If you're not already a fan of the not-so-humble beansprout, read on to find out why you should be eating these delicious little edible shoots - and how to cook with them
Inspiration for vegan dishes comes from all cultures, and if you’ve ever tucked into a glorious East Asian dish, it’s likely you’ve crunched your way through a beansprout or two.
These tasty little powerhouses bring a trio of benefits to a meal: they are delicious, they add texture, and they are packed with nutrition. In fact, just a couple of handfuls provide one of your five-a-day.
And on top of that, while you can pick them up in the supermarket, it’s easy to grow them at home.
What could be better than enjoying a delicious meal featuring your very own homegrown produce?
What are beansprouts?
Beansprouts, which fall under the category of culinary vegetable, are the edible young shoots that grow out of germinated beans, most commonly mung or soy, but also alfalfa, radish, fenugreek, and clover.
Sprouting your own beans is extremely quick and easy. All you need is a mason jar, a mesh lid and some sprouting seeds.
Place two tablespoons of bean seeds in your mason jar and top it with the screened lid. Fill the jar half full with cold water and let the bean seeds soak overnight.
Rinse them in the morning and turn the jar upside down to drain. Rinse and drain the seeds twice a day for four to six days.
They are ready to eat when the white sprout is at least 1.5cm long.
Alternatively, you can buy beansprouts, which are readily available from most supermarkets.
They often come in refrigerated packs from the salad section, or preserved in tins and jars.
You can easily grow beansprouts at home. It's inexpensive, and very quick. Image credit: Milada Vigerova via Unsplash
Are beansprouts good for you?
Health aficionados often pipe up about the benefits of beans, and with good reason: these little powerhouses pack a mighty punch.
According to plant-based health expert Dr Michael Greger’s NutritionalFacts.org’s website, sprouting seeds and beans dramatically increases the antioxidant content of those foods when compared to their respective non-sprouted forms.
In fact, NutritionalFacts.org says adding beansprouts to your diet ‘may be one of the most cost-effective ways to improve’ it.
Eating beansprouts safely
However, it must be noted that there is a salmonella risk when it comes to eating raw beansprouts, and cases have been reported in the UK.
To help consumers enjoy bean sprouts safely, the Food Standards Agency (FDA) has provided advice that should be followed.
According to the FDA, you can eat the sprouts raw if they are labelled ‘ready to eat’, but if they aren’t, they should be thoroughly cooked, until they are steaming hot throughout. Any storage instructions provided by the food producer should be followed.
In general, beansprouts should be kept in the fridge, at 5C or below, and eaten within two days.
In addition, you should not eat sprouts that are past their use by date. Sprouts that have turned brown or changed colour should also not be consumed.
Become a culinary whizz with our simple cooking tips:
How to cook with beansprouts
Beansprouts are more versatile than you may think, and it’s easy to add them to a wealth of dishes.
They have a fresh, crunchy texture, which works fantastically well tossed into dishes like stir-fries, soups, or salad.
If you bought your sprouts and they are labelled as being ready to eat, you can simply throw them into your dishes towards the end of your food prep. Otherwise, they should be thoroughly cooked first.
This is best done by boiling or steaming the sprouts until they are tender, or by putting them in a covered bowl, and microwaving them for a minute or two.
Top your vegan pad Thai with beansprouts to give it a nutritional boost. Image credit: Markus Winkler via Unsplash
How to use up leftover bean sprouts
If you have sprouts left over, it’s important to follow food safety guidelines and make sure you store them in the fridge, and don’t eat them if they turn brown.
Once you’re confident that your bean sprouts are safe to eat, there are several delicious ways you can use them up.
One option is pickling them. Put your sprouts in a pickling jar – feel free to mix in an extra vegetable, like shredded carrot. Add a pinch of salt and sugar to pickling vinegar, and pour the mixture into the jar.
After a day pickling in the fridge, your pickles will be ready to eat.
Another easy and delicious option is pan-frying cooked bean sprouts in oil with garlic, soy sauce and chives, then eating them as a side dish (or alone!).
Or you can try throwing a handful into coleslaw, to add a refreshing crunch.
One way to use up beansprouts is to add them to homemade vegan coleslaw, for freshness and crunch. Image credit: Jonathan Farber via Unsplash
How to freeze bean sprouts
As beansprouts only stay fresh for a couple of days, it’s good to know you can freeze any you can’t eat within that time frame.
However, because of their high water content, once defrosted, they can be mushy. But as long as you follow a few preparatory steps before sticking them in the freezer, you should be able to have bean sprouts to hand at all times!
First, thoroughly wash the sprouts. Next, you will need to blanch them. Do this by boiling a pot of water, and prepping a bowl of chilled water.
Once the water has boiled, submerge the sprouts for three minutes, before plunging into the cold water.
You need to make sure the sprouts are totally dry before freezing them, to ensure you maintain the best texture.
A good way to do this is to lay them out on kitchen paper, and leave until the water has dried off (this could take up to an hour).
Put the sprouts in airtight containers, making sure they are not too crowded, before freezing. They can be defrosted by putting them in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Do you want to find out about incorporating more plant-based foods and alternatives?
Check out our beginner’s guide to vegan diets