Sprouting: The Why, What and How To Do It Successfully

From Karen Knowler's Raw Food Coach web site:

Whether I am lucky or have unrecognised green fingers, I do not know, but it seems that many people have struggled and continue to struggle with sprouting seeds, beans, pulses and grains successfully, and after a couple of failed attempts tend to throw in the towel and write the whole idea off.


Don't do it!

Sprouting absolutely has to be one of the very most important raw food "tools" you need to have in your toolbox if you want to be as lithe, gorgeous and energy-filled as you can possibly be (my already abundant energy probably doubles when I bring sprouts into my daily diet). There's a LOT to be said for these apparently "insignificant" little living beauties, and to ignore or exclude them from your diet is, in my humble opinion, one of the biggest mistakes you can possibly make.

So in my bid to have you sprouting successfully all over your kitchen, here follows my foolproof guide to sprouting using my own personal favourite method, the jar.

What is sprouting?

Sprouting is an alternative term for germinating, although the sprouting process goes a little beyond basic germination and results in a partially grown or young plant. In a raw food kitchen we’re looking specifically at the sprouting of a nut, seed, bean, pulse or grain in order to render it edible or more easily digestible. Nuts do not need to be sprouted to make them edible, nor do some seeds, but both benefit greatly from soaking and sprouting as they become more easily digestible and juicier as a result. Other seeds, i.e. those that are supposed to be sprouted, plus all beans, pulses and legumes (with the exception of peanuts) need to be sprouted if they are to be eaten raw. Kidney beans should never be eaten raw and should be avoided. Grains should also be soaked and sprouted, although dry oats are an exception and can be milled down and used to make cookies successfully without being sprouted first. The sprouting process begins in water in your very own kitchen.

Why sprout?

When a seed, bean, pulse, nut or grain is soaked in water for a period of time, the plant’s enzyme inhibitors are removed. These enzyme inhibitors prevent a plant from germinating unless the right conditions for growth are met, and so once the seed comes into contact with water and the enzyme inhibitors are washed away, the germination process begins. This process sets into action a whole chain of reactions enabling the plant to grow at a rapid rate. As it does so, the vitamin content increases dramatically, to the point where the sprouted seed can contain hundreds or thousands times more vitamins than it did previously, and the protein, carbohydrates and fats begin to break down into a pre-digested form making for easier and better digestion and assimilation overall. The enzyme content of each seed, been, pulse, nut or grain also sky-rockets making sprouts one of the most enzyme-rich (i.e. live) foods on the planet.

What do I need to sprout?

You don’t need any fancy equipment to get sprouting, although there are many pieces of equipment available to help you such as jars, trays, bags and even automatic sprouting kits. To get started you’ll need some seeds or beans for sprouting, a container to sprout them in such as a jam jar, and something to drain the water through, like a sieve or some netting or muslin secured around the top of the jar.

Best ways to get sprouting

Sprouting is actually very easy, but some seeds and beans tend to sprout more easily than others. The easiest ones tend to be mung, lentil, fenugreek, chickpea (garbanzo) and quinoa. These are all quick to grow (quinoa takes just 24 hours, the others take 2-3 days on average) and mastering the sprouting of these will help you get more confident about sprouting other seeds and beans that take longer to grow or are slightly more tricky.

How to sprout

NB: In the text that follows, when I refer to a “seed” this applies to beans, pulses, nuts and grains equally.

Jar method

  1. Make sure your chosen jar is clean and oil-free, and pour in a handful or two of your chosen seed (which are dry at this point). Use just one type of seed per jar at this stage while you are still learning.
  2. Pour in some clean water (ideally not conventional tap water) until the seeds are covered by at least an extra inch. If you are sprouting beans which are fairly large, such as chickpeas (garbanzos) or aduki beans, make sure the water covers them by an extra 2 inches so that they have more water to soak up. This will be necessary as they have a much larger surface area than the small seeds.
  3. Cover your jar with a mesh lid of some kind. As mentioned earlier, this can be as basic as a piece of netting or you can use a jar with a mesh lid already integral to it. All that matters here is that nothing can get into the jar, except air which is a must.
  4. Leave the jar overnight or for 4-8 hours during the day so that the seeds have time to soak up the water. This is the beginning of the sprouting process. Different books suggest different time frames for different seeds but I have always found that a minimum of 4 hours works very well for any seed or bean I have tried, 8 hours certainly won’t hurt and in fact is generally better for the larger beans.
  5. At the end of the soaking period, drain off the water. When all the water has drained off, rinse the contents of your jar thoroughly making sure that the water is running completely clean. Drain once more. Make sure that all the water has been drained, otherwise your sprouts will rot before they grow. This is really important, and where most people go wrong. They just don't drain properly. A good way to make sure that all residual water has gone is to stand your jar upside down for a while, or rest it at an angle on a sprouting stand or in a standard kitchen draining rack. It may also be worth giving it a gentle shake to free up any remaining water.
  6. When fully drained, leave your jar to stand, either way up, on a kitchen counter or somewhere where the jar will be undisturbed. It doesn’t matter too much whether the jar is in light or dark at this stage, although direct sunlight is best avoided.
  7. If it is a warm time of year, rinse your sprouts twice daily as they will become more easily dehydrated; if it is colder, once will usually be enough. Be sure to drain well after each rinse.
  8. Continue the rinsing and draining each day until your sprouts are ready to eat.

And that’s all there is to it! Fresh sprouts of all shapes and sizes will be yours in 1 – 5 days depending on which ones you choose.

How do I know when to eat them?

A good rule of thumb is that in the case of sprouting seeds, such as cress, broccoli, alfalfa and so on, they will be long and green and simply look ready. This may sound overly simplistic, but it’s really that simple. Think about how shop-bought cress looks and use that as a guideline. The exceptions here are sesame, sunflower (hulled), and pumpkin which may swell up but should not be left to grow beyond a day or two. Sunflower seeds will develop tips and may split to form a ‘Y’ shape, but sesame and pumpkin seeds will simply look slightly plumper.

Nuts, like sesame and pumpkin seeds, really only need soaking. Nuts do not benefit from them literally sprouting (unless you are trying to grow a tree!) as nuts are best eaten simply rehydrated which is what soaking achieves. Nuts are best soaked for between 4 and 8 hours.

In the case of beans and grains these should be sprouted. The ideal sprout will be approximately the same length as the original bean/grain, or a bit shorter. If they grow too long or develop leaves they will taste bitter and should not be eaten, if they’re too short (a day old) they are often still too young and quite bland and starchy tasting, so more difficult to digest and generally unappetising. Two to three days is the usual time taken to grow a perfect bean or grain sprout.

Finally, yes, you do eat the whole sprout – seed and tail together!

Want to see me demo sprouting? Click here to watch me walk you through it on YouTube

Karen Knowler, The Raw Food Coach publishes "Successfully Raw" - a free weekly eZine for raw food lovers everywhere. If you're ready to look good, feel great and create a raw life you love get your FREE tips, tools and recipes now at www.TheRawFoodCoach.com.