Don’t Doubt Sprouts

Growing Your Own Power-Packed Greens

The whimsical sprout comes in many guises. It shoots up from crunchy legumes such as lentils, soy and chickpeas; whole grains like sweet quinoa and wheat berries; and vegetable seeds including alfalfa, broccoli and biting radish. Food bloggers, nutrition experts and savvy chefs are increasingly trumpeting the nutritional density and culinary potential of these "baby" plants.

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When a seed comes in contact with moisture, it begins to germinate, or sprout. During this process, vitamin, mineral and protein levels increase substantially over those found in the original seed or mature plant of the same name, says Erin Palinski, a registered dietitian and fitness trainer in New Jersey. "So the plant is at its nutritional peak," she says.

The array of intensified compounds includes vitamins A, B12, folate and C; minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, iron and magnesium; essential fatty acids; fiber; and various enzymes and antioxidants. Case in point: broccoli sprouts. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, spicy broccoli sprouts contain up to 100 times more sulforaphane than mature broccoli.

"Sulforaphane is a naturally occurring phytochemical that enhances the cancer-protective capacity of cells," Palinski says.

Sprouted lentils have four times more vitamin C than their unsprouted mates. Plus, when eaten shortly after sprouting, there is no loss of nutrients that occurs when fruits and vegetables sit for long periods of time on trucks, in warehouses and on grocer shelves.

On top of a myriad of nutritional benefits, organic sprouts are very economical; growing several times their initial weight, they can be reared anywhere, during any season and, unlike their grown-up brethren, can go from seed to salad with virtually no environmental impact in just a few days.

Good for much more than sandwich fillers, sprouts can gussy up curries, sushi, soups, dips, scrambled eggs, stir-fries and even baked goods. Eating a variety is the best way to take advantage of all their unique flavors and health benefits. To learn more about this crunchy living food, pick up Steve Meyerowitz’s Sprouts: The Miracle Food (Sproutman Publications).

Sprouting at Home

There is one garden that can be cultivated in January or July, in Alaska or Florida: a garden of sprouts. Sprouting indoors is as easy as 1, 2, drain, no green thumb required. Raw food chef Tina Jo Stephens, host of the online "Splendor in the Raw," explains how to get it right.

What You"ll Need

Wide-mouth jar, preferably about ½ gallon
Porous non-metal screen (available at most hardware stores)
Rubber band
Seeds sold specifically for sprouting

How to Do It

1) Pour 2 tablespoons of smaller seeds such as broccoli and mustard or up to ½ cup of larger seeds like garbanzo and lentils into a jar, cover with water and soak for 6-8 hours.
2) Secure porous lid to the top of the jar with rubber band.
3) Drain the water; rinse and drain again with fresh water.
4) Invert jar and prop at a 45-degree angle in a bowl to catch the liquid and encourage air circulation.
5) Keep the seeds in a warm, dark place for the first three days.
6) On the fourth day, place them in diffused or indirect sunlight to develop chlorophyll and begin to green. 7) When the sprouts are ready to harvest, rinse well and wash off as many hulls as possible, then refrigerate for up to one week.

Safety Note: To minimize contamination risk, purchase seeds and mature sprouts from companies that test for pathogens and are dedicated solely to sprouting and not livestock production as well. As long as you begin with uncontaminated seeds, use clean jars and water and refrigerate the sprouts, the risk of growing illness-inducing pathogens is minimal.

The Sprout Essentials

Find a wide variety of organic, high-germinating seeds and growing equipment at Mumm"s (www.sprouting.com) or The Sprout People (www.thesproutpeople.com).


Freshlife Automatic Sprouter

(www.freshlifesprouter.com; $99.00). Supplies hands-off continuous water and air to growing sprouts.


Sproutman’s 100% Natural Hemp Sprout Bag

(www.sproutman.com; $12.95). Just add seeds, dunk the bag in water twice a day and hang. Provides excellent drainage and air circulation.


Navitas Naturals Sprouted Flax

or Chia Powder (www.navitasnaturals.com; $14.99, $21.99/16oz.). When baking breads, cookies and muffins, replace a quarter of the flour with these fiber-and-omega-3 powerhouse powders.


French Meadow Organic Sprouted Hemp Bread

(www.frenchmeadow.com; $5.50/loaf). Hemp and sprouted grains boost levels of fiber and protein in these low glycemic, hearty whole-grain slices.


BroccoSprouts

(www.broccosprouts.com; $2.99/4oz.). Broccoli sprouts grown in hydroponic drums with the highest guaranteed levels of sulforaphane of any sprout on the market.

MATTHEW KADEY is a Canadian-based dietitian and freelance journalist.

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