Until recently, I never really knew what to do with sprouts. I’d sprinkle a few alfalfas on a tuna sandwich or toss a handful of soybeans in a stir-fry, but beyond that I was stumped. Then I started noticing more varieties—broccoli sprouts, lentil sprouts, even wheat berries— in my local market and decided it was time to learn more.
After reading Sprouts: The Miracle Food (Book Publishing Company, 2008) by Steve Meyerowitz, I am a complete convert. Sprouts are high in vitamin C, cancer-fighting antioxidants, and heart-healthy saponins—and they’re a cinch to grow at home. Now I add them to everything: soy sprouts in salads, lentil sprouts in stuffed peppers, wheat berries in muffins, and broccoli sprouts in mildly spicy Asian dishes.
And because I’m harvesting them myself, I have a constant fresh supply. The original and healthiest “fast food,” sprouts pop up any time of year in just a few days in a sprouting bag (no green thumb—or even soil—required).
Despite their reputation as “hippie food,” sprouts have been around for centuries. The explorer Captain James Cook kept his crew safe from scurvy by bringing along a variety of vitamin C-packed sprouts. They’re also a concentrated source of minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and enzymes because the “baby” plants contain all the nutrients they need to grow to maturity, says Georgianna Donadio, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Whole Health. Different plants produce different kinds of sprouts, varying in texture, flavor, and nutrients. I’ve picked the following for their nutritional content, raw crunch, and great taste.
ALFALFA: The mild, nutty flavor of these delicate sprouts makes them ideal in sandwiches, but they’re also perfect in salads and soups. (They wilt easily under heat, though, so are best served raw.) “Alfalfa sprouts contain saponins, which break down and decrease the absorption of cholesterol and fatty acids, making them extremely heart healthy,” says Donadio.
BROCCOLI: These gently spicy sprouts are also best raw in salads or sandwiches because heat diminishes their health benefits, says a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found they can contain up to 100 times more sulforaphane— an antioxidant that helps mobilize cancer-fighting enzymes—than “grown-up” broccoli, Donadio explains.
LENTILS: Raw peppery lentil sprouts—which come in blue, green, orange, red, white, and other hues—are terrific in tabbouleh or by the handful. They also keep their flavor and consistency in cooked dishes like stews and stir-fries. They are a rich source of vitamin C and folate, which is essential for brain and nerve health.
SOYBEANS: These hardy white shoots, with their jaunty greenish heads, stand up well to cooking and are good in curries, casseroles, and even omelets. Soybean sprouts are high in vitamin K (which can help control blood glucose) and isoflavones (which may protect menopausal women against osteoporosis, heart disease, and breast cancer), says Donadio.
WHEAT BERRIES: Sweet precursors to wheatgrass, these “berries” can moisten homemade breads and muffins. They’re loaded with selenium, a mineral that regulates immune, muscle, and thyroid function and acts as a free-radical-fighting antioxidant.
HARVEST YOUR OWN SPROUTS AT HOME
It’s hard to find soy, lentil, or wheat sprouts, let alone more exotic sprouts like quinoa, mustard, or fenugreek. The solution? Grow sprouts at home. We asked Steve Meyerowitz, author of Sprouts: The Miracle Food, to show us how. “If you can dunk a tea bag,” says Meyerowitz, “you can grow sprouts.”
WHAT YOU NEED:
►Seeds: You can start with lentils or mung beans from the bulk bins at a health food store—beans are seeds. But for the freshest seeds and widest varieties, shop online with sprouting companies like Mumm’s, Sproutman, and Sproutpeople.
►Equipment: The best low-cost option for growing fresh, mold-free sprouts is a sprouting bag, available wherever sprouting supplies are sold (such as the websites above). More expensive options include custom sprouting machines that automatically water your “crop” every day. It’s best to avoid sprouting in a Mason jar, as they are not manufactured for that purpose and can often lead to the growth of undesirable mold.
1. Soak 1 cup of beans for 6 to 8 hours in a jar filled with pure water. Try French lentils, green lentils, or mung beans for starters.
2. Pour the soaked beans into the sprouting bag.
3. Hang the sprouting bag on a cabinet knob or lay it in a dish rack to dry. Once the bag stops dripping, you can lay it in a bowl.
4. Dunk the bag in a bowl of water for at least 30 seconds twice a day. Breakfast and dinnertime are usually good watering times—your sprouts drink while you eat.
5. Bean sprouts are ready to eat in five days. Take them out of the bag and store them in the refrigerator in a glass container for up to two weeks. Rinse them every second or third day.
►Buy organic: If you prefer storebought, buy USDA-certified organic sprouts from companies dedicated solely to vegetables and fruits. That’s the best way to avoid chemical pesticides and food-borne pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. Sprouts from the store shouldn’t smell musty or look slimy, and you can store them the same way you would homegrown.