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Organic, fresh food, bursting with vitality at ridiculously low cost! Too good to-be true? ‘Not if you grow your own sprouts!’ says Natalie Savona

In one of nature’s wonders, every plant, no matter how large, begins life as a tiny, germinating seed. As the dormant seed starts to grow, the energy and nutrients it contains spring to life in what is the most vital stage in a plant’s development. This is the process that transforms a seed into a sprout. As readers of Optimum Nutrition, you are unlikely to be new to the concept of sprouting, but a look into their nutritional value reveals some of the reasons why they are such a good food source.



Bean sprouts - mung in particular - have been grown in the East for thousands of years. A semi-mythical emperor of China is said to have described the medicinal properties (sprouts as far back as the twenty eighth century BC. The Aztecs and Navajo people of North America are also believed to have included them in their diet. At the end of the eighteenth century their benefits in keeping illness at bay delighted Captain Cook when not a single man died of scurvy in the three-year voyage of the Endeavour. However, lemons replaced this role and the sprout was soon forgotten in Europe.



Even today, the wonderful value of sprouts is not fully appreciated despite a scientific awareness of why they are so nutritious. On germination, a seed rapidly absorbs water and swells to at least twice its original size. At the same time - in nutrient content changes dramatically. The husk of the seed contains the embryo, which grows into both the root and the shoot while the endosperm and cotyledons (the two halves which you can see inside a pea seed or bean) become the food supply for the growing plant during sprouting. The content and activity of enzymes increases converting starch to simple sugars, protein into amino acids, and fats into fatty acids. These processes effect pre-digest the seed making it much easier for us to break down and absorb. This is the reason why many sprouted grains and legumes are less likely to cause allergic reactions that their non-sprouted counterparts can trigger.



The vitamin content of a sprout is particularly significant. Sprouted mung beans contains as much as 120mg of vitamin C per 100g, compared with oranges, which have around 53mg. It has also been shown that the amount of B vitamins rise as a seed sprouts. The vitamin B2 content in an oat grain multiplies by 1300 per cent as soon as the seed germinates; although some Bs do not increase until the small plant grows leaves and starts to photosynthesize. Whether sprouts contain vitamin B12 appears to be a moot point, although most sprouted cereals are said to posses trace amounts. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E are also present. Minerals, which are in abundant supply; combine with amino acids to form ’chelates’. These significantly increase their uptake and use in the body.

While protein content in vegetables is not significant, sprouts are an exception. A bean or seed’s protein value actually diminishes as it germinates yet a sprout is still a valid source as it builds new protein from stored nutrients within the seed. Soya sprouts are the only ones that contain all eight essential amino acids. For people who follow a diet of food combining i.e. not mixing high protein foods with starch, sprouts bring an added bonus of being neutral so that they can be eaten with either.

Although the nutritional analysis of a sprout differs from one variety to another, the key to this food group is freshness. Many fresh foods lose as much as half of their vitamin C within hours of being picked, but because sprouts are harvested while they are still growing, vitamin loss is minimal. However, it’s important to eat sprouts within a week of germination, as their nutrient value falls after this period.

If you let sprouts develop leaves and expose them to sunshine so that they become green, you will have a wonderfully fresh source of chlorophyll. This substance is renowned for its cleansing, anti-inflammatory and rejuvenating properties. As well as chlorophyll other elements present include bioflavanoids, RNA and DNA, and numerous phytochemicals. The active enzymes in germinating seeds aid digestion and assimilation of salt nutrients placing less of a burden on the digestive system. Sprouted legumes are also a- good source of fibre, but unlike their dried equivalents, do not cause flatulence.



Sprouts are incredibly versatile and are best eaten raw - in salads, sandwiches or on their own. They can be added to hot dishes such as soups or casseroles: do this at the last minute to maintain freshness and nutrient value. Some sprouts are however, best cooked. These are mainly the larger legumes such as chickpeas and soya beans. Lightly steam them for a few minutes (this aids their digestibility) and add to dishes such as curries and stews. The majority of sprouts can be slow-dried in the oven for up to 45 minutes, and ground to make flour for baking, coatings, or crunchy toppings.

Most health food shops sell a limited variety of sprouted seeds, but with the ease and convenience with which they can be grown at home, why not increase the range and freshness, by sprouting them yourself? It really doesn’t have to take much time or effort. It’s best to start with good quality, whole, organic seeds. Some of the easiest to sprout are mung, aduki, lentils, chickpeas, soya, fenugreek, radish, wheat, mustard, cress, and alfalfa. Once these have been mastered, try sunflower, pumpkin, buckwheat, whole oats, barley, flax, mint, red clover, or indeed, the seeds of any edible plant. The exception is kidney beans, as they are poisonous when raw, or plants whose greens are toxins, such as the nightshade family (tomatoes, aubergines and peppers).



How to sprout

Buy a commercial sprouter, available from health food stores or you can use a wicker basket, colander, or sieve.
Place a handful of legumes/seeds in a bowl and leave to soak over night. Most seeds will expand up to eight times their size,
Drain off the soak water, rinse well and lay the seeds in the base of the sprouter.
Place in a dark cupboard and rinse the seeds two to three times a day.
Continue to rinse until seeds are ready to harvest. After about three to five days (see sprout harvesting times) you should have a crop of sprouts. Once they are the right size for eating, give them one final rinse and store them in the fridge to stop them from growing any further.

Sprout Harvesting Times

Alfalfa 5-7
Aduki beans 4-6
Barley 3-4
Chickpea 4
Fenugreek 4-5
Flageolet beans 3-5
Green lentils 3-5
Green peas 3-5
Mung beans 2-3
Radish 4-5
Rye 3-5
Soya beans 3-6
Sunflower seeds 4-6
Wheat 2-4

To produce larger quantities of sprouts, use small seed trays, available form garden centres. These should have fine holes in the bottom for drainage. For alfalfa and other small seeds, you can line a tray or plate with wet kitchen paper, and will probably not have to water them at all. Cress, mustard, and radish are best grown using this method.

NUTRITION – sprouts contain a greater concentration of nutrients than any other stage in a plants life.
ASSIMILATION – The enzymes produced during germination aid digestion
ORGANIC - Grown at home from pesticide-free seed-, sprouts are guaranteed organic
NON-TOXIC - Toxins that are present in some legumes and seeds are-nullified once sprouted
LOW IN CALORIES - Sprouts-are high in fibre and low in calories, ideal for those watching their weight
FRESHNESS - Harvested the same day-they are eaten, sprouts provide the ultimate in fresh food
ECONOMICS - Seeds are inexpensive and once sprouted work out just a few pence, per pound
AVAILABILITY - Sprouts can be grown in any climate, all year round
SPACE - All you need is a sprouting apparatus and the space it takes up in a cupboard
VARIETY AND VERSATILITY - There’s an endless choice of seeds to sprout and ways-to eat them.



Meyerowitz, Steve. Sprout it The Sprout House, 1983
Pitchford, Paul. Healing With Wholefoods, North Atlantic Books, 1993
Ridgeway, Judy. Sprouting Beans and Seeds, Century Publishing Co.1984


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