Sprouts, or very young vegetable plants that have just emerged from their seed coats, have been found to have elevated levels of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. Though commercially produced sprouts have a checkered history of bacterial contamination during the past several decades, vegetable sprouts grown at home are relatively safe, easy and quick.
Nearly every type of vegetable seedling is well-suited for sprouting at home. While sprouting "kits" are advertised for sale, the only real utensils necessary for sprouting seeds at home are a wide-mouthed glass jar, such as a clean, empty pasta sauce jar or Mason jar, and a piece of cheesecloth or fine mesh screen. Seeds are soaked in water overnight in a warm, dark place and are rinsed at least twice daily until sprouts are of the desired size for eating. Placing young seedlings in a window for a day before consuming them will "green them up," adding flavor and color to the sprouts. Sprouts will keep in the refrigerator for several days to a week.
Types of Seeds
Mung bean sprouts have long been a staple of Asian diets and are still popular today. Alfalfa sprouts have also long been popular as an ingredient in sandwich wraps, soups and salads. Sprouted seed often carries some of the mature plant's characteristics. For instance, wheat sprouts are chewier while radish sprouts provide an extra zing to salads and sauces. Other seeds suitable for use in sprouting include barley, corn, clover, buckwheat, lentils, amaranth, quinoa, broccoli and lettuce.
Plant seeds contain a concentrated mix of essential nutrients required for the plant to get off to a good start after germination. Sprouting these seeds at home makes these nutrients available, which include vitamins A, B and C, iron, calcium, protein, fiber, essential amino acids and antioxidants. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University studied broccoli seeds and sprouts and found that the sprouts, when chewed, release a powerful anti-cancer agent, a chemical that also occurs in mature broccoli but at much lower concentrations.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports at least 30 incidents of listeria and E. coli contamination have occurred since 1996 in connection with several types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts. The government now recommends that seed for sprouting both at home and for industry be sanitized with a chlorine solution to kill any residual bacteria that might reside on the seed coats; even small populations of bacteria can multiply rapidly under the warm, moist conditions required for seed germination. The government also recommends that the very young and the elderly should completely avoid eating sprouts of any kind because of the outside risk of infection.
Many health food stores and seed catalogs offer a line of seeds intended for use in home sprouting. Seed sold at nurseries or otherwise not marked as being suitable for sprouting should never be used for sprouting, as many types of seed intended for the garden are typically treated with pesticides and fungicides.