As a kid, I remember standing in the kitchen, watching my dad piling a heap of tangled green sprouts onto his sandwich, telling me how nutritious they were, and how I should eat some, too.
At the time, I wasn’t convinced, but now I know better. Sprouts are a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, easy to digest, and easy to absorb.
Fast forward to a few years later when I asked him why he didn’t eat sprouts anymore. He said there was too much risk of food poisoning to eat sprouts.
But if you look deep into the gourmet veggie aisle, you’ll find little boxes of sprouts just waiting to be devoured. This once-popular superfood has become popular again, and for plenty of great reasons.
There’s no question – these edible little bits of green are a super healthy type of superfood, with lots of vitamins and minerals all wrapped up in an easily-digestible form.
But you don’t have to spend hard-earned cash to snare some, you can easily and inexpensively grow your own.
Careful handling will minimize any risk of foodborne illness, whether you prefer your sprouts raw or cooked. Keep reading to find out how to plant and grow your very own sprouts.
What Exactly Is Sprouting?
Sprouting is the simple process of germinating seeds, grains, nuts, and legumes. The seeds are soaked in water for a short period of time, which allows the outercoat to open, and a young shoot to grow.
It is an easy process that increases the health benefits and bioavailability of the seed’s nutrients.
These shoots contain all of the nutrition that was in the seed or legume, but in a more digestible form, making it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients.
Since they grow quickly, you can have an easily accessible form of healthy greens on your counter at all times.
Benefits of Eating Sprouts
Sprouts are considered a superfood for good reason. They still contain the seed’s nutrition, but in a form that is more easily digested and absorbed by the body.
They have extra fiber, phytonutrients, and vitamins and minerals. Here are a few more benefits that are often attributed to eating sprouts:
- Improved eyesight.
- Improved digestion due to the presence of living enzymes and extra fiber.
- Increased blood circulation.
- Weight loss support.
- Reduction in acidity.
- Good for the heart.
- Sprouts add texture to sandwiches and salads.
- They taste great.
- Sprouts come in a variety of flavors to complement different types of recipes.
Benefits of Growing Your Own Sprouts
While you can purchase all kinds of sprouts in the grocery store, there are many benefits to growing your own sprouts:
- Growing sprouts provide nutrition during the non-growing season. Because sprouts do not require a lot of sunlight, you can grow them year-round in your kitchen.
- Growing sprouts gives you easy access to local healthy food. Although you can always purchase produce at the grocery store, you can’t always purchase local food that is out of season. If eating locally is something that is important to you, you may want to consider growing your own sprouts. You can get locally grown, nutritious greens without the grocery store by growing your own sprouts right in your kitchen.
- Growing sprouts is inexpensive. Gourmet, organic sprouts can be rather pricey to purchase, especially if you eat them frequently. But growing your own sprouts is very inexpensive and requires very little work. You need just a few supplies and the start-up expenses to grow your own sprouts are minimal. This could mean a great health return on your initial investment.
- Growing sprouts is easy. In fact, it is a great way to get started with gardening or to get your children interested in growing their own food. It takes very little work to grow sprouts, and since the growing time is so short, it is hard to mess up if you follow the directions.
- They take up very little space, and many commercially sold sprout kits are stacked vertically to take up even less counter space. Even if you don’t have room for a full garden, you can probably find a tiny little spot on your kitchen counter to grow some sprouts.
- Growing sprouts is good for animals, too. If you have a farm or even just a few pet chickens, you can grow sprouts for them, too. It will provide them extra nutrition, especially in the cold winter months when vegetation is scarce.
Potential Danger of Eating Sprouts
If you are worried about the safety of sprouts, then you should be aware that there is a link between eating raw or only lightly cooked sprouts and food borne illnesses, such as E. Coli and Salmonella.
This is because sprouts are grown in conditions that are warm and humid, and because they are generally eaten raw, or only lightly cooked.
If you are at risk for complications from food-borne pathogens, such as pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, or young children, you should talk to your doctor before consuming sprouts and make sure that it is OK for you and for your health.
But do keep in mind that there are a few steps you can take to minimize any potential risk of foodborne illness.
You can reduce your risk of food-born illness from eating sprouts by:
- Washing your hands before handling your sprouts or sprouting equipment to prevent introducing bad bacteria into the growing environment.
- Keep your sprouts in the refrigerator to slow the growth of bacteria.
- Don’t eat sprouts that have an odor or appear slimy or off-colored. Simply throw them away and start over with clean containers and fresh seeds.
- Sterilize your sprouting equipment before and after each use.
- Use seeds specifically grown for sprouting.
Varieties of Sprouts
There are many varieties of sprouts to choose from. Many grains, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and legumes make wonderful tasting, nutritious choices for sprouts.
However, when you choose your seeds for sprouting, always choose seeds that were meant to be grown as sprouts.
Seeds that are not marketed for sprouting may be coated with fertilizers, may not be cleaned appropriately, and may not germinate correctly for sprouting.
Seeds that have been marketed and sold specifically as sprouting seeds are more likely to give you the results you are looking for.
There are so many different varieties of sprouts to choose from. You are sure to find one that you enjoy if you have a little patience and try a few different kinds. Try some of these delicious sprout varieties:
- Alfalfa Sprouts. Alfalfa sprouts are probably the most commonly sprouted seeds. They have a crunchy, nutty flavor that is very mild. They are typically consumed raw because their delicate makeup does not hold up to cooking. Put them on sandwiches and in salads.
- Beet Sprouts. Beet sprouts have a sweet, earthy flavor with red stems and bright green leaves. They add a striking contrast to sandwiches and salads and make a pretty, edible garnish, as well.
- Broccoli Sprouts. Broccoli sprouts don’t taste like broccoli, but they do have a nutty, spicy flavor.
- Fenugreek Sprouts. This interesting sprout has a bitter flavor and is believed to relieve an upset stomach.
- Green Pea Sprouts. These mild sprouts are great on sandwiches and have a sweet taste.
- Lentil Sprouts. These sprouts are crunchy, nutty, and come in various colors.
- Mung Bean Sprouts. These juicy sprouts work great in stir fries and are the most common bean to be sprouted.
- Mustard Sprouts. Mustard sprouts are both spicy and earthy and add a great kick to your salads and sandwiches.
- Red Clover Sprouts. Red clover sprouts are very mild but crunchy and mix well with most flavors.
- Radish Sprouts. Radish sprouts have a mild radish flavor and make a pretty garnish.
- Spelt Sprouts. When sprouted, this grain has a chewy texture and a light, sweet flavor.
- Sunflower Sprouts. These sweet and nutty sprouts work well in almost any dish, including smoothies.
- Wheatgrass Sprouts. Fresh wheatgrass sprouts are often juiced. The grassy, sweet juice is easily digested by the body and offers a burst of energy.
- Kale Sprouts
- Wheat Sprouts
You can also sprout most nuts, except for pecans and walnuts, which do not sprout. Most grains and beans can also be sprouted, however, some would consider that kidney beans are not safe to sprout.
Where to Buy Sprouting Seeds
When you sprout your seeds, you want to make sure that you are using seeds that were specifically labeled as sprouting seeds, and preferably, organic. You can easily purchase your sprouting seeds online at a number of places:
- Sproutpeople.org. Sprout People offers seeds, tools, sprouters, and more to help you have the best sprouting experience possible.
- Migardener.com. Migardener offers a pack of sprouting seeds for just ninetynine cents, perfect for anyone wanting to try their hand at sprouting without making a big investment.
- Johnnyseeds.com. Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers a large variety of organic sprouting seeds to choose from.
- Mountainroseherbs.com. Mountain Rose Herbs sells their own unique sprouting blends.
Best Containers for Growing Sprouts
The first thing you’ll need for growing sprouts is a container. You can use something you have on hand, such as a mason jar or even a casserole dish. Just be sure it is a food-safe container that you can sterilize.
If you don’t have anything on hand to grow your sprouts in, you can purchase a commercially-made, multi-tiered container for your sprouts, such as this one.
No matter what kind of container you use, you’ll want to use one that is clean and sterilized and has a little airflow at the top.
You need to be able to quickly and easily rinse and drain your seeds and sprouts twice a day without accidentally rinsing them down the drain. Once you have the right container, you can get started with sprouting your seeds.
Basic Seed Sprouting Method
The basic seed sprouting method is the same no matter what type of container you use.
After your container is cleaned and sterilized, wash your hands to make sure you don’t transfer any bacteria into them.
Choose your seeds. For small seeds, use a couple of tablespoons of seeds in a one quart mason jar. For larger seeds, use up to a cup.
You’ll want to use roughly 3 times the amount of water to the amount of seed you use when you soak the seeds for the first time.
For a detailed chart on how much seed to use when sprouting, check out what Cassie Johnston has to say.
Pour your seeds into your sprouting container, rinse them well, and then cover them with water again. Allow them to soak overnight. In the morning, rinse and drain them. You’ll want to rinse and drain your sprouts at least twice a day.
Most sprouts will be ready to eat in 3 to 7 days.
Rinse your sprouts thoroughly before you eat them. To preserve sprouts in the refrigerator, rinse and then pat them dry with a paper towel. Store them in an airtight container.
Keep reading for more specific directions on how to sprout in different types of containers.
How to Grow Sprouts in a Mason Jar
Mason jars make some of the best containers for growing sprouts. They are inexpensive (and often free) and readily available.
Mason jars are easy to clean and sterilize, as well. Mason jars can be sterilized by boiling for ten minutes. Allow the jars to cool completely before using them for sprouts.
HGTV has an easy-to-follow video on how to grow sprouts in mason jars using a mason jar, a metal rim, and a piece of plastic needlework canvas:
The directions are simple:
- Using the metal lid as a guide, cut out a circle from a piece of plastic needlework canvas.
- Add a tablespoon of sprouting seeds to each jar you plan to use. HGTV used Alfalfa, Radish, and Lentil seeds.
- Put the plastic needlework canvas on top of the jar and secure it with the metal rim.
- Soak your sprouting seeds for 12 hours.
- Keep the jars in a warm spot, but out of direct sunlight.
- Rinse the seed thoroughly, twice each day.
- Once your seeds have sprouted, you can keep them in the fridge for up to a week.
You may want to consider if the plastic needlework canvas is food safe. If this is a concern, you can get special sprouting lids for your mason jars on Amazon.
If you prefer, you can use cheesecloth or a coffee filter with a rubber band to cover the opening instead.
The cheesecloth will keep the seeds from falling out of the jar when you rinse them, and keep dirt and particulates out when your seeds are sprouting. Make sure your cheesecloth is clean before you use it.
How to Create Your Own Sprouting Trays
Here’s a video with instructions on how to create your own sprouting trays out of two plastic containers:
If you’d just like to read them, here they are below:
- Use a heated ice pick to poke holes in the bottom of her 1 gallon food-safe plastic container.
- Cut a large hole in the lid of her container, leaving about two inches all the way around.
They made several of these containers so that she could stack them several highs in order to grow more sprouts in a small space.
Make sure to keep one container without holes under the bottom container to catch any drips.
- Sanitize both containers with vinegar, and rinse them thoroughly.
- Rinsed the mung beans, and put them in the bottom of the containers. Do this twice a day, allowing the excess water to drain out of the holes in the bottom.
- In 6 days, the sprouted beans were ready to be washed and eaten.
How to Grow Sprouts in a Seed Sprouter
These are very simple and quick to use:
- Wash your seed sprouter and rinse it well.
- Rinse and then soak your seeds or beans overnight in lukewarm water.
- Spread them in a thin layer across the bottom of each sprouting level. The bottom level is to catch extra water, stack the levels containing seeds on top.
- Rinse the seeds twice a day, allowing the water to run through and restack.
- Keep your sprouter in a warm spot that is not in direct sunlight.
- Your sprouts should be ready in two to six days, depending on the variety.
If you’re not sure how to use sprouts in your cooking, you may want to check out a few of these delicious recipes. Make them as-is or use them for fresh ideas to come up with your own great sprout recipes.
- Bean Sprout Salad. This is a light and fresh salad recipe that works great as a side dish in the summer.
- Chicken and Bean Sprouts StirFry. Use mung beans for this easy, delicious recipe served over rice.
- Candied Sprouted Nuts and Seeds. For a delicious swap for holiday candy, try this healthier version of a candied sprouted nut and seed recipe.
- Sprouted Almond Butter. Love almond butter? Now you can make your own sprouted almond butter.
- Sprouted Grain Bread. Make your bread more nutritious by baking it with sprouted grains, instead.
- Vietnamese Pancakes. This delicious dish is made with rice flour, chicken, shrimp, and sprouts.
Difference Between Sprouts and Microgreens
Microgreens and sprouts are two very different things. Sprouts are technically germinated seeds. The process of growing sprouts is different than the process of growing microgreens.
Specifically, sprouts are grown in water without the use of soil. They need to be rinsed several times a day and are typically crunchy and mild flavored.
Microgreens, on the other hand, are grown in soil or peat moss and are eaten after the first two baby leaves appear, known as cotyledon, or when the first true leaves appear.
You can usually eat the leaves and stems, and they take a little longer to grow out than sprouts.
Microgreens are generally grown in flat trays of soil that can’t be stacked because they need more light than sprouts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Like any vegetable, the fresher you eat sprouts, the better they are for you and the lower your risk of foodborne illnesses.
For the best-tasting, most nutritious sprouts, eat them within a week of refrigeration.
However, if they are handled properly and stored correctly in the fridge, your sprouts should be able to last anywhere from two to six weeks. Always make sure they are still good before you consume them.
Sprouts can be frozen for future use, however, the texture will not be the same. The sprouts will lose their crunch, and may actually be mushy in comparison to fresh sprouts, but they are still edible.
Sprouts are usually consumed raw. However, there is a risk of illness due to the conditions in which sprouts need to grow.
The warm, wet environment that causes sprouts to, well, sprout, can harbor bacteria that can make you sick.
You can lightly cook your sprouts to reduce this risk, although some sprouts do not hold up well to cooking.
Sprouts don’t have any specific lighting requirements. Keeping them on your kitchen counter, where they will receive a little bit of regular ambient light, is just fine for them. There’s no need to worry about providing them with any special light at all.