Alessandra Felice explains the ins and outs of sprouting and why it is extremely beneficial to your health…
It’s very common these days to see little boxes of green sprouts popping up in your local supermarket. It’s not just a trend that belongs to healthfood stores, it’s also mainstream. And why shouldn’t it be? Sprouts have a long history of being used for more than 5,000 years ago in Chinese medicine where physicians prescribed them for curing many disorders for their nutritional and medicinal properties. Now the Western world has finally caught up.
Sprouting is the process of germinating seeds, nuts, grains and beans. It involves soaking them and then rinsing them every 8-12 hours until they begin to develop a tail-like protrusion. At this stage they become easier to digest and easier for the body to absorb their nutrients.
Soaking is sometimes confused with sprouting, which, as mentioned, is actually the first step in the sprouting process. Soaking softens the hull, allows the sprout to grow and then sprouting allows the soaked item to germinate further. You first must soak something before you can sprout it.
You might ask yourself why you should spend time sprouting or buying a tiny box of sprouts? The biggest benefit of sprouts is that they are a powerhouse of nutrients, all of which our body needs. And they’re just there waiting to be unlocked with their maximum potential ready to be used.
Also for many people, eating grains and beans can cause discomfort and adverse reactions. Sprouting is able to activate beneficial enzymes, which make all types of grains, seeds, beans and nuts easier on the digestive system. This also boosts beneficial bacteria in the gut, reducing inflammation and possible autoimmune reactions. It can also be especially beneficial for individuals sensitive to gluten, as sprouted flours can further decrease in gluten content.
Seed and legumes see a raise in antioxidant levels when sprouted, making them an important aid against free radical and ageing. There is also an increase in the contents of B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin A and beta-carotene and improved availability of calcium, iron and zinc. Sprouts are the perfect support for skin and immune health.
Depending on the exact seed that is sprouted, proteins in the form of amino acids can become more concentrated and absorbable in sprouted foods. As sprouting continues, complex proteins are converted into simple amino acids, making them easier on digestion.
One of the biggest benefits though is that germination lowers the levels of anti-nutrients, such as phytic acid, lectins, saponins and enzyme inhibitors. Anti-nutrients are naturally occurring compounds that protect plants in nature but they can block the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals by the body.
Phytic acid found in grains and beans binds to calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and zinc, inhibiting their uptake and our digestive enzymes. Enzyme inhibitors found in nuts and seeds may cause digestive problems and allergic reactions. Lectins and saponins present in legumes and vegetables affect the gastrointestinal lining, contributing to leaky gut syndrome and various autoimmune disorders.
Time to get sprouting
Now that we know the why, let’s explore the what and the how! Nuts such as walnuts, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia and Brazil nuts won’t germinate, but soaking will break down the enzyme inhibitors. Almonds on the other hand, if truly raw, can be soaked for 8-12 hours and will sprout in 2-3 days.
Chickpeas, lentils, beans (adzuki, black, white, mung, navy) and peas need 8-12 hours soaking and 2-3 days sprouting. Kidney beans and mung beans may need 5-7 days. However, you must not sprout red kidney beans as they contain a toxic lectin.
Grains such as amaranth, kamut, wheat berries, oat groats, black and wild rice and seeds like buckwheat and quinoa need between 6-8 hours soaking (buckwheat only 30 minutes to an hour). The sprouting time can vary from 1 day for quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat to 2-5 days for others.
Finally, seeds require 8-12 hours soaking time. Pumpkin and sesame will sprout in 1-2 days, alfa alfa and radish seeds in 3-5 days and sunflower between 2-3. Let’s not forget broccoli sprouts that must be soaked for 8-12 days and will germinate in 2-3 days.
The sprouting method is the same for all foods, the only difference is the amount of time involved. Rinse your grains, seeds or legumes thoroughly and buy some that are free of pesticides and that haven’t been pasteurised or irradiated. Put them in a bowl, cover with water and place some cheese cloth or a kitchen towel on the top. Let soak for the suggested times. Then strain, rinse well and place in a shallow glass container or dish on your kitchen counter so they’re exposed to air. Rinse every 8-12 hours and repeat the process until sprouts appear. They can vary in length from 1-5cm. Once ready, rinse well again, drain and store in a glass jar or container in the refrigerator. They can keep up to 7 days but to avoid the formation of mould or bacteria, make sure to rinse them every day, as well as washing their storing container.
As many foods in their raw stage, sprouts can potentially develop bacteria and cause harmful illnesses. The best way to avoid this possibility is by sanitising all the containers you have used for soaking and sprouting, and carefully rinse the items to sprout for at least one minute, eliminating any dirt and shell fragments. Most importantly, always choose nuts, seeds, grains and legumes that are certified pathogen-free.
How to eat your sprouts
And finally on to the most exciting part – how to actually enjoy your home-sprouted and healthy goods!
Beans and grains, once sprouted, cook faster and are easier to digest. It is best to slightly cook these, while seed and grass sprouts can be eaten raw.
Add them to salads for extra protein or mix quinoa, buckwheat or wild rice with crunchy vegetables and a zesty citrus vinaigrette. Cook sprouted chickpeas or peas and process them into hummus – they will be much lighter in texture than the traditional counterpart. Use sprouted flour for baked goods that will be much more easily digested and enjoyed or make your favourite granolas with sprouted oat groats or buckwheat for extra crunch and nutritional value. Add radish or broccoli sprouts to your morning juice or smoothie to start the day with a spicy injection of vitamins and minerals, then fill your lunchtime wrap with alfa alfa or sunflower sprouts.
If sprouting these foods still seems daunting, try buying some already sprouted options (follow the same safety guidelines in choosing them as mentioned above). See which you prefer and start experimenting just with the one you like the most. Or you can get one of the readily available kits that assist with the whole process. I promise, once you start and see the benefits, it will be hard to go back!
What should I sprout?
- Nuts Walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamia, Brazil and almonds
- Beans Black, white, navy, mung
- Grains Amaranth, kamut, wheat berries, oat groats, black and wild rice
- Seeds Pumpkin, sesame, alfa alfa, radish, sunflower
About the author: Alessandra Felice ND Dip CNM is a nutritional therapist that graduated from the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London and a medicinal chef that gained her training from the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York. Born in Italy, she developed her passion for cooking since a young age and developed a strong belief in the healing power of food that led her to her professional trainings. She worked as a private chef for people with special dietary needs in New York as well as a vegan pastry chef in leading New York restaurants. In London, she’s currently working as a private chef and teaching private and group medicinal cooking classes along with sharing her knowledge in preparing sinful desserts and chocolate while working as a nutritional therapist with private clients.