What is a great way to add a boost of nutrition into your diet cheaply and easily while having a fun DIY gardening project right in your home? Why growing sprouts, of course!
Sprouts are an awesome superfood that go beyond the mung bean variety which we commonly see on sandwiches across health food stores. Technically, any type of vegetable can be consumed in the sprout stage of their life, but some fare better and taste better than others.
Growing sprouts is one of the easiest most cost effective ways of gardening and require a tiny amount of space. No matter where you live, be it an apartment or even dorm room, growing a crop of sprouts is within anyone’s reach.
Let’s get right to why sprouts are so awesome and how to grow them!
What exactly is a Sprout?
A sprout is the very beginning of the growing process of a plant. Once the seeds are planted, they begin to germinate and grow quickly to form a tender stem. The first leaves form – known as cotyledons, which are seed leaves – and are developed around day five of the cotyledon growing stage. This is when the entire sprout is harvested and eaten, leaves, stems, and root. The sprouts are grown in darkness, similar to being under the soil. The next phase of growth beyond sprouts is the microgreen stage (checkout my microgreen growing guide!), which requires light and is harvested around the two week mark.
Benefits of Sprouts
Although sprouts are very tiny, they are mighty in flavor and nutrition. Their crisp texture makes for a great addition to salads, sandwiches, and are good eaten directly as well. Aside from their delicious flavor, there are a multitude of reasons why sprouts are so beneficial.
- Sprouts are easy to grow – It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to get seedlings to germinate and very little is required to get them to the stage of harvest.
- Sprouts are cheap to grow – Organic bags of seeds for sprouting make servings of sprouts cost pennies, far less cheap than purchasing sprouts from the grocery store, if there is even any available.
- Sprouts require a tiny amount of growing space – since no light is needed, the only space required is a place where you can place jars or small growing trays. Any counter or pantry will do.
- Sprouts have a higher nutritional boost than their adult counterparts – The Journal of Science and Food Agriculture released a comparative study that found a significant increase of essential amino acids – lysine, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, threonine, phenylalanine and valine – during the germination phase. The sprouts are also enriched with folate, protein, vitamin C and K, magnesium, manganese and phosphorous during the sprouting phase.
- Sprouts have an intense flavor – just because these baby plants are tiny does not mean they lack in flavor. In fact, the flavor of the plant is usually intensified in the sprout form. Radish sprouts are spicy and zingy and taste just like biting into a radish, if not stronger. Onion sprouts have that classic onion taste, and broccoli sprouts have a crisp and spicy flavor.
Health concerns of Sprouts
Although sprouts have so many benefits, there are drawbacks as well. Since sprouts are grown in dense, dark, and moist environments, they can harbor e. Coli. The Journal of Food Protection published a microbiological examination of sprouts in Korea. It was found that over 13% of mixed sprout samples contained potentially pathogenic bacterium.
However, when you grow your own sprouts, you can deter most of the risk unlike buying sprouts from a store. Keeping your growing trays or jars sterilized, buying a high quality seed, proper storage in a refrigerator, and monitoring the sprouts for overall health pretty much ensures the safety of eating your homegrown sprouts raw.
Best types of Sprouts
Identifying the best type of sprout to grow and eat is contingent upon the individual. Everyone fancies different flavors and textures, while others are looking for the easiest and fastest to grow. For this reason, I have broken down the best types of sprouts by three categories.
Best Flavored Sprouts
although this is entirely subjective, there are certain sprouts that are more popular because of their taste and texture.
Alfalfa – Alfalfa sprouts have a mild flavor that is nutty and sweet. They have a smaller leaf and stem which gives them a delicate crunchy texture.
Broccoli – Broccoli sprouts have a crunchy healthy snap to them with a slightly thicker stem and has a spicy note as well.
Daikon Radish – Radish sprouts pack a powerful spicy punch that is just as spicy, if not more, than an actual radish! They make for a great snappy garnish.
Onion – Onion sprouts are actually mild but has the classic flavor of onion. Their tiny leaves and thin stems add a delicate texture.
Mustard – Mustard sprouts have a hot and spicy mustard flavor. With thicker leaves and stems, mustard add a great crunchy texture.
Easiest Sprouts to Grow
All sprouts are relatively easy to grow, but these hardy types make for an easier experience which is good for beginners.
Pea Shoots – Pea shoots take a bit longer for the final product, but their well known “shoots” grow drastically with many leaves, making it an easy grower.
Sunflower – Sunflower sprouts are super quick growers as they have a whole lot of growing to do in a short amount of time. They are of a hardy variety and have straight and strong stems. Sunflowers have a good nutty flavor and crisp texture.
Wheat – Wheat grows like a grass and is a super-fast grower. Within three days, wheat sprouts have a lovely sweet flavor and can be harvested then. Or, keep the wheat growing and you will have a heathy one inch grass that can be used for juicing.
Clover – Clover is so prolific, it practically grows itself! These hardy plants can be grown densely and have a sweet flavor and light crisp texture.
Bean, any variety – Bean seeds are large and practically indestructible, and when they sprout, they have a thick and hardy stem. Bean seeds germinate quickly and easily and make for an easy harvest. Bean sprouts are so easy to grow and are hardy therefore they have become the most prolific sprout on the market.
Soy Bean Sprouts
Most Popular Sprouts
after scouring the net, there are some sprouts that get mentioned over and over again. These sprouts are in the spotlight more than any others and must be so for a reason.
Broccoli – Broccoli sprouts are highly popularized for their spicy flavor and delicate crunch. They also pack a wallop of antioxidants, making them very popular among the health community.
Lentil – Lentil sprouts come in many colors and sizes making them a popular variety. They are packed with nutrition and are a well-known legume, no wonder they are so popular.
Mung bean – The mung bean sprout is the most common sprout as they are naturally very hardy, have a distinct flavor, and keep well. You will find mung bean sprouts in most salad bars across health food stores.
Wheat – Wheat sprouts have been highly popularized by the trend of juicing. You can find juice bars that serve wheatgrass shots practically everywhere.
Alfalfa – Alfalfa sprouts are commonly talked about because they goes with any dish. They are mild in flavor and delicate in texture, making it an easy garnish.
Growing Sprouts, step by step
Growing sprouts is by far the easiest vegetable growing experience you could ever have, making it an enjoyable hobby. Experimenting with different seeds, flavors, and textures, you will find the ones that are the easiest to grow and that you personally enjoy the most.
Getting started requires a nominal investment and little space.
Choosing your Sprouts Growing Method
Growing Sprouts Indoors – Although sprouts can be grown outside, this can make the sprouts vulnerable to exposure, inclement weather, pests, and disease. It is advised to take your sprout growing operation indoors.
Sprouting in Soil – Sprouts can be grown in soil and can help with moisture control. This method provides additional nutrients to the sprouts. However, when it comes to harvesting, cleaning up the sprouts will prove difficult, especially for more delicate varieties.
Sprouting in Bag – using a hemp bag for sprouting is a preferred choice for larger seeds like beans. Using a sprout bag is probably the easiest method as you simply dip the bag in water twice a day and hang. Within a week or less you will have sprouts ready to go. The bag is also good for storing finished sprouts.
Sprouts growing in a sack
Growing Sprouts Hydroponically – growing sprouts with the hydroponic method is the cleanest of choices. The sprouts grow without any soil or growing medium and makes for a quick and easy harvest. When sprouting hydroponically, the only things you need are your tray or jar and seeds.
Materials you will need
- Organic seeds special for sprouting. Purchasing seeds that are specific for sprouting are usually tested for disease and are of a high quality.
- Sprout trays. These are specially designed to grow sprouts, are stackable, and provide proper air ventilation to the sprouts.
- Sprout bags. Usually made of hemp and are the preferred choice for growing larger bean sprouts.
- Sprout mason jars. Wide mouth mason jars work the best for air circulation easy access.
- Lids for wide mouth mason jars. You will need a screen lid for the jar so air can circulate and to drain the seeds. You can also use a piece of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band.
Cheesecloth for the top of the sprout growing jar
Step One: Preparation
Soaking seeds – all seeds used for sprouting must be soaked. Sprouts should be soaked in fresh filtered water for a minimum of eight hours to overnight. Seeds can be soaked directly in their tray or jar. Larger seeds will require a longer soak, up to 24 hours. Soak the seeds until they have about doubled in size. Make sure that soaking seeds have good air ventilation.
Once the seeds have been soaked, drain the excess water and rinse the seeds, making sure to remove any floating shells or husks that rise to the surface.
Prepare the container – trays need to be washed thoroughly and dried to avoid any contamination. Jars can be boiled for ten minutes for sterilization, but do not boil plastic lids. Sprout bags can be washed and rinsed with hot water and soap.
Step Two: Sow the seeds
Typically, 2 tablespoons to a quarter cup of seeds is plenty to line your tray or jar. Avoid overcrowding the seeds as this will lead to too much density and improper air circulation.
Spread seeds evenly along bottom of tray or jar, or simply remove excess water if seeds were soaking in their grow containers. Make sure to remove as much excess water as possible to avoid sogginess. For sprout bags, place soaked seeds in bag and drain by hanging.
Step Three: Growing and Maintenance
Sprouts need to be rinsed at least twice a day. Three to five times a day is recommended if you have the time. Make sure to use filtered water when rinsing. For mason jar grows, fill the jar with water, swish around, and empty the jar by turning it over. For trays with drainage holes, simply run water over the sprouts. For bags, fill a bowl with water, soak, and hang dry.
Step Four: Harvest Time!
After about five days, the sprouts are ready to harvest. Empty sprouts into a bowl and fill with filtered water. Swish the sprouts around until the husks and hulls rise to the top and scoop out. Drain the sprouts thoroughly and spread over a paper towel to dry. Done and done!
How to Store Sprouts
Sprouts need some moisture to stay good in the refrigerator. With the proper balance, sprouts can stay good for over a week, as they are still alive but in a suspended state from the cold.
Before refrigerating, make sure your sprouts are mostly dry, as refrigerating wet sprouts will kill them quickly.
Reuse fruit plastic clamshells from the grocery store. Just make sure to clean them thoroughly before transferring your sprouts into them!
Store directly in your growing tray, jar or bag. Clean and dry them after growing the sprouts.
Store in a special produce bag.
If your storage vessel allows for air circulation, you can always add a bit of damp paper towel to keep sprouts moist.
Once you have grown sprouts, you will never buy another box of them from the store again!
Say goodbye to store bought sprouts!
What has been your sprout growing experience? Anything you would like to add? Questions? Go ahead and leave a comment below!
You may find my Vertical Farming Systems Guide interesting, check it out!
– Regina C.