Dabbling in DIY: Sprouting

It is time. Time to grow your own. Whether you live in a mansion or a mud hut there is little more satisfying than watching your babies turning their green shoots to the sun.

What am I talking about? Sprouting, of course. And I don’t mean growing those mini-cabbages that leave our politicians well-sprouted after Sunday lunch and divide the populace into ardent Yes and No camps. That’s just too Brussels for me. I’ve moved on.

In twenty-first century parlance, ‘sprouts’ are something else entirely. They are young plants, created when seeds, nuts, grains, beans and herbs germinate and start to grow. (Then, when they form delicate tendrils, we pounce on them and eat them. Who said vegetarians were kind?)

Why eat sprouts? Because they are among the most nutritious foods on Earth, offering revitalising, healing and rejuvenating properties for pennies, if you Do-It-Yourself.

When a seed/bean/etc. germinates in a damp, dark environment, enzyme inhibitors are neutralised and dormant nutrients become available to feed the growing plant. Starches convert into sugars, proteins become amino acids and fats transform into essential fatty acids. Vitamins, minerals, oxygen-transporting chlorophyll and other nutrients increase exponentially and enzyme production goes into overdrive – all to serve the rapidly maturing plant.

Unfortunately for these little ones, their star combo of super-nutrition and young cell walls renders them über-digestible and, as such, a highly desirable food for humans! By weight, sprouts contain 10-30 times more nutrition than the healthiest grown-up vegetable, including appreciable quantities of vitamin C, beta-carotene and the B vitamins in easy-to-absorb forms. They are brimming with energising enzymes; alive until you pop them into your mouth; alkaline-forming in the body (all disease thrives in an acid pH); and loaded with cancer-fighting phytonutrients and other goodies. And when they note their chances of achieving adulthood becoming slim, they impart their healing qualities to those who eat them, thus living on in spirit if not in form…

The variety of sprouts you can grow is close to endless. You may be familiar with the ubiquitous Chinese beansprout and pale green filaments of alfalfa but have you heard of (mmm!)micro basil? Or sunflower greens? Or adzuki sprouts, red clover and barley grass? I’d suggest sampling sprouts and greens from The Hopsack fridge before you embark on your mini-garden, as their flavours can be quite – let us say – defined. For example, I like leafy sprouts. I love micro basil, micro celery, micro rocket, sunflower greens, wheatgrass juice and barleygrass juice. I also like sprouted fenugreek (curry galore!) and sprouted rye. But I hate sprouted lentils and radish sprouts and I am none too keen on sprouted chickpeas unless they are hidden in a salad or transformed into Natasha’s delicious raw houmous. So find a sprout you like and use it to kickstart your growing career. Some sprouts (e.g. fenugreek) are unavailable in shops, so you’ll just have to experiment! Never sprout kidney beans, though. They are poisonous raw.

Sprouts are relatively cheap to buy but ultra-cheap to grow. You just need a few glass jars; some muslin or clean knee-highs (no fishnets!); elastic bands; filtered, distilled or high-quality bottled water (not straight tap water); and some organic (imperative for nutrition and grow-ability!) seeds. The Hopsack sells a wide variety of organic seeds, beans and grains – some in the BioSnacky range and others in the prepack range. If you get into sprouting, specialised equipment from The Hopsack can make the job easier. I particularly like BioSnacky’s jar sprouter. At €6.95 you can’t go too far wrong with it. And if you really get into sprouting, you could check out Naturalife’s range of equipment, which can be ordered through The Hopsack.

The basic principle is as follows: put a dessertspoon of one variety of seed (or a dedicated mix) into a glass jar; add lots of clean water; cover the jar with muslin (or a stocking); secure it with an elastic band (or a garter); and leave it in a dark place to soak (the soaking time depends on the variety of seed). When soaking is complete, tip the water out through the muslin. Rinse the seeds thoroughly under running water, then leave the jar to drain upside down on a dish rack. Rinse once or twice a day for several days. Once little white shoots start to appear, transfer the jar to a windowsill for maximum light.

Growing time depends on the variety of sprout, the strength of sunlight (ahem…!) and the warmth of the environment. Ask the nice people in The Hopsack for BioSnacky’s sprouting leaflet (freebie), or invest in a copy of The Sprouter’s Handbook for more specific information, bearing in mind that some sprouts are easy to grow (e.g. chickpeas and mung beans) and others are tricky as hell (e.g. flax and buckwheat).

The jar method is great for sprouting beans, lentils, seeds and grains. If you want to grow baby greens, such as sunflower greens, or wheatgrass and barleygrass, follow the preceding links for more information, or buy a dedicated wheatgrass growing kit from The Hopsack. To consume wheatgrass or barleygrass, run a bunch of it through a juicer designed to extract green elixir from grass!

I’d suggest starting with one or two easy-sprouting varieties, such as whole lentils or a BioSnacky seed mix. The first time I sprouted, I sported a grand total of 10 jars on my windowsill – everything from mung beans to buckwheat. More than one sprout found its way down the sink, only to reappear a few days later, peeping over the plughole like a baby snake complete with green forked tongue! As sprouts keep on growing in their jars, it really can start to feel like they’re comin’ atcha, much as Mickey Mouse was tormented by the splintered broom in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Start small, then expand your repertoire. Before you know it you will be sprouting like a pro and more than ready to tackle growing organic veggies by the time my next blog comes around…!

Did you know?

Broccoli sprouts contain 50 times more cancer-fighting sulphurophane than mature broccoli does. And they taste so much nicer. Eat them raw in sandwiches or salads. Both sprouts and seeds are available from The Hopsack.

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