Nourish - What Is Sprouting, How to Get Started, And What Are The Health Benefits?
Have you perused the refrigerated section of a health store or supermarket and noticed small plastic boxes with small sprouting green things insides and wondered what they were?
Or maybe you’ve already bought them and tried them there and then, or whilst out in a restaurant?
Whether they were a health sensation that you wish to recreate at home, or they’re a new concept that you’re intrigued by, let me show you why sprouting is so good for you, and how easy it is to do!
Over this spring and summer, I really enjoying sprouting. It’s something I’ve done off and on for a few years now, and I thought it would be fun to share it with you!
What is a ‘Sprout’?
A sprout is essentially a young plant in its earliest stage of growth. It’s the transitional stage between seed and plant which is triggered using only water. Once you start the germinating process, the dormant dry seeds you had lying around in your cupboard starts to become a live plant. Once this seed germinates it often puts out tiny roots, that look a little like a tail.
What can I sprout?
The list is pretty huge, but here’s a few for starters:
Nuts & Seeds: chia| sesame| flax, hemp| sunflower seeds| pumpkin seeds| almonds| alfalfa (different nuts require different soaking times. Although all of them can be soaked for digestive purposes, not all show signs of sprouting e.g tails – check online for different soaking times for your nut of choice).
Grains/Pseudo Grains: wheat| spelt| barley| rye| oats (whole kernel, not flakes), brown rice| red rice| kamut| quinoa| millet| amaranth| buckwheat| corn| wheatgrass
Beans/Legumes: adzuki beans| chickpeas| lentils| green peas| yellow peas| mung beans| soy beans
Other: arugula| broccoli sprouts| kale| turnip| cress| mustard| lettuce| clover| dill| fenugreek| garlic| green cabbage
Look for raw seeds/grains etc. that have not been chemically treated, toasted, roasted, cracked or milled.
Preferably look for the word ‘sproutable’ on the label or package, such as A.Vogel Biosnacky sprouting packs. (see instore!)
If you are a first-time sprouter, I recommend that you start with seeds that germinate easily such as alfalfa, mung beans or radishes.
Why should I sprout?
Sprouting nuts, seeds, grains and legumes helps with the following:
- neutralizeing the enzyme inhibitors, including phytates
- making the nuts, seeds, grains and legumes easier to digest
- boosting their nutritional value
- encouraging the production of beneficial enzymes
- increasing the amounts of vitamins, especially B vitamins
- improving the absorption of proteins
- breaking down gluten and making its digestion easier
Plus, sprouted nuts, seeds, grains and legumes are delicious, on top of being incredibly nutritious. Personally, I feel they are highly underestimated.
Sprouts are very easy to grow and have so many benefits. Plus with such little effort, and little to no cooking required, they’re the ideal food for a busy lifestyle, and absolutely worth growing.
If you really want to improve your diet and health but can’t afford to spend more than you already are on your weekly shopping, I highly recommend sprouting.
Please check when sprouting which grains/legumes are advisable to eat raw and which are best cooked. Please note that red kidney beans should not be sprouted as they contain toxins that cannot be removed without boiling.
Now let’s dig into the reasons for why sprouting is so beneficial a little deeper.
Enzyme Inhibitors and Phytates
Grains are the staple diet of much of the world’s population. Think bread (often made with wheat/spelt/rye), pasta, rice, cous-cous, corn and all matter of things you can do with these. From grinding, baking or boiling to turn into delicious things. What these techniques don’t do, however, is to help extract the nutrients from the food.
Our digestive systems are not really equipped to digest raw grains, seeds, nuts and pulses. Many, if not all of which contain enzyme inhibitors that interfere with our digestion and absorption of nutrients. They can put a real strain on the digestive mechanism (especially if consumed in excess). Ultimately, this can cause gas, stomach pains, diarrhoea, bloating, headaches, migraines, and even nutritional deficiencies.
One of nature’s clever defence mechanisms includes nutritional inhibitors and toxic substances. Interestingly, this is to prevent nuts, grains and seeds from being eaten before they are allowed to germinate. These inhibitors and toxic substances can be removed naturally in nature, like when it rains and the nut, grain or seed gets wet and can then germinate to produce a plant.
For us, these nutritional inhibitors and toxic substances can be minimized or eliminated by soaking (and sometimes cooking). So essentially, we are imitating nature when we soak our nuts, grains, and seeds.
What Are Phytates?
Phytates can be found in all grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Phytic acid binds with calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc. Unfortunately, this makes it incredibly difficult for the digestive system to handle and absorb the nutrients.
Soaking allows enzymes, lactobacilli, and other organisms to break down and neutralize a large portion of the phytic acid. In addition, it helps to neutralize enzyme inhibitors, present in all nut/seeds/grains/legumes. Soaking also encourages the production of numerous beneficial enzymes that help to increase the amount of many vitamins, especially the B vitamins.
Although not quite on the subject of sprouted seeds atop your salad, here’s something worth noting for those who are sensitive to gluten. During the process of soaking and fermenting, gluten is partially broken down into simpler components that are more readily available for absorption.
Another way to accomplish the effects of soaking is to ferment the flour and bread dough, aka sourdough. I sense a future blog on making sourdough bread coming on 🙂
People struggling with mineral deficiencies (like anaemia or osteoporosis/osteopenia) or gut problems like irritable bowel syndrome will often find they are directed towards a diet low in phytates.
By sprouting your grains, legumes or seeds, you are neutralizing phytic acid very effectively. This makes it easier not only to digest these seeds/legumes/grains but also actually absorb the nutrients locked within them.
Nutritional Value of Sprouting
Because sprouts are living, growing food sources, they have a rich supply of enzymes. This quality makes sprouts easily assimilated and metabolized by the body. Sprouts are a powerhouse of nutrition that your body can easily utilize.
In fact, sprouting can actually increase the nutritional value of grains and seeds. For example, it helps increase phosphorus, calcium, iron, and other minerals inside the seed.
The nutritional content in sprouted seeds varies of course, depending on their type, but in general, sprouts contain:
- vitamin A, C, E
- B vitamins
- vitamin K
- small amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc
Of course, a handful of sprouted seeds won’t replace other calcium or iron-rich foods for example in your diet, but they certainly make a great contribution for such a small intake.
What do I need to get started?
- A jar, sprouting jar, or germination tray
- Cheesecloth/muslin or kitchen paper
- An elastic band
- Sprouting seeds
How do I do it?
- Rinse your chosen nuts/seeds/grains/legumes and soak overnight in a jar filled with water. (1-2 tablespoons is a good measure to start)
- Ensure your jar/germination trays are spotlessly clean
- Rinse your seeds using a sieve/cheesecloth and drain off any excess water.
- Put the rinsed seeds back into the jar and cover with muslin/cheesecloth/kitchen paper. Tilt the covered jar almost upside down and at an angle so excess water can drain out. Sprouting jars will come with a stand which allows them to drain at a 45 angle. If you use a regular jar be sure to have someplace to prop them against.
- Choose a well-ventilated area. Location is very important. Don’t place seed trays on a windowsill that gets a lot of direct light, especially in sunny weather. The heat and light will dry the seeds out and probably kill them! Place somewhere that is bright and gets indirect light. I know many people who like to put the jar on their draining board, but wherever works for you. Alternatively, use your germination trays. There is now NO water inside the jar with the seeds.
- Repeat this rinsing process at least twice a day, morning and evening. Drain the jar as much as possible before setting it aside for three or so days until it sprouts.
Don’t let the beansprouts get too big. They should be about 1.5-2cm long. If they get too long they become bitter, hard and not very nice to eat! However, if you have let them go too far you can use these in stir-fries or soup so don’t throw them away.
Oh no! There’s mould!
Don’t mistake fungus for root hairs. Many seeds develop tiny hair roots after the second or third day. These are part of the normal development and will slowly disappear. Lots of people see them, think it is mould and end up throwing them out! If in doubt, do the smell test – if the sprouts smell fresh then it is the hair roots and you can continue to grow them.
Sprouts can be particularly susceptible to fungus if not regularly rinsed. If it’s blue, furry, slimy and/or smelly, throw them out and start again.
After harvesting, the sprouts and shoots should be thoroughly rinsed before eating, like salad leaves or vegetables
Nothing is happening
Depending on the seed and climate, it can take several hours or several days until you will see a tiny tail emerging. Also, be aware that in summer the same type of seed may be faster sprouting than in winter. In warm climates, they will grow faster.
Also, take note of which sprouts sprout tails and which don’t.
It may be that you’re using old seeds, or seeds that have been chemically treated and thus do not sprout. If you’re finding it unsuccessful with what seeds you have at home, try using seeds produced for sprouting, such as the A.Vogel BioSnacky range.
I’m overwhelmed by sprouts!
I’d advise you to follow the instructions on the packet for the number of seeds you should soak and sprout. It may look like a measly amount at first, but once they swell up and sprout, there can be quite a lot!
Sprouts can be stored in a container in the fridge for a couple of days (no longer than 2 – 3 days). If you’ve over egg-ed the pudding and have a lot more, simply through them into a stir fry, salad, sandwich or dip e.g sprouted hummus.
Safety When Eating Raw Sprouts
It is essential to clean the equipment thoroughly between batches. Washing is usually adequate but germination trays or bottles can be soaked in vinegar and then thoroughly rinsed before use.
Sprouts can become contaminated if there is poor hygiene practice. Never eat any sprouts that smell bad, or are slimy or mouldy.
Usage and Storage
Sprouts can be added to salads, sandwiches, soups, stir-fries, juices and smoothies. Equally, they work well as a garnish, made into dips e.g sprouted hummus, or used to make rejuvelac. Rejuvelac is a fermented drink made from sprouted wheat berries. The fermentation extracts most of the nutrients from the berries for a delicious, fresh-tasting drink.
If sprouts are not eaten immediately, they can be stored in a container in the fridge for a couple of days (no longer than 2 – 3 days).
For more foodie related blogs mentioning sprouts, check these out:
- Food Prepping – How to Start and Why|Part 2
- Can I Get Enough Calcium On A Plant-Based Or Dairy-Free Diet?|Part 2
- How To Get Enough Protein On A Plant-Based Diet |Part 2
- Getting Enough Iron on a Plant-Based Diet (Part Two)
- 4 Foodie Tips for a Zero Food Waste Kitchen
Happy sprouting 🙂
Any questions? Drop into your local Nourish store to chat with our expert team and explore our full range of foods, supplements and skincare. You can also find our full product range in our online store.
*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention.
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication.
photo credit: A.Vogel