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Sprouts: Big Nutrition in a Small Package

by Alexandra Kois, Newsletter Writer

As the days grow longer, and the weather gets warmer, the spring months always give me a sense of bubbling anticipation for summertime. I start to look for leaf buds on trees, and the initial brave honeybees that venture out to collect nectar from the early crocuses and snowdrops. While the wave of summertime fruits and vegetables is still a few weeks away, growing sprouts and microgreens at home adds a burst of crisp flavor to any snack. Sprouting seeds is a simple and quick way to boost nutrition in your diet. It doesn’t require much equipment or space. Plus, its easy on the budget!

Choosing what to sprout

Many seeds, nuts, and legumes found in the bulk aisle can be sprouted. Some of the most eager sprouters include mung bean, flax, chia, black lentils, hard red wheat berries, and great northern beans. Smaller bulk sprouting seeds, like alfalfa, mustard, broccoli, kale and radish are also found in the bulk aisle, along with mason jars and sprouting screens. You can even sprout a mixture of different seeds in a single jar to get a nice variety in taste, color, and texture. Look out for the ‘good for sprouting’ tag on the bulk bins!

 

Nutrients

Before you jump-start your seeds into their sprouting journey, let’s talk about what makes sprouts so nutrient-dense, and what exactly is happening in your sprouting jar. Seeds are dormant vegetables, patiently waiting for water to spark their germination process. They are crammed with vitamins, minerals, and proteins, intended to fuel an energetic and robust initial growth period for the plant. The nutrient content of one serving of sprouts varies across different seed types and the stage of sprout growth, but on average, sprouted seeds will provide more vitamins and minerals than unsprouted seeds. Sprouting seeds, nuts, and legumes increases the bioavailability of these nutrients, and allows us to digest and use them more easily. Water kickstarts the growth process for the seed; it will rapidly develop an immature stem, and if left to grow long enough, it will also produce leaves and begin to photosynthesize. Sprouting seeds takes advantage of this process, as seedlings are harvested when they have transformed much of the unavailable nutrients into a version that we can use in our own bodies.

 

Equipment

Some serious sprouters use sprouting trays to grow their seeds, but you can just as easily produce crunchy and delicious sprouts with a wide-mouth quart-sized mason jar and a sprouting screen or cheesecloth. After selecting your seeds, pour them in the jar, and screw on your sprouting screen or cheesecloth with the ring of the jar lid. I have found that a sprouting screen works the best—some smaller seeds can sneak through the holes in the cheesecloth unless you double up on your cheesecloth layers. You will want to put about 0.15-0.2 pounds of seed in your jar, or enough to fill the jar up to about a quarter of an inch.

 

How to Sprout

After rinsing and draining the seeds a few times, pour a couple inches of water on them, and keep the seeds dunked overnight. In the morning, drain out the water and rinse the seeds again a few times. You might notice that the water looks murky; tannins in the seed hulls will seep into the water and cause a yellow or brown color. You can rinse the water a few extra times until it runs clear, but the tannins are not harmful. Prop the jar upside down and at an angle to allow for airflow and water to drain out—you can easily set this up with a small bowl underneath the jar

Continue to rinse, drain, and prop up the jar twice a day for about three to six days. Seeds will swell with water, and you will begin to see their stems developing. Larger seeds and legumes can increase in volume by four or five times, while the volume of smaller ones can increase by seven times. Once the sprouts reach the amount of desired growth, they can be removed from the jar and stored in the fridge for up to a week. You can rinse the sprouts to remove the seed hulls if you want to, but this is not necessary.

 

Microgreens

If you have a bit more time and space on your hands, you may want to experiment with growing microgreens. These differ from sprouts in that they are grown in soil, require light, and take a few weeks to complete. They have similar health benefits as sprouts as their stems and leaves are concentrated with vitamins and minerals. Microgreens can offer texture and color to a dish as a delicate garnish, or jam-packed into a sandwich. I like to sprinkle them on crackers with goat cheese and black pepper. Mustards give a sharp spicy flavor, while beets jazz things up with deep purple and red leaves. Other microgreens to try are radish, spinach, kale, buckwheat, and even basil. You can find these seeds in the bulk aisle, or use gardening seed packets. Take care not to eat potato, tomato, or other nightshade microgreens, as these plants have toxins in their stems and leaves.

To begin your microgreens, fill a pot or seed starting tray with soil, and sprinkle the seeds evenly throughout; cover them with about a quarter inch of dirt and keep them in the sunlight. Read the back of the seed packet, as some seeds are a bit more picky than others about how deep within the soil they get planted, or how much light they like. Microgreens can be grown in close quarters with one another, but crowding them too closely can make it hard for water to drain through the soil and can ultimately stunt their growth. Be sure to water them often, about once each day. By taking up nutrients from the soil, the seeds will germinate, and push a tiny stem up out of the dirt. After two to three weeks, your microgreens will have grown an inch or two, and they will have also developed their first set of leaves. These young leaves will begin to photosynthesize, wherein the plant will turn sunlight into sugar, and use it to fuel its growth. You can trim them at their stems just above the soil with a pair of scissors, and store them in the fridge for about a week. Leave a few of them to grow into mature plants throughout the summer months so they can develop fruits or flowers!

 

Spruce up your food

Warm July evenings and blooming gardens are still a couple months away, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy fresh and sunny veggies in the meantime! Sprouts and microgreens can be grown at home at any time of the year, and bring the feelings of carefree summertime to your table. Spruce up any sandwich, ramen, or salad with these bright colored and flavorful young shoots.

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