SPROUTS: the little big miracle that happens in the kitchen
If we had to thank nature for just one food, choosing the sprouts would not be wrong. Findings dating back 5,000 years show that ‘plant embryos’ were prescribed and used by doctors in Ancient Chinese Medicine to treat diseases. And even today mankind still preserves and uses this inherited knowledge; the growing interest in a healthy life and healthy foods has meant that sprouts were an integral part of the diet of many Westerners. Believed to be functional and therapeutic foods, shoots are not only more alive than any other food, but can contain almost 30 times more nutrients than the plants themselves(1). They are rich in enzymes, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids and bio active substances. They are also delicious; the different seeds offer many different flavors and can be used in salads from raw, or cooked in soups, plant-based burgers/balls, rice or vegetable wok. What’s more, by following my advice, you can produce them directly at home; this means that they are very cheap food solutions, but especially at zero km and without any plastic or additives or anything else, therefore very sustainable: in practice a moral slap, to those who claim that healthy food is a luxury reserved for the wealthy. With such premises, I imagine you would like to consume a ton of it… wrong. As they are concentrates, you shouldn’t exceed their consumption. Remember, the favorite word of CHE is moderation.
But what are these sprouts?
In recent years, they are often mentioned because of their surprising properties, so many of us buy and/or grow them periodically. For others, however, the sprouts still maintain their mysterious status. If you belong to the second group, I’ll give you some clues, sure to make you exclaim Eureka! Most probably, without knowing it, you have already made their acquaintance; for example in a Chinese restaurant, in some rice or meat dishes. If the answer is still no, maybe you have at least met some “strange white creatures”, with elongated shapes, with a yellowish thumbtack coming out from one end, for sale on supermarket shelves. If you don’t even visit supermarkets, (last chance), have you ever found some forgotten potatoes in your pantry? Yes, I’m talking about those strange growings on the surface… Those are the sprouts: but don’t even dream of eating them. The object of our topic today, are the sprouts that do good, not the ones that kill. Back to our game, I’ll give you the name of a sprout, which not even the most experienced sprout growers pay attention to: Brussels sprouts! They grow on the plant, but in reality they are the shoots – axillary – of a kind of big cabbage, the Brassica, which belongs to the family of cruciferous. Having revealed the identity of the sprout, I would like to share with you the process of sprouting the seeds at your home, very easily.
How does it sprout between the domestic walls?
There are various methods to grow the sprouts. I will tell you about the most homemade one, which you could make with the tools you already have at home. Until a decade or so ago, germinating process seemed to me a very complex job, and since I never liked complicated things, I never considered self-production. What’s more, being on a boat, where I live most of the year, and where fresh water is always scarce, I didn’t think it was right to save water on every daily activity, and then do frequent rinses to wash the shoots. Furthermore, I thought I needed a sprouter, which is not stable but bulky, so I had totally discarded the idea of DIY. But thanks to my dear friend Barbara, who also gave me the first seeds, alpha alpha seeds to be precise, I learned how to make them germinate without the need for a sprouter. Since that day, as the process was not so complicated, and the required water could be recycled for other purposes, I never stopped growing sprouts: wherever I am, in my boat or at home, I have bowls or jars, full of some seeds waiting to germinate.
If I have infected you with the desire to see this little miracle (your children will be enchanted by it), know that you can use almost all the existing seeds: I recommend, however, stay away from those of solanaceae, such as tomatoes and potatoes, which contain toxic alkaloids(2). Beyond these risks, pay attention to buckwheat shoots: if you abuse them, due to a substance called phagopyrin, naturally present in the seeds, they cause a sort of photo sensitivity of the skin; for example, since I am often in contact with the sun, to avoid any risk, I never use them. But apart from the above indications, you could potentially sprout almost everything: oil seeds like sunflower seeds; or cereals (barley), legumes like lentils; but also vegetables (broccoli) and even spices like coriander. Now let’s take a closer look at the miracle.
What happens during sprouting?
During sprouting, the seed begins to undergo changes in its physical and biochemical composition. The quality of proteins and fibers increases, the content of vitamins and fatty acids grows, mineral salts such as magnesium and calcium bind to proteins, increasing their bio availability. At this point the plant, in order to create new tissues, draws on its own protein deposit, thus reducing the percentage of protein present in the shoot itself. But it is a “false” loss, as it is compensated by the increase in their bio availability. The uniqueness of containing enzymes, increases up to 100 times compared to those contained in the vegetables we buy; consequently their consumption allows us to assimilate many more vitamins and minerals, together with amino acids and essential fatty acids, from the foods that make up our diet(3). This modification becomes a determining factor when we talk about the anti-nutrients present in legumes. With the soaking process, the concentration of water-soluble anti nutrients is significantly reduced; during the sprouting process, with the increasing enzymatic activity, the level of phytase present also increases, which causes the degeneration and elimination of unwanted phytate residues(4). It is a revolutionary fact for those who have had to keep away from legumes, for fear of anti-nutrients. But in addition to this, the concentration of vitamin A, vitamins B, C and E, receive a sensational upsurge, multiplying even 20 times more than what the seeds themselves can contain. Last but not least, with their taste, crunchiness and heart soothing look, they manage to touch all and every note of our senses. Ready for the experiment?
You will need a few essentials:
the seeds you want to use
a big-mouthed glass jar
a rectangular container (to be used to keep your jar balanced when upside down, slightly inclined)
an elastic band
a narrow-mesh sieve
water for soaking and washing
The quantity is a personal question: I don’t have any problem to keep a jar upside down in the kitchen, as soon as I sprout a group of them, I start the process for the next ones. That means 2 small coffee cups of very big seeds like chickpeas and beans; or 1 small coffee cup of big seeds like lentils and mung beans; or 2-3 teaspoon of small seeds like alpha alpha. My favorites? Broccoli seeds, mung beans and alpha alpha beans.
The procedure is similar for all seeds; the only thing that can vary is the germination time and whether or not to use light.
The first thing to do is a careful visual check. Place the seeds inside a white tray. Remove the ugly, bruised ones and impurities. Then put the seeds into a jar and wash them under running water several times until the drain water is clear. Then leave the seeds to soak with a level of water higher than about 3-4 fingers; close the opening of the jar with a gauze applied to the neck with an elastic band, and let the shoots grow in peace and soak for about 12 hours in the dark.
The presence or absence of light has its own importance, as it influences the organoleptic characteristics and in particular the growth time. Auxin – a natural plant growth regulator – is produced much more in the dark, being damaged by sunlight or artificial light. In Japan, for example, deserved importance is given to whether or not sunlight is used during sprouting: in fact, shoots are sold precisely by indicating whether they have been “bred” in the dark, in natural or artificial light. Each of these methods changes the final product, depending on the type of consumption: raw or cooked. The legumes, but in particular the mung beans, in addition to growing much faster, give a much better organoleptic result if left to germinate in the dark; not only during the soaking period, but during all the time necessary for growth. The lack of sunlight prevents, to a large extent, the generation of cellulose, which is responsible for the loss of liquids and, in particular, affects the crunchiness.
Once you have concluded the first step (soaking), turn the jar upside down on the sink to remove the water, and then leave the jar always upside down but inclined on the rectangular container. You should rotate it from time to time during sprouting, in this way the seeds will not get crushed and as much water will come out as possible. The duration of this phase changes from seed to seed: for seeds that I use frequently, I rinse every 4-8 hours for a total of 3-5 days; this gap derives from differences in room temperature (lower temperatures require longer periods).
Even if after 48 hours you should already see the shoot peep out, you should wait a few more days. There is no precise rule, but personally I prefer them to be at least 4 centimeters long: this certainly means continuing with the procedure of rinsing and drying. When they become long enough, I put them on a large tray, lined with a clean, dry kitchen towel and expose them to indirect sunlight for a few hours, so that the buds may grow: they contain chlorophyll, which has a much appreciated antioxidant property, as well as it is wonderful to see them coming out each time. Beware: the sprouts must be thoroughly dry, before placing them in a container to keep in the fridge, as the risk of mold proliferation is just around the corner. If kept properly dry, they can be stored in the fridge for about a week and, hear ye hear ye, they will keep growing there as well.
Sometimes even if you have followed the instructions properly, it may happen that the shoots don’t show up. To avoid the risk, you could opt for organic seeds. However, even organic products do not guarantee 100% success. In fact, it happens that one pack of a certain brand is fruitful and another one is not. Frequently the failure is due to the fact that the seeds have been treated with chemical agents or, even worse, irradiated to extend shelf life. This is an important detail, through which you will be able to identify the brands to be removed from the shopping list forever. Which ones do I buy? Legumes and cereals that come from good agricultural practices, and not necessarily organic. I thought it was correct to warn you about possible problems, but according to my direct experience, except once, I have never had complications
If do-it-yourself seems very strenuous, don’t rely on the ready-made ones. The known brands, easily traceable and certainly safe from the hygienic point of view, unfortunately, however, in addition to being very expensive, they do not guarantee that the sprouts have had a correct conservation treatment: the risk of mold is very high; they are super food but highly moist(5). For those who want to save money, here is a last piece of advice from the HACCP consultant in me: never buy second-rate brands, let alone those produced by ethnic shops without proper labeling; if the hygienic conditions of the plant were below standard, the shoots purchased could contain, in addition to all the desired nutrients, also dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella and Escherichia Coli(6). This seems to me another good reason to try to make them at home: cheaper, healthy and ethical.
Enjoy your sprouts and good revolution to everyone
(1) Fonte: H. Zielinski, J. Frias, M.K. Piskula, H. Kozlowska, C. Vidal-Valverde, Vitamin B1 and B2 dietary fiber and minerals content of Crucifera sprouts, European Food Research and Technology, 221 (2005) 78-63.
(2) Fonte: Donald G. Barceloux (June 2009). “Potatoes, Tomatoes, and Solanine Toxicity (Solanum tuberosum L., Solanum lycopersicum L.)”. Disease-a-Month. 55: 391–402. doi:10.1016/j.disamonth.2009.03.009. PMID 19446683.
(3) Fonte: Basic Report: n. 11029, Beans, kidney, mature seeds, sprouted, raw https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods
(4) Fonte:S. Mbithi-Mwikya, J. Van Camp, Y. Yiru, A. Huyghebaert, Nutrient and
antinutrient changes in finger millet (Eleusine coracan) during sprouting,
Lebensm. Wiss. Technol., 33 (2000) 9-14.
(5) Fonte:C. Martinez-Villaluenga, J. Frias, P. Gulewicz, K. Gulewisz, C. VidalValverde, Food safety evaluation of broccoli and radish sprouts, Food and chemical Toxicology, 46 (2008)1635-1644
(6) Fonte: Neuman, William (10 June 2011). “The Poster Plant of Health Food Can Pack Disease Risks”. New York Times. Retrieved 11 June 2011
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