Every once in a while I splurge at my local health food co-op and pick up a wee container of mixed sprouts to give my salads more protein and flavour. Most of us are familiar with the crisp, mild taste of beansprouts, but I was surprised by the diversity of options out there: from the fresh, light crunch of alfalfa sprouts to the sweetness of pea sprouts to the spicy kick of radish sprouts.
I was recently gifted Ann Wigmore’s The Sprouting Book: How to Grow and Use Sprouts to Maximize Your Health and Vitality (by someone who obviously knows me well). Needless to say, I’ve been devouring the information in its pages and the sprouts it’s teaching me to grow in equal measure. Wigmore explains that sprouts have been a part of human diets for over 5000 years, that research during the first World War showed they were better at treating scurvy than lemon juice, and that the US government launched a campaign to teach people how to grow sprouts as a viable alternative to meat during WWII. Cool beans(prouts).
Sprouts are often touted as a “future food” by many nutritionists because they are little powerhouses of enzymes, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. As a vegetarian, I was especially impressed by this claim:
“Among the sprouts, lentils are the richest single source of high-quality protein. Seven cups of sprouted lentils contain approximately 58 grams of protein – more than enough to meet the U.S. RDA for an adult male!”
Wigmore also notes that all eight of the essential amino acids – the ones we need but that our bodies can’t make internally – are found in sprouted seeds, beans, grains and nuts. She advocates eating a variety of sprouts to ensure you get them all.
Buuuut buying sprouts is expensive! ($4.99 at my local store for 1 cup). Especially if you want to eat enough of them to really access all of the health benefits I’ve summarized above.
The solution? Enter my favourite diy sidekick: the functional, attractive and versatile Mason jar. You won’t believe how easy and cheap it is to grow sprouts at home like this, with no special equipment needed. This is my slightly modified version of the jar method in Wigmore’s book.
- Package of alfalfa seeds, organic is preferable (I used Biosnacky brand)
- Wide-mouth half gallon Mason jar
- Two squares of cheesecloth, approx. 6″ by 6″
- an elastic band
- a strainer
- a large bowl for harvesting
Step One: Measure 2 Tbsp of alfalfa seeds into the jar. Fill the jar up halfway with filtered or spring water. Cover with cheesecloth, secure with elastic band, and let soak for 5 hours.
Step Two: Pour out the water through cheesecloth and place the jar at a 45 degree angle in the strainer so the remaining water can drain out. I put the whole thing in the sink to avoid a wet countertop. Let drain for 6-12 hours.
Step Three: The budding sprouts will need to be rinsed and drained twice a day until they are ready to harvest. To do this, put the jar under a gently running tap and allow the water to overflow the jar. There may be some foamy water (due to the waste products the sprouts produce). Then drain the water and place the jar in the strainer as described above.
After the second or third day, you’ll see the seeds have started to sprout. Continue rinsing and draining twice per day. On the last two days of sprouting (day three and four for me), you can place the jar in a sunny spot (after it has drained for half an hour or so) to promote chlorophyll development.
Step Four: After your sprouts measure about 1.5″ it’s time to harvest! Fill a large bowl with cool water and empty all of the sprouts into it. Gently agitate the sprouts in the water, and they will shed their hulls (the brown, outer part of the seed). You’ll see the hulls collect on the surface of the water and at the bottom of the bowl. Scoop out the hulls on the surface, then gently scoop all of the sprouts and put in a strainer lined with a paper towel. Dump out the remaining water and the hulls at the bottom of the bowl. (Note: you won’t get all of the hulls, but they are not harmful so no need to shoot for perfection!)
Blot your sprouts gently, then store in a glass jar in the fridge. They’ll last about a week. Enjoy in sandwiches or salads, or as a healthy garnish!
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