How to Grow Sprouts

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The Heart of New England

Growing Sprouts
By Jeanne Prevett Sable

During the interim between last year’s garden and this year’s garden-to-be,
when our own fresh veggies are a memory, we turn to an efficient, small-scale
method of indoor gardening that allows us to continue eating fresh greens long
after the last kale leaf has withered away. It’s as simple as sprouting seeds.

Humans have been cultivating edible sprouts for as long as 5,000 years.
Sprouts are packed with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, protein and
antioxidants. Their nutritional benefits grow exponentially with the sprout
while calories diminish as the emerging plant consumes starch from its host
seed or bean. Thus a handful of sprouts packs more power per calorie than
most any food, and is quicker to grab than a Twinkie.

Since there are so many varieties of sprouts, it’s hard to generalize, but Internet
sources say you can pretty much count on getting as much vitamin C from a
half cup serving of any sprout as you would from drinking six glasses of
orange juice. A cup of soy sprouts provides as much protein as a large egg for
only 48 calories, according to Nikki and David Goldbeck in their book,
American Wholefoods Cuisine.

sprouts also have benefits all their own. Wheat grass, made by
sprouting wheat berries, is said to be the closest known substance to
hemoglobin. Increasing numbers of wheat grass devotees use it as a blood
purifier, liver de-toxifier, and even a gum disease remedy.  Most of us are
already familiar with alfalfa sprouts, those slender, fresh-tasting greens sold on
salads or in sandwiches.

Sprouted mung beans are popular in Chinese stir-fries. Other popular sprouts
come from rye, spelt, triticale, broccoli, fennel, cabbage, mustard, amaranth,
kale, sunflower seeds, and more. Legumes such as peas, snowpeas, lentils,
peanuts, adzuki, Navy, mung, pinto and other beans are also favorites. Others,
such as oat, barley, or buckwheat can be made into a soothing beverage or
“milk”. Even unblanched almonds can be sprouted to produce what some
consider a real delicacy. Each type has its own characteristic flavor—radish  
sprouts taste peppery, wheat grass, sweet. Information about these products
abounds on the Internet, in books and seed catalogs, and at your local health
food store.

In general, you start by placing one or two tablespoons of untreated seeds in
potable water and letting them sit for six to 12 hours. A canning jar with a piece
of screen or cheesecloth fastened snugly over the top works well. The dome-
topped, number one (PETE) recyclable plastic dishes in which cakes and
salads are packaged work well too.  After soaking, strain out the water and
rinse the seeds a couple of times with fresh water. Pour all the water out and
set the container in a warm place, bottom-side up so any remaining water can
drain away from the seeds.  I use the top of the refrigerator. Cover with a cloth
to block out light. Repeat the rinsing process at least twice a day. Make it part
of your routine, such as when filling the morning kettle or coffeepot, and again
when clearing the dinner dishes. Add an occasional extra rinse when you think
of it.

In a few days, like tadpoles in reverse, your little seeds will begin to grow
“tails”.  That means they’re ready for sampling. You may want to expose them
to light for a couple hours to allow “greening”. This enables them to begin
manufacturing chlorophyll for photosynthesis, and vitamin A for you. But don’
t leave them in the sun too long or they’ll become bitter. (Can you blame
them?) When your sprouts have attained the desired size and taste, rinse and
drain them one last time, cover, and refrigerate.  Enjoy them in salads, dips,
soups, breads and stir-fries, or to make juices, milks, or what have you.

Equipment and kits complete with seeds and instructions for easy sprouting
make healthful, appreciated gifts. Choose from special sprout “houses”,
sprouting bags, tubes, or even clay dishes. There are even special seed blends
you can sprout for the non-human people on your shopping list—wild and
domestic birds thrive on sprouts. So do cats prone to grazing on houseplants.  

Sprouting is fun for the whole family. It allows us to observe a secret process
that normally takes place hidden underground. So don’t be surprised if a child
in your home ends up adopting the sprouts and tending them like little pets.
That’s when you’ll know you’ve sprouted more than seeds. You’ve sprouted a
new little gardener.  

About the author

Jeanne Prevett Sable is an organic vegetable gardener and author of Seed Keepers of
Crescentville, a novel about a Vermont organic gardening community that rallies
against a giant biotech ag corporation.
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