The sap rose so early this year, maple buckets could be seen hanging the first week of February. I’m itching to grow things. Sprouting can calm the itch until I can get in the dirt. It’s easy to do, and the results are delicious. In 1975, my boyfriend (I’ll call him “Ronny”) and I drove across the U.S. in a blue Volkswagen station wagon he’d named Honolea (yes, as in Puff the Magic Dragon. I just want to give you the full picture, here). We didn’t have much and didn’t make it to California on that trip, but our last $150 paid for a 2½-room apartment in Denver. Ronny got a job right away at the university cafeteria, but it took me a couple of weeks longer to find work. There was rhubarb growing in our backyard, and Ronny occasionally brought home kitchen scraps, but there would be no paycheck for two weeks.
Looking for cheap, nourishing food, I learned about sprouting. When I decided on the subject for this article, I’d forgotten what an abyss the internet can be for those as naive and playful as myself. I began researching “what kind of nutrition can you get from sprouts?” and found several arguments, many of them angry and self-righteous. For those readers with strong opinions regarding enzymes, nutrition, ‘live food’ or related subcontext, I hope you’ll read peacefully, as this writing comes from an amateur foodie in the spirit of sharing.
Sprouts are nutritious. They contain protein, vitamins and minerals in varying quantities, depending on what you sprout. For example, sprouted lentils have lots of protein, vitamins B and C, magnesium, potassium and iron*. Sprouts also contain enzymes. Many of us have trouble with our digestion. Eating raw sprouts can help, and enzymes are one of the reasons. Anything that starts life as a seed can be sprouted. Any sprout contains more nutritional qualities than its unsprouted seed. Sprouts taste good raw on salads, sandwiches, or juiced. They can be stir-fried, baked or added to omelettes. It’s good to eat them when the seeds have cotyledons, the primary leaf of the plant embryo. For some beans, it’s also good to eat the leaf.
It’s fun to grow sprouts. Kids love to watch a seed’s progress, and it may inspire those previously unwilling to eat something green. The basic premise is to moisten the seeds enough for them to start. Simple, right? In 1975, we poked holes in the top of a mayonnaise jar with hammer and nail to drain the water. This didn’t work well with tiny seeds like alfafa, as we lost many of them down the drain before they grew to a size. Kits can be bought for larger quantities and varieties of sprouting, but a simple way is to use a mason jar. You can invent a strainer with a lid as we did, or use cheese cloth with a rubber band, or a sprouting screen.
My favorite seeds to sprout are alfalfa, clover, broccoli, and garbanzo beans. You’ll have to experiment with how many seeds to use at a time because as they grow they’ll take up more space. If they’re too crowded, they can get moldy. Eat sprouts within a few days. If they’re left out too long in warmer temperatures, bacteria can grow and make your sprouts unsafe to eat. Federal government regulations require professional food services to store sprouts below 41 degrees. So when they’re ready, put ‘em in the fridge.
Here’s a basic procedure to use for alfalfa seeds:
- put about 2 Tbsp. of seeds in a mason jar and cover with 2 cups cool w a t e r . Soak 8-12 hours.
- Drain the water, then rinse and drain again.
- Set the jar out of direct sunlight, but not in the dark, at room temperature with the draining cover on.
- Rinse and drain twice a day for 4-6 days. You’ll know they’re ready to eat when most of them are showing green.
Bean Sprout Book by Gay Courter (1973)
The Sprouting Book by Ann Wigmore (1986)
The Miracle Food by Steve Meyerwitz (1998) www.sproutpeople.org
*USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28