Every year by the end of February the urge to eat something, anything, fresh and green starts. Lettuce from the store just isn’t the same as from the garden, not to mention the cardboard tomatoes. We are extremely happy that we still have a stash of dehydrated tomatoes to get us through the rest of winter since it is just too cold in Manitoba to start gardening. Or is it?
It is too early to plant a real garden but growing some sprouts can satisfy some cravings. If the satisfaction of being able to eat something fresh and green isn’t enough to try sprouting there are many more healthy reasons to give home sprouting a try.
In the life of a plant, sprouting is a moment of great vitality and energy. Sprouting magnifies the nutritional value of the seed. It boosts the B-vitamin content (especially B2, B5 and B6), triples the amount of vitamin A and increases vitamin C by a factor of five to six times. Starches are converted to simple sugars, making sprouts very easily digestible. Carotene increases, sometimes eightfold. More importantly, sprouting grains neutralizes phytic acid, a substance present in the bran of all grains that inhibits absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc; sprouting of seeds neutralizes enzyme inhibitors that are present in all seeds. These inhibitors can neutralize our own enzymes in the digestive tract. Complex sugars responsible for intestinal gas in starchy seeds such as beans are broken down during sprouting so they are more easily tolerated. Sprouting inactivates aflatoxins, potent carcinogens found in some grains, plus numerous enzymes that help in digestion are produced during the germination process.
Sprouts are rinsed two to four times a day, depending on the climate and the type of seed, to provide them with moisture and prevent them from souring. Each seed has its own ideal sprouting time. After three to five days the sprouts will have grown to five to eight centimetres (two to three inches) in length and will be suitable for consumption. If left longer they will begin to develop leaves, and are then known as baby greens. A popular baby green is sunflower after seven to 10 days. Refrigeration can be used as needed to slow or halt the growth process of any sprout.
For me, it isn’t just about eating the sprouts all fresh and crunchy. I thoroughly enjoy the excitement of waiting and watching as the little roots burst out of the seeds and quickly become little edible morsels of delicious greenness. Just about any seed can be used to make sprouts. One word of caution about alfalfa — this seed has higher-than-usual amounts of an amino acid called canavanine, and some research studies have associated canavanine with worsening of inflammatory conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus. Individuals with chronic inflammatory conditions, including autoimmune conditions, may want to avoid alfalfa sprouts for this reason.
The most important thing to ensure is that they have not been treated with any chemicals. We get our certified organic wheat and certified organic spelt for sprouting from Gerry and Marie DeRuyck in Notre Dame, Man. 1-204-836-2755. Their grain is not only fantastic for sprouting, it can also be used for making flours if desired. There are lots of sprouting kits online but specialized equipment isn’t really necessary.
Grain or seeds
Fill a mason jar one-third full with any grain or seed. We use a canning jar that the tea strainer securely fits over the mouth of. Secure the tea strainer with elastic bands. Rinse a couple times, then fill the jar three-quarters full with pure water, room temperature, and soak six to eight hours or overnight. Drain soaking water. Rinse two or three times in cool water. Invert jar and prop at angle in sink or bowl to drain and to allow air circulation. Rinse two or three times twice a day in cool water. Ideal sprouting temp is 55 F to 70 F so the room temperature of the average house is perfect. In one to four days the sprouts will be ready. Rinse well, shake out excess moisture, and place a breathable cover on jar. Store the sprouts in the refrigerator.
Sprouts are enjoyable on their own or as a garnish. Beans and lentils are much easier to digest now, but should be cooked before consumption. We have noted they cook much faster after sprouting. We also enjoy them as crackers. We have had very good luck sprouting Suraj brand fenugreek seeds from the ethnic aisle in SuperStore.
Sprouted Grain Crackers (Nourishing Traditions)
3 c. sprouted soft wheat berries
1/2 c. sprouted small seeds such as sesame, onion, poppy or fenugreek
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. dried dill, thyme or rosemary
Place all ingredients in food processor and process several minutes to form a smooth paste. Form into balls and roll into rounds on a pastry cloth, using unbleached white flour to prevent sticking. Place on a buttered cookie sheet and leave in a 150 F oven (or a dehydrator) until completely dry and crisp. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Before long we will be able to plant cool-season vegetables in cold frames but till then the sprouts should keep us going. I definitely have sympathy for the cows when it gets to late winter and they just don’t feel like eating hay anymore. Good luck with sprouting and if interested there will be more pictures posted at www.chikousky farms.com as time permits. †