The Sprouting Garden

4. The Sprouting Garden

A sprout is a germinating seed. It is the tiny shoot that emerges from the seed, the first visible evidence of the materials stored within the seed, programmed to create life.

I don’t agree with people who believe sprouts to be the most perfect food—I am inclined rather to go along with Dr. Shelton’s belief that sprouts should be regarded as an excellent bonus food, but not to be relied upon as a replacement for foods grown to a more mature state, with benefit of earth and sunlight.

Cathryn Elwood’s chapter on “Vitamin-Rich Sprouts” in Feel Like A Million gives excellent information on the progressive and accelerating nutritional value as the sprouts progress.

4.1 Advantages of Sprouting

Sprouting is fun! It is exciting to watch the growth (in a jar or other type of sprouter on your kitchen counter) into vitamin-, mineral- and protein-rich green vegetables, loaded with enzymes and chlorophyll. As the tiny seeds multiply in volume (one to two tablespoons of alfalfa seeds fill a quart jar with sprouts), a wonderful salad ingredient, with an abundance of Vitamins A, B and C, is being grown. Alfalfa sprouts are also a splendid source of Vitamins D, E, G, K and U. Vitamin C is especially high in lentil and mung bean sprouts after three days. However, lentil sprouts should be harvested when the sprout is no longer than the seed, while mung bean sprouts should be allowed to grow long enough to produce green leaves.

The sprouted seed contains far more vitamins than the dry seed, multiplying dramatically through the sprouting period. Research at Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania revealed phenomenal increases of Vitamin C as sprouting progressed, and an increase in Vitamin C even during storage in the refrigerator. Riboflavin, niacin and other B vitamins were also increased during sprouting.

Dr. Paul Burkholder of Yale University found that the total Vitamin B content is increased 100% during the sprouting process.

Vitamin-conscious people, please take note; Hygienists need not be concerned, leaving that to nature and the Hygienic diet.

Sprouts are also noted for their high-enzyme activity. During germination, proteins are broken down into amino acids and some new protein is synthesized. During sprouting, much of the starch is converted to natural sugars. In many seeds, fats disappear and are replaced by carbohydrates, improving tremendously the digestibility of sprouts over seeds.

Phytic acid in whole grains is antagonistic to the absorption by the body of calcium, iron and other minerals. Soaking and sprouting neutralizes the phytic acid, so sprouted grains not only provide increased nutrients, but elimination of the threat of phytic acid also.

Viktoras Kulvinskas says that iron may become unavailable to the organism due to the resultant insoluble compound formed when the iron unites with phytic acid. “The acid combines well with calcium, iron, zinc and other minerals, which reduce significantly their absorption into the, bloodstream. Similarly, oxalic acid of spinach can reduce significantly the availability of calcium. Phytin is very frequently present in many seeds and may constitute up to 80% of the phosphorus content of the seed. The absolute amount of phytin varies in species and families. Hence, eating a diet rich in seed, besides the high protein complications, can result in a tremendous loss of important minerals, in spite of the fact that seeds are rich sources of such minerals. However, the mineral losses because of the high phytin concentration become insignificant if one sprouts the seeds.”

Professors A.M. Mayer and A. Poljakoff-Mayber of the Botany Department, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, found that most of the phytin disappeared in the sprouted seeds studied and that there was an increase in desirable forms of phosphorus compounds, especially in lecithin.

The dry seed is characterized by a remarkably low metabolic rate, but even the moistening of the seed triggers tremendous changes. Drs. Mayer and Poljakoff-Mayber describe the process which results in such important changes: “As soon as the seed is hydrated, very marked changes in composition in its various parts occur. These changes occur even when the seed is placed in water without any nutrients, and in complete absence of assimilation. The chemical changes which occur are complex in nature.

They consist of three main types: the breakdown of certain materials in the seed, the transport of materials from one part of the seed to another, especially from the endosperm to the embryo or from the cotyledons (the first pairs of leaves) to the growing part, and lastly the synthesis of new materials from the breakdown products formed. The only substances normally taken up by the seeds during germination are water and oxygen.”

Cathryn Elwood says, “One of the chief advantages lies in the fact that sprouting can give us a new crop of delicious food every two to four days—a crop that needs no thought to soil conditions, composting techniques, blight, bugs, weeds, storms, sprays; one that can be grown any season and in any climate and is simple to harvest and store for future use.” She says they have valuable protein, compare favorably with fresh fruits in antiscorbutic (Vitamin C) properties, have no waste, are excellent raw (and could be lightly cooked, if desired, in about three minutes). One pound of seed increases to six or eight pounds of food, and so the price drops way down.

All sprouted seeds, legumes and grains can be eaten without cooking. Some people find sprouted soybeans unpalatable, in which case they may elect to steam them briefly to slightly alter the taste.

“Sprouties,” as Cathryn Elwood calls them, are not only convenient, economical, easily grown—any time, anywhere—they are also an easily available source of organically-grown food. If you do not use organically-grown seeds, be sure they are, at least, untreated.

4.2 Miscellaneous Sprouting Information

I have found alfalfa seeds, sunflower seeds, mung beans, azuki beans and lentils easiest to sprout; we like alfalfa sprouts best and use them freely, mostly with salad vegetables. Many people with impaired digestions, who have trouble with other nuts and seeds, find that sprouted sunflower seeds are well tolerated.

Garden peas, soy beans, garbanzo beans and wheat and rye berries may also be sprouted, with just a little experimentation and practice. Most whole nuts, seeds, beans and grains may be sprouted, although shelled nuts are difficult, sometimes impossible, to sprout. As previously indicated, all may be eaten raw after sprouting, and may be stored in the refrigerator for about five days. Sprouted beans, raw or cooked, are less gassy than unsprouted beans, which, of course, must be cooked.

Eat sprouts from rye, wheat or other grain berries (seeds) in 24 hours or so, when but a short sprout is showing. (Grains sour readily.) Harvest sunflower seeds when sprouts are no longer than seeds, preferably even shorter. Eat lentils in two or three days, sprouts no more than one inch, preferably less.

Garbanzo and soy bean sprouts are especially high in protein but are not easy to work with; sprouts should be short—they also may sour. Rinse frequently to preclude souring, say, four times daily, even more if weather is hot.

Lentil sprouts are also high in protein, and they are easier to handle.

Mung beans are easy to sprout and will be ready in about four days, with sprouts about two inches long and showing green leaves (see sprouting instructions).

Alfalfa sprouts will also be ready in about four days, with sprouts of about two to three inches and green leaves.

Seeds and legumes for sprouting are available in health food stores, also in some supermarkets. Don’t sprout mixed varieties, because different seeds, legumes and grains require different treatment.

4.3 Sprouting Instructions

This is the simplest and easiest sprouting method: Wash seeds thoroughly. Put one to two tablespoons of alfalfa seeds (or three to six tablespoons of beans, or one-half cup of wheat, rye or other grain) in a quart jar with the purest possible water (preferably distilled) about three times the volume of the seeds. Soak overnight, or six to ten hour (alfalfa, lentils and wheat or other grains about six hours; mung, garbanzo or soy beans ten hours or longer). Soak longer in cool weather, less in warm weather. The soak water should not be cold. One source advises changing the water should not be cold. One source advises changing the water halfway through the soak period.

Cover the jar with a stainless steel mesh and jar ring, or cheesecloth or nylon mesh held on with rubber bands or a jar ring. (The jar ring has a tendency to rust before long, so the rubber band is somewhat better in that respect).

Next morning (or at the end of the soaking period) drain and rinse the sprouts (without removing the mesh covering). Set at an angle to drain (prop up bottom end of the jar about an inch). Then rinse two to four times daily through the mesh; fill the jar with water from the tap, empty and shake very gently to disperse the seeds around the jar. I will repeat: sprouts require more frequent rinsing in warm weather, less frequent in cooler weather. Cover the jar with a small towel so that the seeds will have air and warmth, but not light, as they put out their first roots.

4.4 AIfalfa Sprouts and Mung Bean Sprouts

After three days (or when leaf appears), remove towel so light (not direct sunlight) will green up the leaves (chlorophyll). This may take eight to twelve hours or more, after which they may be eaten or stored in the refrigerator to eat at a later time. Actually, they may be eaten at any stage in the sprouting process, but they are at their best when the twin leaves are dark green. Only alfalfa and mung bean sprouts are sprouted to the green leaf stage. Other sprouts are used sooner, without green leaves, per previous instructions.

When sprouts are ready for harvesting, hulls may be floated off, if desired. In any event, the sprouts should be given a final rinse, and then allowed to drain on a paper towel before storing. They will keep longer if stored only slightly moist, not wet.

4.5 Use of Soak Water

You will note that I have recommended using the soak water for your plants. Although the soak water has been found to be rich in minerals, vitamins, enzymes and amino acids, it is foul-tasting. Some people advocate drinking this soak water, or using it by combining with other foods.

Dr. Alec Burton (Australian Hygienic Professional) believes that this soak water should be regarded as a waste product and discarded, but there is certainly no reason not to make use of its nutrient content for your garden, which will then return the nutrients to you when you harvest your vegetables.

Although the nutrients in the soak water have been leached from the seeds, the tremendous multiplication of nutrients occurring in the seeds as they are sprouted more than compensates for this loss.

Another option is to avoid the loss of nutrients by osmosis into the soak water by utilizing only enough water in presoaking the seeds so that all the water is absorbed into the seeds.

However, we do use the soak water when dried beans are soaked prior to cooking, which may seem inconsistent. Some authorities do advocate discarding this water also. But the soak water from the beans, if used, would be used in the preparation of the cooked beans.

There may be some validity to the suggestions to use the soak water by-product of the sprouting operation by mixing with other foods, especially if you are using cooked foods, such as soups or casseroles.

However, it seems to me that there is a basic difference in these two situations. If the bean soak water is discarded, there go a plethora of vitamins and minerals which have leached into the water! But, in the case of the soak water from the sprouts, the loss is adequately replaced and multiplied during the sprouting process.

As previously indicated, there is some disagreement as to whether or not to discard the water in which beans are soaked (usually overnight). Advocates of discarding the bean soak water say that although you will be discarding some nutrients, you will also be discarding many of the oligosaccharides that cause flatulence.

Those who advocate cooking the beans in the soak water believe that the marked and complex chemical changes in composition which occur in the beans as a result of hydration and soaking (the process described by Drs. Mayer and Poljakoff-Mayber—referred to previously) are also accompanied by alteration of the nature of the breakdown products, from which new materials are synthesized.

I have experimented with using and discarding the soak water, and have noticed no problem with flatulence when the soak water is used in cooking the beans; in fact, there doesn’t seem to be any difference at all.

I am a good subject for this experiment, because for many years I was unable to tolerate legumes, either cooked or sprouted, because all legumes, even lentils, caused me distress. I eliminated legumes from my diet completely for about six months, and then restored them slowly and carefully. Now I use legumes (cooked or sprouted) occasionally, in moderate amounts, with no problem of flatulence.

You may decide to experiment with both methods—that is, using or discarding the soak water. I don’t believe either method will affect your health and well-being. In fact, I doubt that you will notice any difference. I will welcome comments and reports as to the results of your experiments.

4.6 Avoiding Sprouting Problems

  1. Start with the easiest to sprout: alfalfa, sunflower seeds, mung beans, azuki beans and lentils.
  2. I have found it best to use sunflower seeds as soon as possible after a very short sprout appears; they tend to deteriorate rapidly.
  3. Soybean sprouts are highest in food value, so try to eventually progress to sprouting them. Some people enjoy raw sprouted soy beans; others reject their taste in the raw state, buy enjoy them cooked. Soy beans require far less cooking after they are sprouted. It is difficult to successfully sprout soy beans or grains in a jar; more sophisticated equipment is advisable, such as described later in this lesson.
  4. Be sure to use new seeds with high germination values; old seeds or beans will become moldy or even rot during the sprouting.
  5. Use distilled water for soaking. Usually, tap water may be used for rinsing, but if your tap water is high in chemicals, it may cause problems with sprouting, in which case, use distilled water for rinsing.
  6. Spoilage may be caused by soaking too long. Usually six hours is long enough for seeds. If you are having problems, try sprouting seeds (such as alfalfa and sunflower) without the pre-soaking, or a very short (two or three hours) pre-soaking period. Dried beans (soy, mung, azuki) usually require pre-soaking, as much as eight to ten hours.
  7. If you are having problems, try more frequent rinsing—in cool weather, two or three times daily should be enough, but four times daily may be required in warm weather Be sure the drainage is good. If sprouting in a jar, be sure to maintain in a slanting position.

4.7 Sprouters

There are many other types of sprouters—some, makeshift but efficient (a bowl with a plate to cover and drain—instructions later) and some more sophisticated. I have an excellent sprouter which was made out of a clear plastic shoe box with an opaque cover. For draining, six 3/16″ holes were drilled along one bottom end, a screen was cemented over them (inside the box); and ten larger holes (1/4″ diameter) were drilled in the lid, along the sides. A small piece of wood is used in propping up the end without the holes and screen, when draining. The alfalfa and mung bean sprouts grow straight up and beautiful, instead of tangling inside a jar.

Health food stores have two quart sprouting jars available with stainless steel mesh screens in plastic screw tops which, of course, do not rust.

I also have a decorative, sprouting sphere called “Little Green Acre,” which the folder says “provides light, humidity and air circulation in balanced harmony for trouble-free sprouting, and is specifically designed to utilize those light rays in the spectrum which enhance sprout growth.” I do find it superior in many respects to other sprouting methods, but it is expensive, and you can do quite well sprouting alfalfa, sunflower seeds, azuki beans, mung beans and lentils in a jar. You may find your sprouts do better in the two quart wide-mouthed jar with plastic screw top and stainless steel screen, rather than the one quart Mason jar. The sphere does prevent souring of the more difficult to sprout soy beans and grains, and does not require as much attention—rinsing and changing the water in the base just once a day.

Regarding the garish color, mine is half ruby red (top half) and half purple. When I bought mine (introductory price at a Vegetarian Society Convention), it was also available in ruby red and green.

This sprouter produces a generous harvest of beautiful, straight-up green-leaved alfalfa sprouts, which can be harvested gradually, if desired. It is excellent for all varieties of sprouts.

Another excellent sprouter is the “Kitchen Garden Sprouter.” It is ten inches in diameter and two and one-half inches deep. Water flows through the bottom as the sprouts are rinsed. It has a removable divided tray to make four different compartments for sprouting different seeds
simultaneously without mixing.

4.8 Instructions for Sprouting in a Bowl

After soaking and draining the seeds, put them in a, bowl, fill the bowl with water from the tap, cover with a plate and invert and drain. Allow the bowl to stand with the dish on top to keep the seeds at high humidity, but the plate should not fit so tightly that there is no air circulation.

Fill the bowl with water and drain two to four times daily. For better bottom drainage, try inserting a strainer or colander in the bowl.

Another bowl method is the use of a clay bowl in a pan of water. The clay bowl (or flower pot) absorbs enough water to keep the sprouts moist but not wet.

Some people use these bowl methods very successfully, others prefer more sophisticated sprouters.

4.9 Sprouting in Sand or Soil

Sprouts can also be grown in sand or soil. Sunflower seeds and buckwheat are especially recommended for this use. Plant in boxes or in the garden, allow to grow to about two to three inches tall, and snip off the green leaves for the salad. Soy beans, being subject to spoilage when sprouted the usual way, will obviously do better when sprouted in sand or soil.

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