Seeds of change

Jane Pikett salutes the health-giving loveliness of kitchen sprouting seeds and beans

Without wishing to give away my age, one of my favourite pastimes as a child was growing cress on blotting paper.

I realise that if you’re under the age of 45, you’re unlikely to know what blotting paper is, or indeed to understand why any child would find something so apparently dull so interesting. My only reply to which is that it was the 1970s and there wasn’t much else to do. 

Fast forward to today, and kitchen counter cultivation is all the rage. A kind friend bought me a sprouting jar for my birthday a couple of years ago and it is rarely out of action. I can find a way to eat sprouted seeds every day without any difficulty, including just as they are with a little lemon juice and salt. 

They’re fabulous on salad, equally good on toast, fab sprinkled over risotto or soup, stirred into sautéed mushrooms, and lovely with hummus on a rice cake. Include them in Buddha bowls, use as a topping for avocado on toast, and add to stir fries, stews and more.

And they are ridiculously good for you. But what are they? Well, they’re basically baby shoots which grow from a germinated seed. You can sprout numerous vegetable seeds, grains, beans or nuts, from chickpeas to alfalfa, kale to onions. There are a few exceptions, such as kidney beans and quinoa, either because they’re unpalatable or they aren’t good for you, but there are so many things you can sprout, it’ll take anyone years to run out of inspiration.

It’s super easy; you only need space on your kitchen counter for a jar and saucer, it’s quick (from seed to sprout in about three days) and the sprouting process retains nutrients, making sprouts richer in protein, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and vitamins C and K than un-sprouted plants.

They’re also cheap, tasty and easier to digest because the sprouting process breaks down their anti-nutrients.

I buy mine from health food shops, where you can get seeds labelled as ‘sprouting seeds’ or ‘for sprouting’ because they’ve been properly cleaned and should therefore be pathogen-free.

I have seen some alarming stuff online about commercial mass-produced shop-bought ready-grown sprouts carrying salmonella, but if you buy ready-grown ones from a small producer, or nurture your own at home using a clean jar in non-humid conditions, the chances of that appear to be minimal to zero. 

You can buy numerous varieties of sprouting seeds in health food shops and online. All you need is a large, clean jar with a wide mouth, a porous lid, and a wall to lean it on end so it can drain. All you do is take your seeds, soak them overnight, drain, rinse and invert the jar over a bowl or saucer, and repeat two or three times a day until you get your sprouts. A special sprouting jar like mine, with a sieve top and a stand to lean it on, is ideal. And you can mimic it by using an ordinary jar and piercing the lid, or by topping the jar with a disc of natural, breathable fabric such as cotton or cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. You can even buy sprouter lids online to fit various standard jar sizes.

You can sprout lentils, mung beans, alfalfa and all manner of other things using the method above (overnight soaking, draining and rinsing twice a day for three days). Just remember that a few seeds produce a vast amount of sprouts, so only fill your jar a quarter full of seeds.

I tend to harvest the sprouts when they’re 3-5cms or so long, and you can store them in the fridge for about three days.

Some of the most popular options include bean and pea sprouts, sprouted grains like buckwheat and brown rice, and sprouts from vegetables, nuts, and other seeds like radish, beet, and alfalfa. In general, any plant from which you would eat the stems and leaves is a good option for sprouting. Plants from which you only eat the fruit (such as tomatoes and peppers) typically don’t work, so avoid those.

Experiment with various types and see how you go. It’s endlessly satisfying to nurture these little beauties, they’re tasty and good for you. So why not?

At a glance
Place 1 to 2 tbsp of your chosen seeds in a wide-mouth jar, cover with water and leave overnight.
Place a clean cheesecloth tightly over the mouth of the jar using an elastic band (or use a jar with a sieve-style lid) and invert over the sink to drain the water.
Add more water to the jar and rinse the seeds by swishing them around, and drain again.
Repeat the draining and rinsing process twice a day day until your sprouts are the desired size (three to seven days, depending on the variety).
Store sprouts in the fridge for up to a week.

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