Carrying on from last week’s post on beans, I’ve been discovering all about sprouting legumes, grains and seeds (you can also sprout nuts). To me, eating alfalfa sprouts is such a stereotypical hippy thing to do that honestly, in the past has been a bit off-putting. Lately I’ve started having a few hippy-sprouts in my meals and have been feeling more energetic for it. It could be the placebo effect (or the little bit of sunshine we’re now getting), but I also realised I get so caught up in ‘cooking’ that I forget to the small but essential elements to my daily meals – salads and raw foods.
This would be a great start for a raw food discussion, but I have a lot to discuss about the benefits/pitfalls of raw foodism that it is a whole series of separate blogs. Spring has arrived in the southern hemisphere and I will be embarking on a more raw diet for the warmer months. The reason I wouldn’t undertake a raw food diet during Autumn/Winter is because of the energetic direction of these times of year. In Chinese Medicine, Spring and Summer is when energy is expanding, transitioning from a more inward direction during the colder months. That’s why we naturally want to hibernate in Winter and eat more nourishing, warmer foods while in Summer we want to frolic in parks we crave salads and activity. Characteristic of Spring is sprouting, when new life is growing which is evident in the little green buds we see on the trees this time of year. When we eat sprouts, we capture this energy and life-giving potential in benefit to our health.
What “they” say are the health benefits
The process of pre-soaking your grain, legume, seed or nut of choice begins the germinating process. High concentrations of beneficial enzymes are released and pre-digestion occurs. Sprouting until rootlets appear maximises the digestibility making them easier to assimilate and metabolise and less likely to cause allergies. In short:
- The alkalising effect of sprouts combats the high acidic diet and lifestyles causing high incidences of disease and illness.
- Sprouting breaks down amino acids, starches and trisaccharides into simple sugars to create valuable enzymes and vitamins.
- During sprouting vitamin and enzyme content dramatically increases.
- Starch is converted to simple sugars.
- Protein is turned to amino acids (building blocks of our physical form) and peptones.
- Crude fat broken is down to free fatty acids.
Alfalfa sprouts – hippy food
There is a reason alfalfa sprouts are typically the most common sprouts. Arabs were the first to discover alfalfa and found it highly strengthening food both for themselves and their race horses. They named it al-fal-fa which means “father of all foods”. Considered more nutritionally concentrated than other sprouts because of their rich mineralisation, Alfalfa produces root that reaches 30 metres into the earth accessing minerals and trace elements untouched by other plants. These roots benefit our ‘roots’, our intestines and kidney/bladder functions. Used in arthritis, edema, weight loss, bladder stones, plantar warts, chronic sore throat, fevers, gas pains, peptic ulcers, drug and alcohol addiction recovery and contains 8 enzymes to assimilate protein, fats and carbohydrates. Considered safe for children, helps nursing mothers produce milk. The only caveat is its rich source of the amino acid canavanine and should be avoided by rheumatoid diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus as it can ignite inflammations. Alfalfa leaf is devoid of canavanine which can be consumed in these cases.
What Science says about sprouts
- Increases enzyme activity 6 – 20 fold (Spiritual Nutrition, Dr Garbriel Cousens MD)
- B vitamins are increased by 2,000% (Yale University Study, Dr Paul Barkholden)
- Average vitamin increase of more than 500% (Univ of Pennsylvania, Dr Barry Mack)
- Nucleic acids – an essential constituent of all cell growth and regeneration – and mineral content increased by 30%
- Protein content increases by 15 – 30% (Staying Healthy with Nutrition, Dr Elson Hass)
- Suggested that 6 cups sprouts could supply the recommended daily nutrition intake for average adult, and that sprouts are more efficient source of protein than animal or other types of vegetable protein (University of Puget Sound, Dr Elson Hass, Professor Nutritional Biochemistry)
- Cancer cells are 99% inhibited by sprouts, especially broccoli seed sprouts (University of Texas, Cancer Centre)
- A chemical called sulphoraphane is present in broccoli sprouts which activates cancer fighting enzymes in your cells (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)
- Sulphoraphane is also linked to protect blood vessels and reduce the number of molecules that cause cell damage by up to 73%, benefitting Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease patients (University of Warwick, Professor Paul Thornalley)
- A chemical in broccoli sprouts, Indole-3-carbino (I3C) interferes with the life span of breast cancer cells (Wayne State University School of Medicine, Department of Pathology. Link to PubMed abstract http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15203382?dopt=Abstract)
- Eating 113g daily of sprouted vegetables reduces incidence of DNA alterations in human blood cells (Findings presented at BioIreland 2004)
All this outlines that digestion and immune system is improved, valuable nutrients are able to be utilised and general wellbeing increases. If you experience frequent colds and flu then include more sprouts in your diet. Even if you have digestive sensitivities to legumes, most often people find that eating their sprouts is tolerable.
You should be aware that sprouts have a cooling nature, so the very weak and cold body types need to consume with caution. To add ‘warmth’ to the nature of sprouts prepare them by steaming, sautéing or lightly simmering as they do in Chinese Medicine. Conversely, overheated and robust body types would benefit from the cooling effect of sprouts. Green Harvest do say that lentils, soybeans and chickpeas require light steaming before consuming. Might explain the gut pains I had after eating red lentil sprouts last week! Wooops!
You can buy pre-sprouted legumes and seeds from greengrocers. Look for bright fresh looking sprouts – definitely not slimy – and give them a smell to make sure there’s nothing funky going on. Otherwise try the instructions below to sprout your own. You can buy certified organic sprouting seeds from Green Harvest seed shop.
How to sprout
Sprouting is a bit like a science experiment I did in Year 8. Since commercial sprouts aren’t always organic, growing your own from certified organic seed gives you an economical way to increase your organic consumption. Sprouting multiplies the weight by up to 15 times (see table below on yield).
If you don’t have a specialised sprouting kit (and who does?), all you need is a wide mouth jam jar, the food your sprouting, fresh water and piece of cheesecloth or muslin (available at material stores, supermarkets and kitchenware outlets).
- Rinse seeds well. Place in jar and cover with 1 part seed/legumes/grain to 3 parts of cooled, boiled water. Cover with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Soak for the required time in a warm, dark place. Soaking times are outlined in the table below. Over or under soaking will not produce desired results.
- Rinse seeds with fresh water, then drain well or the seeds will rot. Keep the jar tilted for better drainage and to allow the sprouts to grow up the jar.
- Rinse seeds twice daily which keeps the seeds oxygenated, moistened, improves the sprout flavour and keeps them from fermenting.
- Once rootlets appear move to indirect sunlight to induce chlorophyll. Keep rinsing twice a day until sprouts are ready.
- It is important to remove the hulls that slough off during sprouting process especially from alfalfa and radish as they will easily rot. Hulls from adzuki, mung and fenugreek are often removed for a lighter tasting quality although they can be eaten for fibre. Remove hulls by placing sprouts in large bowl of water and agitate. Gently reach under the sprouts and lift them out of the water without disturbing the sunken hulls which are to be discarded. Drain well and pat dry.
Most common sprouts
|Seed||Quantity||Yeild||Soak time||Days to sprout|
|Aduki||1 cup||2.5 cups||12 hrs||3 – 5 days|
|Alfalfa||3 Tblsp||3 cups||6 hrs||5 – 6 days|
|Broccoli seeds||1 Tblsp||1 – 1.5 cups||8 hrs||3 – 6 days|
|Chickpeas||1 cup||3 cups||12 hrs||3 – 5 days|
|Fenugreek||4 Tblsp||1 cup||8 hrs||3 days|
|Lentils||1 cup||3 – 4 cups||8 hrs||3 days|
|Mung Beans||1 cup||3 – 4 cups||8 hrs||3 – 5 days|
|Mustard||1 Tblsp||1 cup||6 hrs||5 – 6 days|
|Radish||1 Tblsp||1 cup||6 hrs||5 – 6 days|
|Rye||1 cup||2.5 cups||12 hrs||3 days|
|Soy beans||1 cup||2.5 cups||12 hrs||3 – 5 days|
|Sunflower seeds||1 cup||1.5 cups||12 hrs||2 days|
|Wheat||1 cup||2.5 cups||12 hrs||3 days|
Storing your sprouts
Watch this quick vid on how to store your sprouts effectively.
How to use
Alfalfa has a grassy taste and plesant texture and is commonly added to salads and sandwiches. You can also add it to the end of your stir-fry.
Mung bean sprouts are the thick white sprouts often found in Asian cooking. Mild tasting and watery they naturally team well with spicier dishes and are best when lightly cooked.
Fenugreek has spicy notes giving an edge to your salad.
Sunflower sprouts are good to use in salads and green smoothies.
Mustard seeds give a hot and spicy flavour and can spice up everything from eggs to salads.
Broccoli sprouts are excellent for salads or being juiced.
Soybean sprouts are good to use in casseroles or stews.
- Nori rolls, rice paper rolls (alfalfa, sunflower, radish)
- Coleslaw (Cabbage, clover, radish, fenugreek)
- Potato salad (mung bean, lentil)
- Blend into fruit shakes or juices (cabbage, mung bean, lentil)
- Mix with soft cheeses for a dip (mung bean, radish)
- Grind up and use in sandwich spreads (lentil, radish)
- Top grilled cheese sandwiches
- Stir into soups or stews when serving (mung bean, lentil)
- Mix into pancake or waffle batter (buckwheat)
- Top omelettes or scrambled eggs (alfalfa, clover, radish)
- Combine in rice dishes (fenugreek, lentil, mung bean)
- Top baked potato
You are What you Eat, Dr Gillian McKeith
Healing with Wholefoods, Paul Pitchford
Super Natural Cooking, Heidi Swanston
The Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods, Michael T Murray
Good Sprout News