Sprouts: How (and why) to grow your own

Sprouts: How (and why) to grow your own

Got sprouts?

Nutritionist Julie Daniluk is sharing her enthusiasm for all things sprouts with Shine On readers — and walks us though how to sprout at home.

“I think it’s worth the effort,” Daniluk says. “The neat thing is, it takes you about 10 minutes to do it, and then you simply nurture it along…It’s just a little bit of effort to get the setup going. But once you’ve got that done, then it’s really fun and it’s saving you a lot of digestive stress.”

We’ve been converted: 2015 is the year of the sprout.

What are sprouts?

“To define a sprout, I would say that it is a ‘baby plant,’ Daniluk tells Shine On. “It’s taking it from its incubated form and starting to grow it into its full-sized plant. Consider it like a little egg. It would be the seed. When it sprouts, it’s quite similar to, in human biology, when something gets fertilized and all of a sudden it comes alive in a different way. So by sprouting something, you take it from its hibernation form into its fully alive state, where it becomes a baby plant.”

Can any seed by sprouted?

In theory, yes. But because of ionizing radiation, no.

“Well, any seed can be sprouted. The only thing to keep in mind is that, in today’s world, a lot of seeds are unfortunately irradiated to prevent mould growth or prevent any sort of bacterial infection,” Daniluk explains.

“So when you get a food, like almonds, that have been irradiated — which, by the way, almost all almonds that are imported into Canada are now irradiated — then you have the inability for that thing to grow. So even though it has no bacteria on it, and some people see that as an asset, you can no longer sprout those almonds, which is a really important thing for digestion if you’re a person with a weak digestive system, because sprouted almonds are just so much easier on the stomach.”

Nutritionally, what’s the big deal?

“All seeds and grains and nuts contain phytic acid on the outer layer of the shell, what we call bran,” Daniluk says. “Unfortunately, if you have any sort of digestive inability to break things down easily, this phytic acid, it combines with minerals like calcium and magnesium and iron and zinc and it blocks their absorption. So we notice that sprouted seeds and grains are much higher in nutrition.”

“Really the nutrition on paper is the same, but the nutrition you can actually absorb is completely different. That’s one of the biggest reasons to enjoy sprouted foods, is that the ability to digest that food is much higher.”

Which sprouts are best?

We asked Daniluk if she recommends one kind of sprout — alfalfa, mung bean, wheatgrass — over another. She recommends them all — in rotation.

“I really suggest that we rotate our sprouts, because we don’t want to develop an actual allergy to any of those foods. Remember that sprouts are very high in protein. And any protein-rich food has the ability to become an allergen. Basically, your body can identify a protein as a foreign invader and say, ‘Whoa, I have to absolutely protect the body, so I’m gonna release histamine, and I’m going to flag that as an allergen and create antibodies to protect you from that food’ — if you overexpose yourself to that food while having a hyper-alert immune system.”

Daniluk says that she encourages people with irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases to rotate foods to help identify food allergies and “dramatically reduce the flare-ups of digestive problems.”

Eating sprouted beans, nuts and grains can help ease digestive stress.

For example, she says that many people have trouble digesting chickpeas, and that sprouting makes them easier on the stomach.

“You won’t have nearly the same gas, and you’ll have a lot more absorption of good nutrients in chickpeas.”

Daniluk walks us through how to grow sprouts at home:

Growing sprouts: Safety first

“First up, I want people to make sure that what they’re doing with the sprouts is really safe,” she says. “So, instead of irradiation, I encourage us to eliminate the mould or the bacteria that might be harboured in a bean or a nut or a seed by simply soaking it in some peroxide or citric acid.”

She further explains, “A lot of people, they go through this extra effort, and then its sitting on their counter and they come back and their alfalfa sprouts are growing, like, a green fuzzy hue to them. We want to avoid that. So it’s nice to take that extra effort to kill off any extra mould.”

Growing your own sprouts can be safer than buying them from the grocery store, she says.

“The nice thing about growing them yourself is they’re so much safer. There’s been a lot of instances of food poisoning when you buy the bean sprouts in certain kind of seedy stores where they haven’t had excellent food handling and you haven’t really thoroughly washed them. They pick up bacteria really easily, so it’s a good idea to just sprout them yourself.”

Growing sprouts: Mason jars and stainless steel mesh

Daniluk recommends using a 500mL or 750mL Mason jar — preferably with a wide mouth for easy access to the sprouts inside — to sprout seeds in.

Use stainless steel mesh to cover the jar’s opening — use the rim part of the lid to fasten it in place — to ensure good airflow when you tilt the jar on an angle as the sprouts grow.

“If you can’t do that, you’re going to have to do a much riskier method, which is keeping it upright with a tea towel over it. But that can foster more mould, because you’re not draining the water off. The water sits in there. It’s sort of a recipe for bacteria,” she warns. “Where if you drain it upside-down at a 45-degree angle, then you actually allow great air circulation and you have the least amount of water inside the sprouting vessel.”

Growing sprouts: Soak ‘em

After selecting the type of seed you want to sprout, you need to soak it.

“Every seed has its own amount of time that you want to soak it,” Daniluk says. “Typically, the shortest soak time is four hours, and the longest soak time is about 12 hours.”

“The soak time, initially, is really important. Certain things you don’t want to over-soak them, because you could kind of drown them,” she emphasizes.

Mung beans can be soaked for up to 24 hours, while pumpkin seeds require just a 12-hour soak.

Find Daniluk’s guide to sprouting — including specific soaking times per seed — on her website here.

“Initially in this soaking process, it’s very similar to what would happen in nature in a heavy rainfall, where the seed is in earth and it’s soaked heavily with water, and all of a sudden, it wakes up. It comes out of hibernation and it starts to develop more enzymes. Those enzymes help to push up the green sprout out of the seed pod,” she says.

Growing sprouts: Rinse them well — again and again

After you’ve soaked your seeds, drain them, fill the jar up with water again, then drain them again.

“Really make sure that you’ve washed away all that soak water, because you’re washing away a lot of the problematic enzyme inhibitors when you do a really thorough rinse like that,” Daniluk says.

Then tilt your jar on a 45-degree angle, upside down — and get ready to keep rinsing, two to three times a day until your sprouts are ready.

“It’s really important to rinse and drain it at least twice a day,” she says. “The more you do that, the better you’re giving nutrition to the sprout and the less it has the hazard of drying out. If it dries out, it may die.”

Growing sprouts: Ta-da!

It doesn’t take long for sprouts to grow.

Pumpkin seeds, because they’re already hulled, are ready to eat within the day.

Mung beans, the popular sprouts sold in supermarkets, take two to five days, depending on how long you like your sprouts.

“If you wanna go for a two-day sprout time, it’s gonna be open and it’s gonna have a tail growing, but it won’t have a green or yellow end to it yet,” Daniluk says of sprouting mung beans. “Where if you grow it the full five days, you’re gonna have huge, long sprouts like you see in the grocery store.”

Chickpeas are typically ready within two to four days.

When your sprouts are ready to eat, drain them well, pat them dry, and move them into the refrigerator. If you leave them soaking on the counter for too long, you’ll end up with mouldy, inedible sprouts.

What if you’re not ready to use them? Freeze them. When thawed, you’ll still get all the nutritional benefits.

“They’re not going to be as fresh, but at least you’re going to get the nutrition of them,” Daniluk says. “You can turn them into a hummus, add them to a smoothie, throw them into a soup.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily add them to a salad because, of course, once they’re frozen, and their cell walls break, they kind of get a little soggy. But at least you don’t have them growing mould in your fridge.”

What if you don’t have the time (or energy) to grow your own?

“It’s really wonderful to see how many new product lines are being developed that are pre-sprouted. So you might see a granola, or you might see a snack bar, and it says on it ‘sprouted’: that means they went through the extra effort to sprout it properly, then dehydrate it down again so that it’s safe to sell it,” Daniluk says.

Even if we are growing our own, some sprouts, specifically grains, we should just leave to the pros, Daniluk says.

“Because certain sprouts require soil, and you absolutely can’t grow things like wheatgrass by yourself. You have to plant that,” she says. “Really, the rule of thumb is that many beans and seeds are easy to grow without the use of soil, but grains — wheatgrass, buckwheat grass or any of those grasses — require soil.”

What about sprouts in pregnancy?

Pregnant women are routinely advised to avoid raw vegetable sprouts. Daniluk says its because of commercial sprouts’ high propensity for bacterial infection.

This doesn’t mean pregnant women can’t soak seeds at home.

“I think you could safely ‘wake up’ your seeds, but don’t leave them on the counter for two days at a time. That’s just a recipe for disaster. They could germinate their seeds, but they don’t necessarily have to fully sprout them. That way, you can be extra safe. Pregnant ladies could also use some peroxide [which is safe for use in pregnancy] to kill any bacteria that might be brewing on anything they’re creating, and then just gently rinse it off.”

How can we add sprouts to our diets?

Daniluk suggests adding sprouts to smoothies, salads, stews and soups — top hot dishes with sprouts as they cool, so you don’t cook off the nutritional value — or dehydrating them at the lowest setting in your oven to create granolas and trail mixes.

Sprouted hummus is another recommended use — and don’t hesitate to use sprouts that aren’t chickpeas.

“Don’t be scared if you’re grown a different kind of bean,” she says. “Try mung bean hummus, try a black bean hummus, Whatever you’ve sprouted is going to make a good bean dip.”

Find the recipe for Daniluk’s Sprouted Raw Hummus here.

And find her Super Sprouting Guide here.

Nutritionist and TV Host Julie Daniluk RHN is the bestselling author of Meals That Heal Inflammation & Slimming Meals That Heal (Random House Canada / Hay House US/UK/AUZ). Connect with Julie on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.