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Sprouts PDF Print E-mail

sproutsby Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist
April 2014

If you are yearning for some crunch and have a taste for locally made raw produce, sprouts are a fabulous way to fulfill that goal any time of the year. Sprouting is the practice of germinating seeds so that they can be eaten raw in their infancy. I had a habit of making sprouts on a regular basis when I was in my 20s when they were very popular, and I always had a jar of them growing in my kitchen for regular use—mainly in sandwiches and salads, but especially during the cold-weather months when lettuce and greens were expensive. I always loved the crunch and seeing the fresh bright green color on my foods!  Sprouts became popular thirty to forty years ago and at the time were grown more commonly at home. Now they are widely available in the produce section of a lot of stores and are used by many on a regular basis, especially those who follow a raw dietary regime. They have had some bad publicity due to the food-borne illness problems that have been associated with them, and that is still definitely a legitimate concern.  

The sprouting of a variety of seeds is not a recent phenomenon. It has been reported that ancient Chinese physicians recognized and recommended sprouts for treatment of different health problems over 5,000 years ago. It took centuries before they would become popular in the West and Americans of Asian heritage were more apt to use them before others became familiar with them in this country. In the late 1700s on ships bound for America from England, many sailors became afflicted with scurvy due to a vitamin-C deficiency. It was reported that Captain Cook in 1772 started using lemons and limes and a variety of sprouts that were grown on the ship, and he was able to significantly decrease the casualties and suffering of the sailors from that disease.
There are many health attributes to these tiny seeds and the miraculous sprouts they produce. As we await the fresh local produce to become available, they are an easy and inexpensive way to get good amounts of some nutrients into your diet. For example, the vitamin content of these seeds when sprouted increases significantly, specifically vitamins A and C. They contain a multitude of plant compounds that are beneficial and some—such as broccoli sprouts—have been reported to have 50 times the concentration of one plant compound known to prevent cancer than the mature plant. Other phytonutrients they contain have been shown to protect against heart disease, cancer, aging, inflammation, and osteoporosis. The act of sprouting reduces the phytate levels in plants and legumes and since phytates can interfere with the absorption of some nutrients, this is another reason to add sprouts to your diet. One thing to reflect on as you eat sprouts is that you are eating the whole plant—root, stem, and head at a young age—whereas when you buy the mature plant of other vegetables at the store you are eating just one part of it—either the flower or the seed, etc.—so therefore you are often able to obtain more concentrated amounts of certain nutrients.
Only simple materials are needed for home sprouting:  a quart canning jar, some nylon screening or cheesecloth, special seeds for sprouts, time, and voilà—there you have delicious and nutritious yummy sprouts that can be added to salads, stir fries, and sandwiches, to name just a few. You should use seeds specifically designated for sprouting, since seeds that are intended to be planted in the ground are often treated with fungicides. The Co-op has a variety of different seeds available in the bulk spice area specifically labeled for sprouting. There are also some sprouting mixes, broccoli seeds, and materials needed for sprouting to the right of the bulk spice area.

Rinse about 1/3 cup seeds before using and sift through them, looking for little rocks. Soak them in a quart jar of cool water overnight. The next day drain the water (the nylon screen or cheesecloth with a rubber band on the jar is a must for this so you don’t lose the seeds), which is great nutrition for your plants by the way, so don’t dump it down your sink. Set the jar on its side in a cool shady place and rinse them a couple times a day, or more if it is hot and dry inside or outside. When they have grown about 1/3 the length of the seed they are ready; this can take from 3-6 days. If they are longer than 3-4 inches they can taste bitter, so keep a close watch. Some sprout seeds, like sunflower seeds, can take longer though, and they can grow until they have little leaf shoots. Once they have grown enough, rinse them one more time and drain very well. If desired, allow them to sit in a sunny location for a short time—an hour or so, to let them get some greening action and chlorophyll development from exposure to the light. Store them in the refrigerator and use them within 4-5 days. Enjoy in your favorite salad or sandwich, or top off an Asian dish like pad thai or a simple stir fry with crunchy nutritious sprouts, which can be cooked for a few minutes if desired. Keep in mind that seeds for sprouting vary in taste from sweet alfalfa to spicy radish. Look for more information about sprouts around the Co-op during the month of April.