You may have seen them in a health food store or a gourmet restaurant, looking like loose tangles of little pale threads with tiny unopened peas at the top. You may even have tasted them and decided “not bad”, because of their fresh, lively taste and texture. But have you ever tried making your very own sprouts? Here’s your easy, go-to guide to soaking and sprouting grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
I clearly remember the first time I decided to grow my own sprouts. I was at a college, transitioning to a plant-based diet, and on a tight budget. Sprouting seemed ideal because it provided a lot of nutrition for a low price. So, I bought some alfalfa sprouting seeds and broccoli sprouting seeds (because they were the most readily available), a jar with a sprouting lid, and began to grow my own sprouts.
I always remind my mom how she doubted me when she saw my sprouting jars on the kitchen counter. You see, before I found my passion for sprouting, I’d never been able to keep a plant alive for more than a few months. But sprouting was different. It was something so simple as seeing the little green leaf pop out of the seed that got me really excited.
I’ve been sprouting for almost ten years now. I still grow alfalfa sprouts and broccoli sprouts, but have also branched out into sprouting a variety of beans, grains, and seeds. Why? Because there are so many health benefits that come with the sprout.
What Are Sprouts
While there’s no standard definition, sprouts are essentially seeds in a transition phase to a new plant. At just the right time, temperature and moisture level, the seeds begin to sprout, growing into a new plant. The seeds can come from any plant-based food including vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds.
When you think of seeds, you probably think of sunflower, pumpkin, and flax seeds. But grains, legumes, and nuts qualify as well. All of these seeds, with a few exception (see the sprouting chart for more information), can be sprouted.
Do you need special sprouting seeds to grow sprouts? Technically, no. I often pick up a bag of raw organic chickpeas or mung beans from my local health food store, and they sprout just fine. (It’s imperative that you choose organically-grown ingredients as conventionally grown seeds are often irradiated, making them difficult, or even impossible to germinate).
There are two reasons why you might want to buy sprouting seeds though. First of all, sprouting seeds are all tested and verified to be free of harmful bacteria and pathogens, such as e.coli and salmonella. Sprouting seeds providers make sure their seeds are very clean because they know that any bacteria and pathogens thrive in the sprouting environment. The chickpeas you buy at a regular grocery store? Those are meant to be boiled at high heat to kill any pathogens.
Benefits of Sprouting
Sprouts are one of the easiest foods you can grow at home. They don’t require almost any space (if you can fit a mason jar on your counter, then you have enough space). You don’t need any special equipment (a mason jar and a piece of cheesecloth is all you need). They grow easily and quickly in any climate and don’t rely on soil or sun (all they need is moisture and air). You can harvest them within a few days. And as if that wasn’t enough, you don’t even have to cook them.
More importantly though, sprouting offers many health benefits.
Sprouts contain an unusually high number of enzymes. It is estimated that there are up to 100 times more beneficial enzymes in sprouts than in raw vegetables! These enzymes help boost various metabolic processes and chemical reactions within the body, specifically when it comes to digestion.
If you’ve ever had troubles digesting a particular grain or legume, I highly recommend trying it sprouted before writing it off all together. You might be pleasantly surprised that sprouted beans or sprouted grains don’t bother your body.
Lower Anti-Nutrient Content
Anti-nutrients are naturally occurring compounds that interfere with the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients within the plants. The most common anti-nutrients include phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors, lectins, saponins, and polyphenols.
Sprouting helps drastically cut down on the levels of these anti-nutrients and improve nutrient absorption. (1) In fact, soaking and sprouting for even one day can reduce the anti-nutrient content by 90% or more.
Sprouts are also an excellent source of enzyme inducers that protect against chemical carcinogens. (2)
Increased Nutritional Value
There aren’t a lot of studies on sprouted foods, but the ones that exist seem to support the idea that sprouts pack an extra nutritional punch. With sprouts you get a higher vitamin content (anywhere from 3 to 12 times!), increased essential fatty acid and fiber content, and increased bio-availability of minerals and protein.
Many of the benefits of sprouts relate to the fact that, in their initial phase of growth, the plants contain more concentrated amounts of nutrients. As a result, you need to eat far less sprouts, in terms of amount, compared to a mature plant.
How to Grow Sprouts
There are countless resources on this topic online, and even whole books written about sprouting, so I am presenting you with a very simple, yet rather foolproof technique.
How to Sprout Grains, Legumes, Nuts & Seeds
I think the reason most people don’t sprout is because it sounds so intimidating. But let me tell you – it’s really not that hard at all. I know that we are all busy people, but sprouting does not take much time, and will give you much in return.
Here’s my step-by-step sprouting process (adapted from Nourishing Traditions):
- Soak – place the raw unsprouted seeds into a sterilized large mason jar and cover them with 2-3 times the amount of pure and filtered water (e.g. 1 cup seeds : 2-3 cups water). Skim off any seeds that are floating. Let the seeds soak for the given time (refer to the chart below). You can leave the jar open (that’s what I normally do) or cover it with a sprout lid or a piece of cheesecloth.
- Drain and rinse – if you don’t have a sprouting lid, put a piece of cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar and secure it with a rubber band. Drain the seeds, letting all the water run out. Run cool water through the sprouting lid/cheesecloth, swish the seeds around and drain. Repeat, then set the jar in a bowl or on your dish rack at a 45° angle so that any remaining water can drain out, but air can easily get in. The seeds don’t need sunshine, but they do need to be able to breath. I usually keep my mason jars on a kitchen counter with indirect sunlight.
- Sprout – keep rinsing the seeds with pure and filtered water several times a day. The goal is to rinse the seeds and drain the rest of the water off.
- Grow – when the seeds begin to sprout, you’ll notice a tiny “tail” coming out of the seed. The tail should be at least the length of the seed itself. If it’s not quite there yet, continue with the rinsing and draining process until it is. Some seeds take up to 5 days.
- Store – chances are that you won’t it all your sprouts right away. If that’s the case, let the sprouts drain for at least 8 hours after their last rinse (wet sprouts spoil quickly!). Then line a glass container with a clean kitchen towel (or a few pieces of paper towel), put the air-dried sprouts in, wrap them up, and then close the container. If stored properly, the sprouts will last for about a week.
How to Sprout Mucilaginous Seeds
- Prep – soak a terracotta dish in water for a few minutes to moisten it. Place the terracotta dish into a glass baking dish filled with 1/4″ filtered water so the terracotta dish keeps absorbing water.
- Soak – sprinkle the seeds in a single layer into the terracotta dish (there should be space between seeds to allow them to spread while growing). Lightly spritz the seeds to moisten them thoroughly. There should be no standing water in the terracotta dish so your seeds don’t turn into gel.
- Sprout – cover the glass dish with a lid to trap in moisture. (This will keep you from spritzing every day. I don’t typically have to add any additional water or spritz the seeds after this initial watering).
- Grow – when the seeds begin to sprout, you’ll notice a tiny “tail” coming out of the seed. The tail should be at least the length of the seed itself. If it’s not quite there yet, continue with the rinsing and draining process until it is. Mucilaginous seeds can take up to 7 days.
- Store – if you don’t eat all your sprouts right away, keep them in the fridge.
Rinse / Drain
|Amaranth||20-30 minutes||2-3 times/day||2-4 days|
|Barley||6-12 hours||2 times/day||2-3 days|
|Black Rice||9 hours||2 times/day||3-5 days|
|Brown Rice||4-24 hours||2 times/day||2-4 days|
|Buckwheat Groats||30 minutes||2-3 times/day||1-3 days|
|Corn||8-12 hours||2 times/day||3-4 days|
|Kamut||6-12 hours||2 times/day||2-3 days|
|Millet||6-10 hours||2 times/day||1-3 days|
|Oat Groats||0.5-1 hour||2 times/day||1-3 days|
|Quinoa||20-30 minuts||2-3 times/day||1-3 days|
|Rye||6-12 hours||2 times/day||2-3 days|
|Wheat Berries||6-12 hours||2 times/day||2-3 days|
|Wild Rice||4-24 hours||2 times/day||2-4 days|
Rinse / Drain
|Adzuki Beans||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||5-6 days|
|Alfalfa||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-4 days|
|Black (Beluga) Lentils||7 hours||2-3 times/day||2-3 days|
|Black Turtle Beans||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-4 days|
|Black Eyed Peas||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-4 days|
|Brown Lentils||7 hours||2-3 times/day||2-3 days|
|Cannellini Beans||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-4 days|
|Chickpeas||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-4 days|
|Great Northern Beans||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-4 days|
|Green Lentils||7 hours||2-3 times/day||2-3 days|
|Green Peas||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-3 days|
|Kidney Beans*||8-12 hours||—||—|
|Mung Beans||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-5 days|
|Navy Beans||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-4 days|
|Peanuts||4-12 hours||2 times/day||2-4 days|
|Red Clover||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||5-6 days|
|Red Lentils||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-3 days|
|Soy Beans||2-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-6 days|
|Yellow Peas||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-3 days|
Nuts & Seeds
Rinse / Drain
|Almonds||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||2-3 days|
|Brazil Nuts||3 hours||—||no sprouting|
|Cashews||2-4 hours||—||no sprouting|
|Chia Seeds**||—||—||4-6 days|
|Flax Seeds**||—||—||4-6 days|
|Hazelnuts||8 hours||—||no sprouting|
|Hemp Seeds||4-12 hours||2-3 times/day||3-6 days|
|Macadamia Nuts||2 hours||—||no sprouting|
|Pecans||6 hours||—||no sprouting|
|Pistachios||8 hours||—||no sprouting|
|Pumpkin Seeds||8 hours||2-3 times/day||1-2 days|
|Sesame Seeds||8 hours||2-3 times/day||1-2 days|
|Sunflower Seeds||8 hours||2-3 times/day||2-3 days|
|Walnuts||4 hours||—||no sprouting|
Rinse / Drain
|Broccoli||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||3-6 days|
|Cabbage||6-12 hours||2-3 times/day||3-6 days|
|Fenugreek||6-12 hours||2-3 times/day||4-6 days|
|Garlic||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||10-14 days|
|Kale||6-12 hours||2-3 times/day||3-6 days|
|Kohlrabi||6-12 hours||2-3 times/day||5-7 days|
|Mustard||6-12 hours||2-3 times/day||3-6 days|
|Onion||8-12 hours||2-3 times/day||10-15 days|
|Pea Shots||8-12 hours||2 times/day (plant on day 2)||10-14 days|
|Radish||6-12 hours||2-3 times/day||3-6 days|
|Tatsoi||no||no (plant on day 1)||5-14 days|
*Kidney beans contain a toxic lectin called phytohaemagglutinin once they sprout. They can be soaked, but shouldn’t be sprouted.
**Chia seeds and flax seeds are mucilaginous seeds, which are a bit more difficult to sprout. These seeds absorb water and take on a gel-like texture during the process of sprouting. This is normal and results in sprouts within a few days.
How to Use Sprouts
Sprouts can be eaten raw, cooked, or dehydrated. Sprouts that are eaten raw or cooked are referred to as “wet sprouts”; dehydrated sprouts are referred to as “dry sprouts”.
Raw Sprouts & Cooked Sprouts
- Grains – I don’t normally eat (wet) sprouted grains in their raw state. My favorite way to prepare them is to either cook them into a porridge (buckwheat or oat groats make an incredible porridge) or serve them as a side dish (my go-to grains for a side dish are brown rice and quinoa).
- Legumes – I always cook sprouted legumes and use them the same as unsprouted legumes – sprouted hummus, sprouted dal, sprouted chili . . . you name it.
- Nuts and seeds – sprouted nuts and/or seeds are an excellent snack. If I’m making a snack for my daughter, I usually mix sprouted nuts with some dried fruit and make a trail mix out of them.
- Vegetables – whenever possible, I top my salads and sandwiches with some broccoli sprouts or kale sprouts. Compared to grains and legumes, vegetable sprouts are light in texture and very pleasant to eat even in their raw state. This is true for alfalfa sprouts as well.
While raw sprouts are incredibly nutritious, not all sprouts should be eaten raw. In fact, some sprouted legumes are toxic until cooked. Other legumes and some grains are still very hard to digest when raw. In her book Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon recommends not only cooking sprouted legumes, but also warns against eating high amounts of raw sprouted grains.
However, we must warn against over consumption of raw sprouted grains as raw sprouts contain irritating substances that keep animals from eating the tender shoots. These substances are neutralized in cooking. Sprouted grains should usually be eaten lightly steamed or added to soups and casseroles. (p. 113)
Other sprouts including vegetables, nuts and seeds are fine to eat raw.
- Grains – when I was in college, buckwheat groats and oat groats were my go-to cereal breakfast. Topped with some fresh berries and almond milk, it made for a delicious breakfast.
- Legumes – I’ve never used sprouted dehydrated legumes for anything but for grinding them into sprouted flours.
- Nuts and seeds – raw grain-free granola makes not only for a delicious breakfast, but also a snack on the go.
If you’re new to sprouting, I wouldn’t recommend buying any equipment specifically designed for sprouting. All you need, really, is a glass jar (it doesn’t even have to be a mason jar), a piece of cheesecloth, and a rubber band.
I use a wide mouth quart mason jar (for smaller batches of sprouts) and a wide mouth half a gallon jar (for larger batches of sprouts). Since I grow a lot of sprouts, I have considered buying an actual sprouting jar, but I don’t think it’s worth it, to be honest. Sprouting jars are a lot of mark up for pretty much the exact same thing you get when you buy a mason jar.
I have, however, purchased sprouting lids that fit on wide mouth mason jars because they make the process or rinsing and draining really easy.