Edible sprouts are nuggets of nutrient gold! These guys come packed with proteins, digestible energy, amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In short, they’re healthy little buggers! Sprouting at home is a cheap and easy way to grow hyperlocally and provides a healthy variety to your diet year-round—even after you may have shuttered your outdoor garden for the winter.
SO, WHICH SPROUTS ARE EDIBLE ANYWAY?
Lots of seeds can be sprouted in a few days’ time on your windowsill. Most folks are familiar with mung bean or alfalfa sprouts, but there’s also a wide range of sprouts from the pea, cereal, oilseed, and vegetable families that add a tasty crunch to meals, either raw or cooked.
• PULSES (pea family): alfalfa, fenugreek, mung bean, lentil, pea, chickpea, soybean
• CEREALS: oat, wheat, maize, rice, barley, rye, kamut, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat
• OILSEEDS: sesame, sunflower, almond, hazelnut, linseed, peanut
• VEGETABLES/HERBS*: broccoli, carrot, spinach, cabbage, celery, fennel, onion, parsley, radish, turnip, leek, watercress, mustard, rocket (arugula), lemon grass, lettuce, clover, mizuna, milk thistle, tatsoi
* IMPORTANT: Some vegetable and herb sprouts are poisonous. Never consume sprouts from the solanaceae family: tomato, potato, or eggplant. Rhubarb, paprika, and aubergine sprouts are also a no-go. Also are raw whole oats, which need to be steamed before eating. Safety first!
When selecting seeds for sprouting, choose only organic sprouting seeds. Some may be marked “pathogen free” or “seed quality”—good things to look for! These labels ensure that the seeds have been handled in sanitary conditions, are free from harmful contaminants, and do not have any chemical coating. Many sources cite alfalfa, mung bean, lentils, and wheat grass as the best entry points for newbies.
A rough rule of thumb for yield: 1 ounce of seed produces about 1 cup of sprouts. Every variety is different, though, so experiment to find what works for you. You can store your unused seeds in a cool, dry place or in a freezer for one to five years. Be sure to follow the guidelines on your seed package.
WHAT ELSE DO I NEED?
Choose a sprouting vessel. Many containers lying around the house are great for sprouting; just be sure to pick one that's not wood or metal. Unglazed flowerpots are safe, but some glazed pottery can be toxic, so if you’re unsure, skip it. Best bets include glass containers, such as mason jars and coffee percolators, and food-safe plastics, such as a colander. Choose a wide enough container so that your seeds aren’t crowded and so that air and water can circulate and drain. Your sprouts need to breathe!
If you go the mason jar route, you’ll need to attach a strainer in order to remove excess water after your daily rinsing (more on that below). Simply place a piece of cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar and secure with a rubber band—an easy-peasy sieve that sprouts can grow right through.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
Sprouts are basically germinated seeds. When seeds or beans are moistened, they are awakened from dormancy and begin to grow. As the seeds grow, they release carbon dioxide, other gases, and heat as byproducts. These wastes can be removed through the rinse and repeat method below.
1. Rinse your seeds briefly in cool water to clean them.
2. Soak them for eight to 12 hours (depending on your seed variety) in warm water. After soaking, remove any seeds that have floated, that have cracked hulls, or that haven’t swelled up. These are sterile and will rot.
3. Drain the seeds, rinse them again in cool water, and place them in your sprouting container. If you’re using a mason jar, place it on its side so that the seeds have room to spread, and air and water can circulate.
4. Rinse your seeds in cool water and drain thoroughly twice a day to keep them moist but not wet. Be sure to drain completely to prevent bacterial growth.
5. Remove all outer husks that fall off and float during rinsing.
6. Repeat until your sprouts are mature. Typically, it takes three to five days for seeds to sprout.
7. When your sprouts are mature, you can either harvest and enjoy them right away (after a good rinse and removing any unsprouted seeds or broken sprouts), or you can rinse and dry them completely, wrap them in a paper towel, and store them for seven to 70 days, depending on the variety, in the refrigerator. You may choose to hull your sprouts after harvesting. One word of caution: That long storage time may sound appealing, but you’ll need to rinse and dry your sprouts each day of storage.
There have been a number of “sproutbreaks” of E. coli and salmonella in commercial sprouts. To avoid bacteria forming on your sprouts, be sure to follow sprouting and harvesting directions particular to the variety you’re growing! There’s an ongoing HOMEGROWN discussion on the safety of alfalfa sprouts.
MORE ON SPROUTS
• High Mowing Organic Seeds has a great blog on winter sprouting right here on HOMEGROWN.
• Honest Fare shares a how-to on windowsill lentil sprouting.
• Newbies can check out Sprout People’s sprout school.
• And Mother Earth News offers a classic introduction.
What are you sprouting this winter? Got a recipe idea for putting sprouts to use? Or a question for your fellow growers? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling! You might also check out 101s on selecting seeds, seed starting, and growing microgreens, and you can always find more things to plant, grow, cook, preserve, make, craft, and build in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.