverted at a slight angle until the next rinse, 8–10 hours later. If you lay the jar flat, a puddle will gather inside, which will cause rot, which causes crop failure.
Small seeds, such as alfalfa and clover, require twice a day rinsing. Large beans dry out easily, so they require rinsing more often—four or more times a day. Don’t worry, after a couple weeks of sprouting, you’ll be able to do this in your sleep—well, almost. The routine will become habitual and even enjoyable. I love seeing the seeds and beans magically turn into edible, nutritious, and delicious food.
Sunning and Rinsing
On the fourth or fifth day, expose your now-leafy alfalfa to indirect sunlight. Avoid doing so before the third day, or the sprouts will dry out from the heat of even indirect sunlight. Leafy sprouts, such as alfalfa, clover, broccoli, cabbage, kale, radish, spinach, mustard, and turnip, as well as the more difficult chia, cress, and flax, all grow leaves, and all leaves when exposed to light will eventually develop chlorophyll. Sometimes all you need is a single day of indirect sun.
When your sprouts are fully-grown, transfer them into a bowl filled with water. Place the bowl in the sink in order to accommodate overflow and spills. Loosen the clumps of sprouts from each other—you are combing out the hulls. Gently agitate and submerge the sprouts with one hand and let the hulls float to the top or sink to the bottom. I remove the hulls and repeat as necessary. This entire process, which may seem complicated when reading, is really easy to do. After the sprouts are drained well, refrigerate them. (But never refrigerate sprouts that are dripping wet from the most recent rinsing because they will turn mushy after one to two days.) Thoroughly wash and dry the sprouting jar between each batch.
At this point, soak some more seeds. I have several stages of sprout jars going in my kitchen all of the time, so I am never without delicious sprouts to eat out of hand or add to my favorite recipes. Tending sprouts should be a joy, not a chore. Grow them knowing you are being good to them, and thank them, knowing they will be good for you.
The Wonderful World of Microgreens
Welcome to the world of growing your own microgreens. You can grow outdoors in warm seasons, or indoors all year long — even if you have limited space. It’s literally countertop gardening. Microgreens are inexpensive, fun to grow, and cover a wide variety of exciting, nutrient-dense tastes. It also makes it easy to consume more living foods! For all of the latest cutting-edge info on the health benefits of consuming more raw foods and how to incorporate them into your lifestyle when living in the “real world”.
I always have microgreens growing in my kitchen because they are packed with big flavor and take only a few minutes spread out over a week or two to grow and harvest. You can grow your own little greens of arugula, basil, purple cabbage, sunflower seeds, chard, radishes, broccoli, cilantro, and more.
Get the children involved in the process, too. They love to participate in this growing process. You’ll marvel at the small amount of space needed to grow microgreens — I use my porch, patio, deck, windowsill, kitchen counter and balcony — which allow them to be easily incorporated into daily meals. The greens’ nutritional potency makes them a must-eat in a healthy diet. Eaten alone as a salad or added to soups, entrees, sandwiches, burgers, or anything else imaginable, these tiny greens will enhance everyday food and life. I purchase all of my microgreen supplies at GrowingMicrogreens.com. They have the best organic seeds, starter kits, and everything you need to embrace the wonderful world of microgreens in your lifestyle.
Most of the microgreens I grow are without soil; they are hydroponically grown. A few of them, such as cilantro, beet, and sunflower seed greens, do better in soil. You will some material like growing trays without drain holes, growing pads, seeds, pH test strips, spray bottle and complete instructions. You will need to provide a few other materials like lemon juice to adjust the pH of your water, and scissors to harvest. Obviously, you’ll also need clean water. Keep in mind that the trays may be re-used many times, and it is fine to section multiple crops per tray, as I often do.
Here are some tips to help you become an expert at growing microgreens. After about one month, you will be a pro!
Below are some general ideas and troubleshooting tips to help make your greens growing experience easier when growing hydroponically.
- Planting Too Thick — If you spread your seeds too thickly, the microgreens will come in too dense and be susceptible to rot. If you feel like your greens are coming in too thick, you can always thin out the crop by carefully plucking individual plants.
- Planting Too Thin — For microgreens, this will make for a small, scraggly crop, but won’t cause any trouble.
- Underwatering — Watch carefully for any signs of wilting. The grow pad should be kept fairly soggy for the full growth cycle. If the grow pad is merely damp, there is probably not enough in the tray.
- Overwatering — Microgreens will thrive if the roots get the right mix of water and oxygen. Overwatering causes the root to not get enough oxygen and makes the crop susceptible to root diseases, and can even result in the loss of the tray. Avoid any puddles that extend above the root line. Ideally water should lie in the channels of the bottom of the tray.
- Re-Cutting — Once harvested, microgreens will not re-grow. Dispose of the spent grow pads.
- Rot — If you notice sections of rot in your try, it can be a sign of over-watering, or sowing seeds too thickly. However, most of the time, rot is an indication that your water is too alkaline (pH higher than 6.5). Make sure you pH balance your water or you will have weak crops. If you do not have occurrences of rot, give the rotting area a wide berth at harvest.
- Multiple Crop Trays — There is no problem in sowing multiple crops in the same tray. In fact, it’s a great idea! I do this all the time. You can easily segregate your seeds into different sections of the same tray, as long as the harvest times are reasonably similar.
- Temperature — Cold may slow down growth rates of your microgreens. A nice warm spot will speed things up. Make sure, however, that your microgreens are always well lit, as light is more important than temperature.
- Generally Weak Crop — If you baby your crop too much, it can make the crop weak. Microgreens should struggle a bit to survive. If they are not kept in the dark long enough, the result may be a weak looking crop. If you are having trouble with weak crops, you can add a little stress to strengthen your crop. Instead of uncovering your crop and exposing to light after 4 to 5 days, take the tray you are using as a dome and flip it. Spray the underside of the tray to moisten it, and lay it inside the growing tray so that the bottom of the tray rests on the top of your seedlings. This will force your crop’s roots to penetrate the pad instead of snaking across it and grow much stronger to lift the tray and reach for light. Leaving the tray on the crop in this manner for a day or two can really strengthen a weak crop.
- Pale Crop — Consider using a stronger light source for your microgreens. I personally use and highly recommend a good LED grow light that’s available at GrowingMicrogreens.com.
- Mucilaginous Seeds — Mucilaginous seeds should be sown and cared for the same as any other seed. However, they may be more sensitive to drying out in the early stages of sprouting. Make sure that they are always well misted and keep them damp.
- Presoaking — Some seed types will do better if pre-soaked. Refer to the notes and directions that come with your Microgreens Kit. Presoak for the indicated time period in cold water.
- Burned Crops — If you notice overly dry spots, a crop that looks like it has burn patches in it, or a crop that doesn’t seem to be doing well under the light, the crop might be getting too much light. Some crops like arugula, bok choy, mustards, and turnips are more sensitive to light and can get burned. Increase the distance of your grow lights (or lower wattage). You can also decrease the amount of time your crop gets light.
- Odor — It is not uncommon for the grow pad to give off a mild odor. Usually this does not happen until the crop approaches about 10 days. This is one of the reasons I recommend harvesting at about 10 days, though a few days earlier or later is fine.
Here are some of the ways you can use microgreens:
Garnishes — Microgreens make excellent garnishes for just about any dish. Look for the more colorful varieties like kohlrabi, red cabbage, red amaranth, beet, and red giant mustard to add a splash of color as garnish to soups, full size salads, sandwiches, hors d’oeuvres, and fruit plates.
Sandwiches — Use microgreens generously in place of lettuce on sandwiches. They are a fantastic addition to vegetarian/pita sandwiches, and can even be used on all kinds of burgers instead of lettuce.
Salads — Microgreens can be used to add color and garnish full sized salads, but I recommend making straight microgreens salads. They make an excellent addition to tomato, cucumber, and avocado salads. My all-time favorite microgreen is sunflower and I love to use it as a base for any micro green salad. There are an unlimited variety of combinations you can experiment with to mix and match colors and varieties. To make a pure microgreen salad, pile your microgreens high on the plate and garnish with wedges of tomato and avocado. I love microgreens straight without dressing, but try light dressings like lemon juice with seasonings, or balsamic vinegar and oil, if you like.
Start today and become a kitchen gardener. Get your family involved in this fun and healthy hobby of growing your own sprouts in your kitchen. Each day that you grow, harvest, and eat fresh homegrown sprouts, you will become a bit more healthy and rejuvenated. In no time, you’ll be a picture of vitality that you long to be. And your body will thank you for years to come that you have embraced this simple process of growing your own fresh, living foods in your home year-round.
© Susan Smith Jones, PhD, 2012