If you are doubting what to eat for health, for prevention of disease, for anti-aging, and for recovery from illness, consider sprouting. Anyone can sprout anywhere and at any time of the year with the most basic of equipment: a wide-mouth jar, nylon mesh screening or metal sprouting lid for mason jars, a rubber band, and sprouting seeds – no soil required.
Sprouting is easy enough for children to manage, some may even take on the official title of Household Sprout Grower! This means any adult can sprout too. For people without space or the desire to garden, sprouting can become your “garden.” Unlike vegetable gardening outside, sprouting has no seasonal limits. When fresh and local produce is long gone in the cold winter months and the only option for fresh produce is what’s been imported thousands of kilometers, turn to sprouts. Even when stored, sprouts retain more nutrients days after “harvesting” than vegetables and fruit that are imported. With that to challenge your doubt, let’s dive deeper into the what, why, where, and how’s of sprouting.
What actually happens in sprouting
The core of all human, animal, and plant life begins from seed; what comes of it depends on favourable conditions for growth. With water, air, and warm temperatures, stored energy in the seed flows to the sprout. Hormones and enzymes that laid dormant are activated when seeds are soaked in water, causing germination (sprouting), the first stage of plant development. Enzymes multiply vitamins and minerals while pre-digesting complex nutrients into simpler easy-to-digest forms: starch to simpler sugars, fats to fatty acids, and protein to amino acids. As long as sprouts are kept moist by rinsing two the three times a day and drained in-between, sprouts will be harvestable in 3-10 days. Plants will enter the second stage of development if left for longer, though soil or another medium is often required for this (1).
The best bang for your nutrition buck
“Pound for pound sprouts are perhaps the most nutritious food there is per dollar value,” says Ann Wilgmore, author of The Sprouting Book (2). Seed costs are minimal, especially when bought in bulk quantities, and weigh next to nothing, yet increase in volume many fold. I use two tablespoons (20 grams) of broccoli seeds per wide-mouth quart jar, which yields around 3 cups of broccoli sprouts in 5-7 days. At $39.49 per 1 kg bag from Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds (www.sprouting.com), 20 grams of broccoli seeds work out to $0.79. This corresponds to roughly $0.13 for every ½ cup serving.
Much has been published on health benefits linked to eating sprouts (refer to International Sprout Growers Association or International Specialty Supply for access to an extensive library of articles on nutrition and health benefits of sprouts). Some notable benefits include increased digestibility and availability of nutrients, removal of toxins, anti-nutrient reduction, alleviation of menopausal symptoms due to phytoestrogens, antioxidant nutrients, and amplified vitamin, mineral, and protein content. Here we will focus in depth on two benefits: detoxification of carcinogens and antioxidant capacity.
Detoxification of carcinogens
Modern living in rural and urban centres exposes us to carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) on a daily basis from personal care products, chemical residues on food, substances in water, and pollutants in air. Avoidance of chemical exposure reduces our risk of cancer, yet our intrinsic detoxification pathways in the body removes carcinogens that are unavoidable. Certain nutrients – many of which are highest in sprouts and to a lesser extent in vegetables, fruit, grains, and nuts – are essential for detoxification.
Sulphoraphane, an isothiocyanate, is one of the most potent food-derived antycarcinogens. Its activation depends on an enzyme found in plants and intestinal microbiota that converts the inactive precursor, glucosinolate, which is abundant in broccoli and broccoli sprouts, to sulphoraphane. Chewing, chopping, and blending facilitate greater conversation. Preheating broccoli sprouts in water at 21º C for 10 minutes before eating or blending is reported to increase sulphoraphane 4-fold (3). The more sulphoraphane formed, the more detoxification of carcinogens since sulphoraphane raises the activity of detoxifying enzymes. Broccoli sprouts increase the activity of these detoxifying enzymes 10-100 times more than mature broccoli (4). All the more reason for everyone to eat more broccoli sprouts and raw broccoli!
Less wrinkles and no diseases please!
Cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, and other chronic diseases are initiated, aggravated, or promoted by oxidative stress (5). Skin wrinkles, bone stiffness, and loss of flexibility – basically the body becoming increasingly “rusty” – are also attributed to oxidative stress. The best way to minimize oxidative stress is with antioxidants. These are needed to neutralize very reactive and unstable particles called reactive oxygen species (ROS). The body produced ROS as a by-product of normal functions, and we consume ROS from rancid, processed, or oxidized oils. Antioxidants stabilize ROS without themselves becoming unstable. Without antioxidants (i.e. a diet high in sprouts, fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, pulses, and nuts or seeds) ROS stabilize by scavenging electrons from DNA, cell membranes, fats, enzymes, etc. to become stable. This essentially damages DNA, makes cell membranes leaky, creates harmful fats, and disrupts the function of protein (enzymes). All in all, this equals bad news for health.
Fortunately, sprouts are abundant in nutrients with antioxidant properties, including vitamin A (as carotene), E, C, and zinc – higher than in the mature vegetable equivalent. Sprouts with especially high levels of these antioxidant nutrients are lentils, cabbage, alfalfa, mung beans, wheat, oats, rye, sesame seed, red clover, green peas, and mustard. There are many to choose from, so pick at least two and read on.
How to sprout
The basic principle of sprouting is keeping seeds/sprouts moist while providing adequate drainage and air circulation (2). Keeping sprouts out of direct sunlight and rinsing 2-3 times per day (more on hot days, less on cooler days) should yield beautiful sprouts. With time, practice, and patience, you’ll soon get the hang of it.
To get started, first, you need seeds – reputable organic, non-GMO seeds, ideally. Buying organic seeds with good germination potential will reduce your risk of foodborne pathogens, such as Salmonella or E.coli, since all foods are vulnerable to bacteria and harmful microbes (6). I’d recommend Organic Matters or Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds, a Saskatchewan seed company that sells specific for sprouting. Order on-line for either company or buy Mumm’s seeds from select health food stores, such as Blush Lane or Planet Organic in Edmonton. Buying seeds in larger quantities like 1 kg bags is more economical. Consider dividing a variety of large seed packs among a few friends.
Second, you need the following equipment for the jar-sprouting method: 1 to 4 quart wide-mouth jar, screen or nylon mesh, a rubber band, a sieve or colander, fresh water you feel comfortable drinking, and a collecting plate to catch draining water. Sprouting bags, tray-type sprouters, and automatic sprouters are available for purchase; however, trays and automatic sprouters are often made of plastic. It is best to avoid plastic when glass alternatives work just as well.
Directions for sprouting in a 1-quart jar:
1. Clean your sprouting jar with sudsy, hot water, and sterilize with boiled water. Empty the jar.
2. Sort through beans, lentils, or peas and discard any that are broken or chipped. Note: split peas won’t sprout.
3. Measure 2 tablespoons of seeds into the jar or enough to just cover the bottom with small seeds. Larger seeds or beans should not fill the jar more than one-eighth to one-quarter full.
4. Fill jar with 2 inches of water, and let seeds soak. Find soaking times for your particular seed on your seed package. Generally,
•Broccoli and related plants such as cabbage, kale, radish, etc. require 2-3 hours
•Other small seeds require 2-6 hours
•Large seeds, peas, lentils, and grains require 6-12 hours.
When in doubt, Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds suggest soaking for less time rather than more (7). A sprout chart such as this one by Sproutman gives detailed recommendations for a variety of seeds, peas, lentils, and grains. Consider adding powdered kelp, wheatgrass, or an alternative source of minerals to the water used for soaking as it will enhance trace minerals absorb by the seeds, thus the minerals transferred to the sprout. This is especially important if you are using distilled water.
5. Cover jar with screen, and secure with a rubber band. You may need to poke a few hold in fine-mesh screening or a suction will form when seeds are drained. Alternatively, screw on a reusable stainless steel mesh screen lid made for sprouting in wide-mouth mason found here.
6. Drain off water, and place jar at a 45º angle, mouth down so water can drain freely and air can circulate.
7. Rinse sprouts 2-3 times a day by filling jar with water, allowing it to overflow, then inverting jar to drain. Here you can use regular tap water or continue with filtered or distilled water. Rinsing will remove waste products. Return jar to a 45º angle in a sieve or colander to allow excess water to drain.
8. Harvest your sprouts once these have matured by first removing the rubber band and screening, then by transferring to a small glass mixing bowl. Fill bowl with clean water; swish gently, loosening indigestible hulls from small seeds. Hulls will float to the surface. Weigh down sprouts with one hand, fingers spread wide. Take a spoon with the other hand, and skim off the hulls.
9. Drain sprouts in a colander, then transfer to a clean cloth to dry for an hour or two out of direct sunlight.
10. Store in a clean, air-tight container or jar lined with paper towel. Cover with another piece of paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Sprouts should keep in the refrigerator for seven to ten days.
Ways to enjoy
- Add to sandwiches, wraps, pitas in addition to or in place of lettuce (e.g. red clover, alfalfa, radish, broccoli, kale)
- Blend into smoothies and vegetable juices (e.g. green pea shoots, cabbage, mung bean, lentil, broccoli, kale)
- Grind up and use in hummus for a real kick (e.g. lentil, radish)
- Add to grilled cheese sandwiches (e.g. alfalfa, clover)
- Eat fresh on salads (e.g. salad mixed sprouts, broccoli, clover, kale)
- Top omelet or scrambled eggs (e.g. broccoli, clover, radish)
- Combine in rice dishes after cooking or served cold (e.g. fenugreek, lentil, mung bean)
- Add to sushi (e.g. radish, sunflower, red clover)
- AND sprouts are great to bring with you while travelling.
1. Growing Your Microgreens Business [Internet]. Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds. [cited 2017 Aug 2]. Available from: http://sprouting.com/growing_a_microgreen_business.html
2. Wigmore A. The Sprouting Book: How to Grow and Use Sprouts to Maximize Your Health and Vitality. Avery Trade; 1986.
3. Matusheski NV, Juvik JA, Jeffery EH. Heating decreases epithiospecifier protein activity and increases sulforaphane formation in broccoli. Phytochemistry. 2004;65:1273–81.
4. Nestle M. Broccoli sprouts as inducers of carcinogen-detoxifying enzyme systems: clinical, dietary, and policy implications. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997;94:11149–51.
5. Stipanuk M. Biochemical, Physiological & Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition. 2 edition. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders; 2006. 960 p.
6. Growing Lessons: Get Your Green Thumb + Tasty Fresh Sprouts [Internet]. Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds. [cited 2017 Aug 1]. Available from: http://sprouting.com/how_to_sprout.html
7. Sprouting Basics – Discover how to Sprout Your Own Seeds [Internet]. Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds. [cited 2017 Aug 1]. Available from: http://sprouting.com/sprouting_basics.html