Saturday, January 9, 2010

It Doesn' Get Closer To Home Than This


No, it isn't a picture of weird alien worms. It's a close-up of my sprouting jar.

I grow sprouts. It's easy and... fun? Well, I'm not sure everyone would call it fun, but it definitely satisfies some of my gardening itches in the dead of winter. And it definitely is easy. And tasty. And it all happens right in my kitchen.

There are lots of resources on the web for growing sprouts, so I will only touch upon the main points. If for some reason you do not like googling for information, your public library should have a couple of books on sprouting. They're usually in the cooking section beside the vegetarian and macrobiotic cookbooks. Some vegetarian cookbooks also touch upon the subject. I'd look up for books that were first published in the 70s, like The New Laurel's Kitchen. A really complete ressource book on sprouting is The Sprout Garden by Mark M. Braunstein.

First of all, you do not need any fancy equipment. I have tried quite a few, from the clear plastic, multi-level sprouter to the fancy jars with plastic mesh tops, and I always come back to the old hippie standard: the Mason jar with mosquito netting. If you do not have spare Mason jars hanging about your kitchen, you can use any old jar with a piece of loose-weave cloth or mosquito-netting elastic-ed to the top.

My main beef against commercially available sprouters is that their plastic 'mesh' usually have too few holes that are too big: smaller seeds like mustard tend to clog them up, and are difficult to pry out, and it just makes the whole process quite tedious. If you do end up using a piece of cloth, you need to make sure its weave is no tighter than... lace curtains! My first sprouter was topped with leftover material from kitchy, polyester lace curtains, and it worked okay. A double layer of cheese cloth may also work. But the absolute best is definitely soft plastic mosquito netting.  I'm currently using a cut up splatter guard from the dollar store; I used the Mason jar top for measurements, and the screw-ring keeps the whole set-up in place.


Sprouting seeds are available from natural food stores. They come in single varieties or in interesting mixes. Price will vary according to the seed variety, but most seeds are reasonably priced. However, you do not necessarily have to buy sprouting mixes: if your bulk food store has a good turnover rate, you might have luck with their grains and legumes.

Be forwarned though: the seeds must be in pristine shape (no nicks, chips and cracks) and they must not be irradiated. If you are buying bulk organic, then your seeds are very likely to sprout. I've managed to sprout organic quinoa, flax and buckwheat.

Some plant nurseries also sell seeds for sprouting when they put out their seed stands in the spring, but the packets are tiny, and much more expensive than the organic stuff.

Not all seeds are suitable for jar sprouting. Some seeds, such as flax, chia, cress and basil develop a sticky, snot-like substance (properly called mucilage) when wet and clog up the holes in your netting. These seeds are usually sprouted in a saucer or in soil. Also, these sprouts are often left to grow green, as they are apparently more nutritious that way.


On top of requiring no special equipment, sprouts have few special needs. Some water, provided by an initial soaking, to revive the seeds and a daily rinsing out to refresh them.
Darkness: sprouts like to grow in a dark and draft-free place. I place my jars on an angle -like in the second picture- in the cupboard beneath the kitchen sink.
And warmth, nothing excessive, my kitchen is at a constant 18'C (66'F), and the cupboard is probably cooler. In fact, some bean seeds do not sprout well under too warm conditions. The first time I tried my hand at mung beans, I had left them in the furnace room in my parents' basements: the seeds rotted before they even had a chance to sprout.

One last thing about sprouts: despite what you may have seen in salad bars and fast-food salad joints, legume sprouts -such as mung and soy beans- should not be eaten raw. Raw legumes contain a toxic enzyme that can only be destroyed through thorough cooking. While the occasional salad is not likely to be harmful, if you get into the whole sprouting thing, you will probably end up eating lots of beans. Five minutes in boiling water, 10 minutes in the steamer or in a frying pan should be enough to cook your sprouts without losing any crunch.

Growing sprouts can be fun, and if you have kids, it can make for an interesting science project.  Growing your own sprouts opens your kitchen to new flavours -although the salad section in most grocery stores now offer a wide array of sprouts, there is an even wider variety of seeds available from the natural food store-  all for very little money. Extremely nutritious, low in calories and high in fibre, homegrown sprouts are a great way to add oomph to sometimes blah winter offerings.

If the amount of water required for the whole process seems a little wasteful (soaking, plus daily rinsing out over 3 to 4 days, not so bad, really), you can take comfort in the knowledge that all that water can be recycled into your houseplants. In fact, the soaking and rinse water are so full of nutrients, some of your houseplants may start to grow at an alarming rate even in the dead of winter!

Bon app'!

5 comments:

  1. Dahlia -

    Excellent one page summary about how to sprout. You can download a definitive Sprout Chart from my newly created website, that's:

    http://www.markbraunstein.org/booksproutgarden.htm

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Mark!
    I'll make sure to post a link to your page so that everyone else can find it!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Dahlia,
    I love growing sprouts, especially in winter when greens are expensive and/or wilted and not very delicious.
    I have had good luck with several types of sprouts, but when I've tried to grow daikon sprouts the past few times I've had a problem. I rinsed them religiously, but they still grew fuzz--mold. Do you know of any simple ways to prevent this?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Meaghan!
    Was your daikon fuzz on the root end? It's very possible that it wasn't actually mold, but little radicles: since daikon is basically a tap root, it grows little 'side-roots' to do its job. Next time, take a close sniff, and maybe even a nibble before you chuck the whole lot out.
    I was a little suspicious myself the first time I grew daikon, but a nibble confirmed that it wasn't mold.
    Personally, I prefer sprouting daikon in soil though, the sprouts grow straight and untangled, and they get a boost of nutrients so that they can get nice and green. Also, this way I avoid eating the roots, which can get pretty stringy at the green stage.
    I hope that helps!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dahlia, thank you. This is really helpful... they didn't really look like mold, but I had no idea what the 'fuzz' was. I didn't chuck them all out both times, just picked out the offending sprouts and rinsed the rest well.
    I like the idea of growing them in soil. The sprouts look better when they're straight and even, I think I'll try that way next time.
    Thanks again for your help!

    ReplyDelete

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