By weight, sprouted seeds are more nutritious than any other food. High in protein, vitamins and minerals and easy to grow all year round, they are a gift to vegan home-growers! Because they can be grown in the kitchen they are also perfect for those without gardens, those with limited mobility, or elderly vegans, and, as results can be seen so quickly, are also great to enthuse children in the wonderful world of growing things to eat.
We’re all familiar with the long bean sprouts common in Chinese cuisine, but a huge variety of other seeds can be sprouted including pulses, grains and even some nuts. As well as stir-fries most of them can be used in salads or sandwiches, and some are a delicious addition to juices or smoothies.
Sprouting is nothing new: there are records of them being used in Chinese medicine 5,000 years ago. Seeds are easier to digest once sprouting has started, so if you have trouble eating pulses or other seeds, try them in this form. We all know pulses, like lentils or beans, are a good source of protein for the vegan diet, but once sprouted these proteins are converted to simpler amino acids which are easier for the body to absorb.
First the seeds are washed and then soaked in cold water, usually for 8-12 hours or overnight, then drained and left in a jar or dish to start sprouting. The soaking hydrates the seed and triggers the embryo to germinate. Emergence of the sprouts can happen quite fast – with some seeds you can see changes within the first day – and the sprouts can be ready to harvest between 1 and 7 days. Sprouts left to grow longer are suitable for stir-fries, whereas younger, shorter sprouts are favoured for salads. Some, such as wheat, can be transferred after a day to a couple of centimetres of compost in a tray for growing further (up to 12 days); the resulting wheatgrass making a highly nutritious juice.
An important part of the process is to regularly rinse the sprouts as they grow. At least twice a day partly fill the jar with cold water, swill round then strain out. As they are sprouting, make sure the seeds don’t dry out. If the weather is hot you can cover the jar with a moist porous cloth, but they must not be completely sealed from the air as the seeds need oxygen to germinate and grow.
When they are ready for harvesting, simply rinse, drain and use. It’s quite easy to accidentally grow far more sprouts than you need; any surplus can be transferred to the fridge, which will slow down their growth, but do keep up daily rinsing. Initially start with just one tablespoon of seeds, then adjust according to your needs as you discover the volume of sprouts this will grow.
You can either sprout individual types, or make up your own mixtures – such as mung beans, chickpeas and peas as shown here. Just be aware of the differing sprouting times of different seeds as detailed below; in this case the mung beans were started three days before the chickpeas and peas were soaked and added.
Nothing fancy is necessary – you can easily sprout your own seeds in a glass jar, covered with a porous material like muslin or cheesecloth, in the kitchen. The twice daily rinsing will be easier with something more custom- made, however, like the bioSnacky® glass jar (pictured) with a lid that also functions as a sieve and stand.
Once you get into sprouting and want to grow several different seeds at the same time you may want to upgrade to a specialist sprouting set with several tiers. These are usually made in acrylic or fired clay.
Packets of seeds specifically for sprouting can be purchased from many suppliers, garden centres and online retailers including The Organic Gardening Catalogue. In addition you may have saved and dried some of your own seed for this purpose, peas being an easy example. It’s also possible to sprout from seeds that have been bought in larger quantities supplied for cooking (chickpeas, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, for example). This would probably be the cheapest method of obtaining seeds that aren’t your own, but ideally buy organic varieties. You just need to make sure the seeds were sun-dried rather than oven-dried (which would kill the embryo and make sprouting impossible). Just try a few from a packet and if they sprout, you’re good to go.
Commonly Sprouted Seeds
For each of the most commonly sprouted seeds listed below we give notes on flavour and nutrition, possible uses, and the recommended soaking time followed by sprouting time (to harvest).
Good source of vitamin C and iron, nutty flavour. Salads, stir-fries, juices. Soak 12 hours, sprout 3-5 days.
Tiny seeds that pack a delicious protein punch, high in vitamins A, B, C and E. Mainly used in salads. Soak 12 hours, sprout 3-5 days.
Make sure they are raw and not baked dry. Nutty tasty sprouts. Soak 12 hours, sprout 2-3 days.
Tasty seeds that sprout quickly, mainly used in salads. Soak 8 hours, sprout 2-3 days.
Good source of calcium and vitamins A and C. Juice or salads. Soak 8 hours, sprout 1-2 days. Can then be grown on in damp compost for a further 7 days for larger greens for salads if desired.
Crunchy, nutty and fast growing. Salads or stir-fries. Soak 12 hours, sprout 3-5 days.
A sweet, earthy flavour. High in iron and vitamin C. Soak 12 hours, sprout 2-4 days.
High in protein, iron and vitamins A and C. Spicy flavour. Salads and stir-fries. Soak 12 hours, sprout 3-5 days.
Mung beansThe classic bean sprout for stir-fries and salads. High in protein and vitamins A, C and E. Soak 12 hours, sprout 2-7 days (depending on the length of sprout you wish to grow).
High in protein, can be sprouted for a few days as a sprout or longer in compost to produce pea shoots for salads. Soak 12 hours, sprout 3-5 days.
Tasty, fast-growing sprouts for salads and stir-fries. Soak 12 hours, sprout 1-2 days.
Delicious in a salad with a hot tangy flavour. Soak 12 hours, sprout 2-5 days.
Small seeds like alfalfa (try sprouting a mixture of the two together). High in minerals and vitamins A and C. Soak 12 hours, sprout 3-7 days.
Good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin E. Soak 8 hours, sprout 1-2 days. Can then be grown on in damp compost for a further 7 days for larger greens for salads.
Can be eaten as sprouts but often grown on as wheatgrass for making highly nutritious juices/smoothies. Soak 8 hours, sprout 1-2 days. Can then be grown on in damp compost for a further 9-12 days for wheatgrass.
Other possibilities include: amaranth, kamut, quinoa, oats, wild rice, sesame seeds, other bean varieties such as black, white or navy, and other types of lentils. Do NOT sprout red kidney beans, however, as they contain the toxin lectin.
All of the seeds above can be eaten raw once sprouted, but you may prefer to lightly steam sprouted beans and grains for just a couple of minutes. They can be sprinkled over salads (see our Spring Salad recipe in March in the Cooking throughout the Year chapter) or added to stir-fries in the last couple of minutes of cooking.
Additionally, as well as using the above to make juices and smoothies, try making houmous with sprouted chickpeas or peas instead of raw chickpeas. The result is just as delicious, yet lighter in consistency and easier to digest.
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