Something about sprouts just screams health food. As public awareness of nutrition exploded in the 1970s, sprouts popped up seemingly everywhere—suddenly everything from garden salads to tuna sandwiches featured a tangle of nutty, earthy alfalfa spouts.
And the fad hasn't gone anywhere. Why? Because besides being full of flavor, sprouting makes almost any nut, seed, or grain much more nutritious. To understand what the fuss about, you need understand exactly what a sprout is. Grains and nuts are actually the dormant seeds of a plant. (A grain of wheat, for example, is really the berry of the wheat plant.) When you add water to a grain or seed, it will begin to germinate—that is, attempt to grow into a plant. Stopping this process soon after it begins creates a sprout.
These are living foods—up until the day they're harvested, sprouts are growing a new plant. They contain higher levels of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals than their dormant grain cousins. The process of sprouting changes the composition of the grain, often producing more vitamin C and B along the way. The sprout will also use up some of its starch as it grows, giving it a higher concentration of protein than a grain. Some people find this makes sprouted grains more easily digestible. Even more important, sprouting produces the enzyme phytase, which helps the body absorb a larger amount of vitamins and minerals from food.
Sprouting is a simple process, and with just a little practice, you can sprout your own nuts, seeds, and grains. Beginners might consider cooking all of their sprouts before eating them—the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends this as the best way to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
1. Soak your nuts, seeds or grains.
Most nuts grains and seeds will benefit from an easy overnight soak, around 12 hours, though soaking times vary between 3 to 12 hours depending on what you're working with. Simply place the seeds, nuts, or grain in a mason jar or stainless steel bowl, then fill with 2 to 3 times as much filtered water to cover. Soak, jar covered with a mash cap to keep bacteria out.
2. Germinate and sprout.
After you've thoroughly soaked your nuts or seeds, drain the water and rinse everything well with warm water. This time, cover the bowl or jar with a dark cloth. If you're using a jar, tilt the lid facing down to help the water drain. You can also transfer the soaked contents into a sprouting bag.
Whatever you're sprouting should be rinsed twice a day until sprouts appear—usually between one to four days. A good rule of thumb is rinsing them when you get up in the morning and in the evening before going to bed.
3. Go green.
Certain sprouts benefit from greening in the final stage of sprouting. Greening just means allowing sprouts to soak in indirect sunlight—This causes them to produce chlorophyll and turn green. To green your sprouts, place the jar or sprouting bag in strong indirect sunlight for 12 hours to a full day at the end of sprouting time.
Harvest times vary by each plant. Do some research to find approximate times for soaking, sprouting, and harvesting various nuts, seeds and grains.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont