Whether you’ve been eating healthy for a while now or if you’re brand new to the concept, it’s likely that you’ve found yourself wondering about different kinds of sprouts. These tiny plants offer tons of benefits, along with a few (minor) risks to keep in mind. Get ready, because you’re about to learn everything you ever wanted to know about sprouts, along with some things that might have never crossed your mind!
What are Sprouts?
If you have ever grown anything, you’ve probably seen sprouts. These tiny living plants are simply seeds that have gone through the germination process. Some sprouts have roots only, while others have tiny green leaves, or at least the beginning stages of leaves that have yet to unfold.
Types of Sprouts
Any seed can be sprouted, but that doesn’t mean that the resulting sprout is suitable for eating raw, or even for eating at all. For example, alfalfa sprouts are usually eaten raw as additions to sandwiches and salads, while most people prefer to cook bean sprouts before eating them simply to reduce the risk of gas and bloating, and to eliminate phytic acid, which is an antinutrient. If you like raw legume sprouts, experts recommend eating no more than 20 ounces per day. That’s still quite a bit, so you can feel free to nibble if you enjoy the flavor!
Are Sprouts Dangerous?
Some sprouts are dangerous and depending on who you are, you might want to cook sprouts before eating them.
Sprouts from seeds in the nightshade (Solanaceae) family are poisonous if eaten raw, and they aren’t typically grown for human consumption. It’s best to avoid these sprouts and grow the plants to maturity in your garden! These include:
- eggplant (aubergine)
Because rhubarb leaves are poisonous, you should never eat rhubarb sprouts.
There’s a little more to the story. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mentions that commercially grown sprouts have been associated with at least 30 foodborne illness outbreaks since 1996. Most of these cases were caused by E. coli and Salmonella, and some were associated with lightly cooked sprouts as well as raw varieties.
Since the seeds themselves are the source of the bacteria, it’s possible to suffer from illness even if you sprout your own seeds at home under sanitary conditions. Since the sprouting seed industry takes measures to reduce contamination, it is a very good idea to choose seeds specifically intended for sprouting.
The Department of Health and Human Services advises that some people should avoid eating raw sprouts. They recommend that those with weakened immune systems, the elderly, children, and pregnant women avoid eating raw sprouts, but mention that it’s ok to eat thoroughly cooked sprouts since cooking kills harmful bacteria that cause illness.
If you buy sprouts, be sure to take some safety measures:
- Be sure that sprouts are properly refrigerated since bacteria grows rapidly at warmer temperatures.
- Look closely to ensure that the sprouts you’re buying look fresh and crisp. Avoid any that look wet or slimy, or that have an obvious strong odor.
Whether you grow sprouts at home or buy them, keep them refrigerated and use them quickly. As with other produce, take a moment to wash your hands before you handle sprouting seeds or sprouts that are ready to eat.
Benefits of Sprouts
Whether you eat sprouts raw or cooked, you’ll enjoy quite a few health benefits when you make them a regular part of your diet. They’re a great source of minerals and phytochemicals, plus they offer some additional advantages.
Better protein quality: All plants have protein, and sprouting increases the amount of protein in every seed or nut while simultaneously enhancing nutritional value.
More vitamins: When you eat sprouts instead of seeds and grains, you’re getting an average of 20 times the original vitamin content. In mung beans, for example, B1 increases by as much as 285 percent, B2 goes up by an incredible 515 percent, and niacin increases by a very impressive 256 percent. Vitamins A, C, and E increase as well!
More fiber: Who doesn’t want more fiber in their diet? When you eat sprouts, you’re treating your body to a nice fiber boost.
More essential fatty acids: Sprout your chia seeds and add them to your salad or smoothie, and you’ll be getting a great essential fatty acid boost. We all can use more omega vitamins, so be sure to eat up! Omega vitamins increase in all kinds of sprouts, so no worries if chia isn’t your favorite plant.
More enzymes: Enzymes help your body extract nutrients from the foods you eat. Raw fruits and vegetables are a great source of enzymes and there are plenty of good supplements out there, too. Ounce for ounce, sprouts contain an average of 100 times more enzymes than most other raw foods.
DIY sprouts are cheap: It doesn’t cost much to set up a sprouting station with a few jars and a set of sprouting lids. Once you get started, you can enjoy a steady crop of sprouts for far less than you’d pay for the commercial variety. Growing your own sprouts is a great way to increase your fresh vegetable intake even when it’s the dead of winter where you are!
It’s worth noting that some commercial sprouts are less desirable than others. If you’re looking for bean sprouts to add to a stir-fry, for example, go for green varieties over pale white or yellowish ones. The white bean sprouts have probably been bleached, which reduces the amount of nutrients. It’s a good idea to grow your own bean sprouts if you’re not certain that the ones in the supermarket are of high quality.
Which are the Best Sprouts to Eat and/or Grow?
Visit just about any health food store and you’ll find at least a few different sprouts on offer in the fresh produce section. You might also find seeds sold specifically for sprouting. Of these, alfalfa are among the easiest to grow. They also happen to be among the healthiest sprouts you can eat!
Some different types of sprouts are sold as microgreens. Of course, you can grow these, too – and this is a great idea since they can be expensive! Carrot, fennel, celery, and parsley are some examples, along with radish, sunflower, lettuce, arugula, bok choi, basil, and cilantro are popular microgreens types.
The long and short of it is this: If you’re looking for different kinds of sprouts to grow, consider experimenting! Almost all garden plants can be enjoyed as sprouts or microgreens, and you can keep on enjoying them year-round, even if you live in an apartment.
Various plant families produce a variety of different sprouts. Here’s a guide to some of the most popular types to try for yourself, along with quick tips for growing your own sprouts at home.
All pulses are members of the legume or pea family. The most popular pulses sprouts to grow include:
- mung bean
- red bean
These are just a few of the most popular types of bean sprouts. Just about any raw, dry bean variety can be grown and used for sprouts.
How to Grow Alfalfa Sprouts
1. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of alfalfa seeds in a quart jar. Fill the jar with fresh, filtered water to a height of about 2 inches above the seeds. Top it with a sprouting lid.
2. Let the seeds soak overnight, then drain the water completely. Leave the jar upside down for a few minutes to ensure that all the water has been drained out, and then roll it over on its side.
3. Place your jar somewhere warm with good airflow. Rinse the seeds at least twice daily, about every 8 to 12 hours. Be sure to drain it well every time and then place it back on its side. If you notice an unpleasant odor, increase the number of rinses per day.
4. The sprouts should be ready to eat in 4 to 5 days. They should be an inch or two long, with white roots and little green leaves.
5. Before refrigerating your sprouts, give them a final rinse and then spread them out on a clean plate with a fresh paper towel underneath. Place them in the sun for about 15 minutes (not much longer!) to increase enzyme activity and let the leaves turn even greener.
6. Ensure that sprouts are dry to the touch before placing them in a container and refrigerating them. You can keep sprouts refrigerated for up to 3 days, but like other veggies and fruits, they are best for you when they are ultra-fresh. Try to eat them within a day or two to reap the many benefits these sprouts have to offer!
If you love alfalfa sprouts and plan to eat them often, consider keeping a few different jars at different growing stages so you always have a fresh supply. If you have more than you can eat fresh at once, just toss them into something you’re cooking. The tiny sprouts will quickly disappear, but the vitamins and minerals will remain in your recipe, along with the sprouts’ fiber.
How to Grow Bean Sprouts
The best way to enjoy fresh, crisp bean sprouts is to grow them at home. Since bean sprouts are large, you’ll want a bigger jar. If you plant to grow DIY bean sprouts often or try your hand at growing a variety of different sprouts, then you might want to pick up a sprouting kit with a half-gallon jar and a special strainer lid.
1. Obtain dried mung beans. Add enough to cover the bottom of your sprouting container since overcrowding can lead to spoilage. Next, fill the container with warm filtered water and let the beans soak overnight.
2. Rinse the beans with fresh water at least 2 times per day. Be patient, because growing mung bean sprouts takes an average of six to seven days.
3. Once leaves develop and take on a yellowish-green color, your bean sprouts are ready to harvest. Transfer the bean sprouts to a bowl filled with fresh, cool water and give them a good swish with your hands. This will encourage any remaining bits of bean shell to come off the sprouts.
4. Spread the sprouts out onto a large plate lined with a paper towel. Let them dry completely, and then transfer them to the refrigerator. Bean sprouts stay fresh for two to three days but they’re most nutritious when you enjoy them right away.
You can use this same process to grow lentil sprouts, chickpea sprouts, and other kinds of beansprouts. Be sure to choose whole legumes rather than split ones; split lentils and split peas will not sprout.
To cook beansprouts other than traditional mung bean sprouts (bean threads), you should add them to the dish within the last 20 minutes of cooking or so. The larger the bean, the longer it’ll need to cook completely. Small ones such as sprouted lentils take less time; these are often ready to be eaten within about 5 minutes.
Brassica (Cruciferous Vegetable Sprouts)
Members of the cabbage family are great for sprouting. These include:
How to Grow Broccoli Sprouts
It’s a good idea to start with organic broccoli seeds meant for sprouting. These are some of the best sprouts for you, and they’re very tasty, too. Broccoli sprouts offer about ten times the nutrients of mature broccoli, and they’re an excellent source of sulforaphane, which is being studied for its anti-cancer benefits.
1. Place 3 tablespoons of broccoli seeds in a quart jar. Rinse the seeds and fill the jar with fresh, filtered water to a height of about 2 inches above the seeds and then top it with a sprouting lid.
2. Let the seeds soak overnight, then drain the water completely. Leave the jar upside down for a few minutes to ensure that all the water has been drained out, and then roll it over on its side.
3. Set your jar in a warm place with good airflow. Rinse the seeds at least 3 times daily, about every 8 hours. Be sure to drain it well every time and then place it back on its side.
4. Your broccoli sprouts should have leaves in about 3 days. The next step is to place the jar in a spot where the sprouts have access to indirect sunlight. You don’t want them to cook, so be sure that the jar isn’t getting hot. Keep on rinsing and draining a few times per day over the next two days. Once the broccoli sprouts have a bright green color, they are ready to move to the refrigerator.
5. Before refrigerating your sprouts, give them a rinse in a large bowl of water. Pull the sprout mass apart gently so that the hulls will float to the surface. Skim these off, rinse the sprouts again, and then spread them out on a clean plate with a fresh paper towel underneath.
6. Ensure that your home grown broccoli sprouts are dry to the touch before placing them in a container and refrigerating them. You can keep broccoli sprouts refrigerated for up to a week or so, but they’re most nutritious are best when they are super fresh. Try to eat them within the first day or two of sprouting.
It’s worth noting that broccoli sprouts cancer fighting abilities are best when the sprouts are eaten raw. If you’re not able to eat raw sprouts though, you can still add them to food during the last few minutes of cooking and treat yourself to a valuable nutrition boost.
Cereal sprouts look grassy and they can be a little tricky to grow since they typically require more space. Of these, wheat is most popular. If you grow wheatgrass or other cereal sprouts, you’ll probably want to invest in a juicer to extract the nutrients and leave all the undigestible matter behind. Some cereal sprouts to consider include:
If you have backyard chickens and you’d like to treat them to healthy green forage during the wintertime, then you might want to consider growing cereal sprouts for them. Cats love cereal grains too, so consider treating your pet to a pot of wheatgrass or oat grass all to herself. Just plant some of your sprouting seeds in a container filled with potting soil, water them, and let nature take care of the rest.
How to Grow Wheatgrass for Juicing or Pets
Growing wheat grass is simple and if you like wheatgrass juice, you’ll find that this is far cheaper than the type you can get at your local juice bar or health food store! If you like a lot of wheatgrass juice, you’ll want to start new trays every few days so that you can keep a steady supply on hand.
1. Follow the instructions for sprouting alfalfa, only use 1 cup of wheat berries or wheat sprouting seeds in a ½ gallon jar. Soak the seeds and rinse them on schedule. Once the roots emerge (2 or 3 days in most cases), it’s time for the next step.
2. Obtain a growing tray of some kind. A 10” x 10” plastic container with a clear lid and holes drilled in the bottom will work. You can place paper towels underneath it to catch drips from watering.
3. Add a 1-inch layer of moistened potting soil mix to the tray, preferably an organic variety.
4. Sprinkle the sprouted seeds across the soil and then cover them with a bit more loose soil. Cover it loosely with the container’s lid so air can flow while most of the moisture stays inside. If you like, you can drill holes in the lid and cover the container tightly.
5. Place the tray in a warm, sunny location. Use a spray bottle to mist the soil once per day. Once you have green wheatgrass growing, remove the cover and keep watering on a daily basis.
6. When the wheatgrass height is at 4 to 6 inches, it’s ready to snip and juice. You can let a second harvest grow, but it’ll be less nutritious than the first. Give old trays of wheatgrass to your pets to nibble, or simply compost the seeds, spent grass blades, and soil.
Also known as pseudograins, this little family of plants offers delicious flavors, along with loads of nutrients. If you are interested in making your own sprouted flour, then you might want to consider growing some of the following sprouts and adding them to your blend.
If you’d like to sprout pseudocereals for DIY sprouted flour, follow the same procedure outlined for alfalfa sprouts. Be sure to dry them thoroughly before grinding them and storing them.
As an alternative, you might like to add a handful of whole sprouted psuedograins to recipes for baked goods, using a commercial sprouted grain flour blend instead of undertaking the labor-intensive process of milling your own. This eliminates the need for drying and it makes your bread, muffins, and even cookies a whole lot healthier!
Oilseeds & Nuts
Yes, eating sprouted nuts is a thing! While you can keep on enjoying roasted seeds, consider sprouting a few of the following, and see if you like them.
- sesame seeds
- sunflower seeds
- hazelnuts (filberts)
If you’d like to try your hand at sprouting nuts or oilseeds, be sure to purchase raw ones. Once nuts or seeds have been toasted or roasted, they won’t sprout.
How to Sprout Nuts
It’s important to note here that sprouted nuts don’t look the same as other sprouts. You need to eat them before there are any visible signs of germination. Here’s a short guide to sprouting nuts:
Use fresh, filtered water at room temperature. Shell your nuts and soak them according to the following guidelines, or for 24 hours if you’re not in a hurry.
Almonds: Soak for at least 8 to 12 hours
Cashews: Soak for at least 2 to 8 hours
Hazelnuts: Soak for at least 4 hours
Pistachios: Soak for at least 8 hours
Walnuts: Soak for at least 4 hours
Once the soaking process is complete, you should rinse the nuts in fresh, filtered water. Drain them well, and then enjoy them right away. If you’d like to save some for later, feel free to store them in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Ways to Eat Sprouted Nuts
You can eat sprouted nuts as-is, or you can add them to other foods such as cereal, soup, or salad. If you like making smoothies, feel free to add some sprouted nuts to your blend! You can also use sprouted nuts to make a creamy sauce. Cashews are perfect for this, and you can add sweet or savory spices to change the flavor. If you’re looking for a way to cut back on dairy, cashew cream can be a lifesaver. It’s high in calories though, so be sure to keep on watching your portion sizes.
Quick Cashew Cream Recipe
2 cups raw cashews, soaked for 6 to 8 hours
1/3 cup cold water
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
In the blender or food processer, combine the cashews with the water and lemon juice. Blend until smooth and thick. You can use a little more water if you’d like a thinner version.
If you’re looking for more savory flavor, consider adding a bit of salt, along with onion powder, garlic powder, and other herbs like basil or dill. Thick cashew cream makes a very nice spreadable vegan “cheese” at a considerably lower cost than prepackaged varieties – and it’s a healthy addition to any omnivore’s diet as well!
How to Sprout Sunflower Seeds
Look for raw sunflower seeds. You can purchase them pre-hulled if you prefer, but it’s ok to purchase raw sunflower seeds still in their hulls if you prefer. Some but not all varieties are labeled as “sproutable” or are even sold specifically as sunflower seeds for sprouting.
1. Add ½ cup of sunflower seeds to a quart jar. Fill the jar with water and cover it with a sprouting lid.
2. Let the sunflower seeds soak for 12 hours of overnight at room temperature.
3. Drain most of the water from the seeds and discard it. Set your jar up at an angle inside a bowl or over a clean sink, so that the seeds can continue to drain. Make sure that air can circulate inside the jar, since stagnation can cause the sprouting process to fail.
4. Leave the sunflower sprouts to drain for 12 hours, and then rinse with fresh filtered water. Drain them for another 12 hours.
5. Keep rinsing and draining twice daily at intervals approximately 12 hours apart. You should see the beginnings of sprouts in about 12 to 18 hours. Like other types of sprouts, the sunflower sprouts will be ready to enjoy once you see their tails. Rinse them one more time before eating them.
While sunflowers are among the best sprouts to eat, they don’t keep as well as some other varieties. You should enjoy them right away, or cover up their jar and refrigerate them for no more than about 24 hours.
When growing sprouts, it’s a very good idea to look for non-GMO, organic varieties. Look for seeds meant specifically for sprouting, since these are free from coatings, added fertilizers, and other substances that won’t benefit your body. Start small, get into a routine, and enjoy your sprouts! Before you know it, you’ll be trying all kinds of new things and enjoying fresh homegrown “veggies” all year round.