Deep inside a seed, there is hidden a blueprint, a genetic package sleeping, waiting to awaken. As water is introduced, enzyme inhibitors are disabled and the seed explodes to life. Germination unfolds, and enzymes trigger elaborate biochemical changes. Proteins break into amino acids. Water-soluble vitamins such as B complex and vitamin C are created. Fats and carbohydrates are converted into simple sugars. Then the seed expends all its energy to break through the soil. Weight increases as the seed absorbs water and minerals.
Through the miracle of germination, thiamin increases five-fold and niacin content doubles. Vitamin C, E and carotene increase. In fact, the vitamin C content becomes as rich as tomatoes. Sprouting is accompanied by an intense enzymatic hydrolysis of protein. Stored proteins are broken down into component amino acids. Because the protein is predigested, sprouts are more easily assimilated and less gas-forming than dried beans. Digestibility is vastly improved.
In 1940, the United States Army sponsored a full investigation on sprouted seeds, studying their usability as food during war. During World War 1, the British Army sprouted beans to ward off scurvy in the trenches. When building the trenches, they calculated the sprouting area needed to feed a battalion.
There is nothing like fresh bean sprouts in a salad. Sprouts can be cooked quickly with a dab of Soya sauce and a dash of fresh flax oil to make a delicious meal. Sprouts make a pleasant addition to soup as long as they are added a few minutes before turning off the heat. Just about any seed or bean can be sprouted for eating, and is great fun for the kids.
Make sure when you use seeds or beans for sprouting they are good-quality. Health food stores will have an abundance of beans and seeds for sprouting. If you find a problem in sprouting your beans and seeds, they are probably too old. Some beans available in stores have been treated with inhibitors to stop the sprouting process. Do not use seeds that are packaged for gardens because they may be treated.
Here are some examples of the most popular beans and seeds for sprouting.
WHAT CAN I SPROUT?
ALFALFA This has only recently been discovered to be excellent for sprouting. Alfalfa comes from North Africa where it is used as a crop for animals and green manure. Some believe alfalfa sprouts to be the most nutritious food in the world. They are high in protein, chlorophyll, calcium, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin K. When the root is 1˝ inches long, it will begin to develop tiny green leaves. At this stage it needs to be eaten immediately so the plant will not switch to photosynthesis that exhausts the stored food in the seed. Raw alfalfa is delicious in stuffing pitas, nori sheets or sandwiches, using an avocado dressing. It would seem a grievous act to cook these delicate threads of life.
BARLEY Barley converts the largest amount of starch to sugar which is why it is widely used in producing beer. It has therefore been studied more thoroughly than any other seed. Again as with many grains, the roots should be no longer than the seed size itself.
CHICKPEAS Commonly known as garbanzo beans. Primarily a pulse crop grown in India. The sprout is tender and delicious and is ready to eat when the root is between 1 1/2 and 2 inches long. Cooking requires only 5 minutes.
CORN Finding corn for sprouting is a real trick because the germ is rarely intact because of how the kernels are removed from the cob. The root should be allowed to grow for only 1 inch in length. Cooking time is approximately 8 minutes.
FENUGREEK This legume is still used in medicine, food and teas. It is a spicy seed that is excellent for making curry. Use when the sprout has grown to 1˝ inches long. Fenugreek is often sold where the seeds are broken for making fenugreek tea. Make sure you buy whole fenugreek seed.
LENTILS When lentils are sprouted, they become sweeter with a delicate flavor. They need only 5 minutes of cooking compared to 30 minutes for dried lentils. But we love them raw! Lentil sprouts are ready to be eaten when the root is 1 inch long.
MUNG BEANS These are the easiest to sprout for beginners. Mung bean sprouts are common in Chinese restaurants and grocery stores. They have a delightful fresh raw flavor. When the bright white root grows from 1˝ to 2 inches long, they are ready to eat. Cook no more than 3 minutes.
PEAS Sprouting peas increase their sugar content, giving pea sprouts a sweet vegetable flavor. Wrinkled or smooth varieties work equally well. When root is 2 inches long, they are ready to eat raw, or need only 5 minutes for cooking.
SOYA BEANS These are the most nutritious of all sprouts and are commonly used in China. The small soy bean that is yellow in color is excellent for sprouting. Soya beans are considered fairly difficult for the inexperienced sportiest because they are prone to fermentation, especially during the warm weather. To overcome this problem, rinse sprouts often and remove discolored and unsprouted seeds. They are ready to eat when the root is 2 inches long. Soya bean sprouts require approximately 10 minutes for cooking. These sprouts are higher in protein than any other bean.
SPROUTED BREAD This delicious cake-like bread has been enjoyed for thousands of years. Sprouting grains and baking at low temperatures allows the wheat to be less mucus-forming and more digestible. This is a better quality bread because it is closer to a living food. Sprouted bread can be bought at your local health food store.
VARIOUS LEGUMES Other legumes that can be sprouted successfully are lima, maro, pinto, kidney, harlot, navy, aduki and broad beans. You can also sprout black-eyed, cowgram, pidgeon and redgram peas. Some of these may be difficult to find but are fast becoming more available.
WHEAT A light delicious flavor resembling fresh, picked corn. The sprouts should not be longer than inch or less. Grain sprouts grow faster than legumes and refrigerating them does not seem to slow them down. Do not confuse wheat grass and wheat sprouts. As wheat sprouts become wheat grass, they take on completely different nutritional properties. Wheat sprouts cook within 8 minutes or less. Wheat can be bought in health food stores.
TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES FOR SPROUTING
Most people do not attempt to grow sprouts because they think it is too complicated. Yet we have very little to do with the process. The key is to keep them moist and rinse them a few times per day, and then simply stand back and watch.
You are going to need a big jar with a perforated lid. You can use an elastic band with cheesecloth to replace the metal lid. A cheesecloth cover rinses easily. Remove any broken or damaged seeds before you begin to sprout. These seeds can rot and cause sprouts to have an unpleasant smell. Damaged seeds are much easier to remove at this stage than trying to maneuver through the delicate roots that are forming during the sprouting process.
Keep in mind that sprouting increases the seed volume 6 to 8 times. Four tablespoons will be sufficient for a quart-sized container. Soak the seeds or legumes according to the time given in the chart provided.
Rinse seeds well and place inside the jar. Twice a day rinse the seeds delicately so as not to break the little shoots. Broken shoots will begin to rot or go moldy, causing an unpleasant smell. You may find a pungent smell to your sprouts. This is caused by byproducts being produced by the growing sprouts. Sprouts should be moist, but keeping them immersed in water will cause them to rot. Rinsing twice a day ensures that they will not dry out and die. As sprouts begin to develop, lightly shake to remove excess water.
Sprouts do not have to grow in darkness as they would in soil. Some introduce sunlight during the latter period of sprouting, allowing the sprouts to produce chlorophyll and vitamin C. This will compromise vitamin B2, a fair trade for chlorophyll. When sprouts have grown to size, they can be kept in a refrigerator, but will continue to grow.
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