Authored by: Jillian Tholen, U of MN Nutrition Dept.
Some of the most unassuming foods are the ones that pack the most nutritional value. Case in point: sprouts. It’s hard to believe that these tiny shoots can offer us so much, given their minute size and meek appearance, but they contain an incredibly wide range of enzymes and vitamins. The sprout is a true demonstration of a ‘living’ food—a newly born, rapidly growing and developing plant.
Sprouts are simply seeds that have been germinated; that is, seeds that have been exposed to water and have begun to grow. There is an amazing increase in the nutrient content of sprouts when compared to the dormant seed they originate from. The process of germination unlocks numerous nutrients and makes them more available for the body to use. Sprouting increases the content of vitamins A, C, E, and B complex – and we’re not just talking marginal increases here! Vitamin A content, for example, can increase eightfold during germination! Sprouts also have higher levels of essential fatty acids and have been called “the most enzyme-rich food on the planet,” which allows them to be easily utilized by the body. Additionally, sprouting neutralizes the anti-nutrients and enzyme inhibitors found in dormant seeds, such as phytic acid and aflatoxins. These compounds can interfere with the digestion and absorption of certain minerals, and can even be toxic to the body, but are eliminated through the simple process of germination. Sprouts really are super foods!
Virtually any edible grain, seed, or legume can be sprouted. Some of the more popular examples include sunflower, radish, barley, and alfalfa seeds, mung beans and peas. The method for sprouting is the same for all grains and seeds; the only part that differs is the length of time needed to accomplish full germination. Sprouting your own seeds is actually very easy – all they need is a small amount of maintenance each day.
Equipment: wide-mouthed mason jar, a mesh screen insert (available at the co-ops) and screw-top lid or cheesecloth and a rubberband
- To begin, the jar should be filled no more than one-fourth full of seeds.
- Soak the seeds overnight
- Rinse well the next day (you won’t even need to remove the top if you use a mesh screen).
- Invert the jar and keep it sitting at an angle to allow all of the water to drain out and allow air to circulate. It is imperative that the seeds are not kept sitting in water!
- Rinse and drain the seeds three times a day until they are ready to eat. How will you know when they are ready? It will vary by type of seed, but sprouts are most tender, flavorful, and nutritious when their tiny leaves first appear.
- If you can’t use them right away, don’t worry, they can be kept in the refrigerator for several days to preserve their nutrients and freshness.
There are countless ways to be creative with sprouts, no matter which variety you have access to. Take pea shoots, for example—they can be added to sandwiches, mixed into salads, or even sautéed as part of a stir-fry. They can also be added to curries, tossed with noodles, just eaten plain…there really are infinite possibilities! However they are used, they will add significantly to the enzyme content and nutritional value of the dish.
For being some of the most nutritious and tasty greens, sprouts really don’t seem to get the recognition they deserve. Now that you know how wonderful they are, find some at the market and try them out or get some seeds and sprout your own! Don’t overlook this fabulous source of live enzymes and nutrients!