Thursday, 8 January 2009

Nature's Fast Food

by Julie at Towards Sustainability

Do you want to grow your own nutritious, fresh greens but just don't have the room to spare?

Would you like to grow greens which don't require either soil or direct sunlight, and can be grown year 'round regardless of the weather?

Would you like to harvest them only 3 to 7 days after sowing?

Sprouts are your answer.


Weight for weight, sprouts are some of the most nutritious foods available: they are loaded with vitamins and minerals, they provide fiber and protein, and are easily digestible. This is because seeds contain all the energy and nutrients required to grow a new plant and when they germinate, these nutrients become available to us when we eat them.

Even better, they are quick and very easy to grow at home yourself, with minimal room and minimal effort. So easy in fact, that all kids should grow their own!

Many seeds can be sprouted, the most common include mung beans, fenugreek, alfalfa, radish, snow peas, broccoli, lentils and wheat. Mung beans and alfalfa are probably the two most common that people have come across; they are great for quick, reliable results, and are terrific eaten raw in salads. Soy beans and chickpeas (garbanzos) grow large bean sprouts which are very tasty added to stir fries at the last minute.

Requirements

You can get all high-tech and grow your sprouts in a special sprouter, but really, all you need is a glass jar. Choose a clean jar with a wide mouth so that it will drain easily. To begin with you won't need a very large jar, perhaps 500ml (1 pint) in volume. I was given a fancy-schmancy jar with a perforated lid and integrated stand as a present last year (you can see it in the photo), but it isn't necessary.

You will also need a piece of free-draining cloth - such as gauze, tulle, muslin, cheesecloth, a clean Chux-type cloth or piece of pantyhose - large enough to cover the mouth of jar, and a rubber band to secure it in place.

Lastly, you will require some seeds to sprout. You must ensure that these seeds are labelled 'for sprouting' or similar, as seeds intended for sowing are often treated with chemicals such as anti fungal agents, and that is the last thing you want to be ingesting. Many seeds suppliers sell untreated seeds for sprouting, as do most health foods/ natural foods shops or organic grocers.

Method

Usually 1-2 tablespoons are seeds are sprouted at a time. Generally, the smaller the seed, the larger the volume they will occupy when they are sprouted. In the photo above you can see how much room only one tablespoon of alfalfa seeds take up after sprouting. You want to make sure that you can eat all of your sprouts within 2-3 days.

Start by placing your seeds in the bottom of your jar and rinsing them. Then cover them with water allowing an extra few inches above them. Cover the jar with your cloth and secure in place with your rubber band. Allow them to soak for around 8-10 hours (or overnight) to begin the germination process.

Empty the water out (preferably into your nearest pot plant) and rinse the seeds again. Drain all the water out and leave the jar on it's side to ensure that the seeds aren't sitting in water and that air can circulate freely. You might like to sit the jar upside down in the neck of another jar or container briefly to ensure that they have drained completely. Water sitting in the jar will cause the seeds to rot and introduce bacteria - and never eat slimy sprouts as they may make you ill.

It isn't necessary to sit your jar in the light until the seeds begin sprouting after a day or so, so you can keep them in the pantry until then, but I leave mine from the beginning next to my sink where they receive light from the window. Do not place them in direct sunlight however.

You will need to rinse your sprouts two or three times a day. The aim is to keep them moist but not wet. I also like to give them a gentle shake each time as they sprout, to stop them from getting too tangled together.

Depending on the sprout, they will have all sprouted within about 4 to 10 days (the smaller the seed, the more quickly they will be ready to eat). Once they have all sprouted, store them in the refrigerator and eat within 2-3 days. They will last longer than that, but you are losing all the health benefits of eating them fresh! Again, never eat soggy, slimy sprouts, they should go into the compost.

Wash your jar thoroughly when eaten, and start your next crop! Or, so as I often do, and alternate two jars at once so that I can be eating from one jar whilst sprouting the other.

There you have it! Cheap, easy, quick, tasty and very nutritious. Once you have experimented with sprouting for a while you might like to take it to the next level, and have a go at this Whole Grain Sprouted Bread. I have ordered some wheat grains and it's next of my list of breads to try :-)

What are your favourite ways to eat sprouts?