Three Things I Have Learned About Growing Sprouts

Last month, we visited my daughter and her family, which includes a three-year-old and a six-year-old. We were only there for a week, so I thought a neat activity which we could complete in that timeframe would be to grow some sprouts to eat. It turns out I didn’t really know what I was getting into. My idea of sprouts was the light, crunchy bundle of hair-like alfalfa sprouts that nearly all of us have garnished a salad or a sandwich with at some point in our lives.

I did a quick read-up on sprout growing. The basic mechanics are quite simple: get some sort of screened or mesh lid for a Mason jar, put a couple tablespoons of sprouting seeds in there, cover them with a couple inches of water, and let them sit overnight. Then pour that water off, and every morning and every night run some fresh water in through the mesh, swirl it around a little bit to moisten the seeds and wash off bacteria, and pour that new water off. Keep the jars inverted, but a little tilted, so air can get in through the mesh. Keep the jars out of direct or reflected light. In about three days total you are done.

What could possibly go wrong, you ask? Well, I got seduced by all the glowing claims and enthusiastic comments online by sprout devotees about various types of seeds for sprouting. Instead of sticking to just plain alfalfa, I ended up buying a suite of sprouting seed mixtures which was highly rated on Amazon. What came was about 20 little plastic bags, each with a mixture of seeds for sprouting.

Some of these mixtures, it is true, contained alfalfa, but that was typically mixed with many other things like clover and radish seeds (“for spice”) and monk beans and what-not. Some mixtures had no alfalfa at all but stuff like lentils, garbanzos, broccoli seeds, and something called adzuki (??).

Which leads me to the first major thing I learned about sprouts: all sprouts are not created equal. As I see it, there are actually three very different classes of sprouts. Some, like alfalfa or clover, start as tiny seeds and shoot out slender sprouts that might be two or 3 inches long. Clumps of those crunchy hair-like tendrils is what I thought of as “sprouts”. For these species, the sprout itself is pretty much the whole show, and the seed kind of disappears.

But then there are various types of beans and peas, which start off as really big seeds. They put out fairly fat sprouts that might be half an inch long or in some cases much longer. But in any case, it’s the bean or pea you are really eating (usually). Now, granted, the biochemistry of the being has shifted somewhat, in the course of germination and sprouting. But you’re still eating a cold, raw bean.

Then there are grains like wheat. Everybody has heard of sprouted wheat. It is claimed to have wondrous health benefits, as the sprouting process supposedly unlocks nutrients in the kernel and makes them more amenable to digestion. That may well be true. But the second thing I learned about sprouts is that the optimal time for soaking and sprouting can be very different for different types of seeds. One seed mixture I sprouted had wheat in with lentils and various types of beans and things. I gave that mixture the usual three day or so total treatment. The wheat ended up tasting nasty, like eating grass. Upon further investigation (the internet knows everything) I found that that is exactly what happens to wheat if it is sprouted for too long. It is really best with max 24-36 hours sprouting past the initial soak. You want the wheat to be germinated but not really sprouted. Supposedly you want just a tiny 1/4 inch long shoot. So, it is pretty pointless to have a sprout mixture with wheat and a bunch of other things in it, which is what I was dealing with.

And the third thing I learned from all this is that (as a general observation) sprouts don’t actually taste very good. My grandson was pretty enthusiastic about eating the sprouts we grew together. It had been cool to see little shoots growing visibly from one day to the next, and the faces of the adults around the dinner table signaled that sprouts were wonderful to eat. But when he took his first bite of our wonderful homegrown sprouts, he promptly spit it out, declaring, “That’s disgusting!” Ouch.

We adults put little portions of sprouts in with our salads and even smaller amounts on a sandwich or two, but it was more because of the idea of a thing, not because they actually were very appetizing. It’s not that the first bite was so horrible, it’s just that after that first bite you simply didn’t want a second or third bite. Everybody lost interest after a day or two, so we ended up actually throwing some of them out before more bacteria could grow on them. Kind of a sad end to the whole enterprise.

We still have about ten unused little packages of sprouting seed mixtures, ready to go. They may come in handy in the event of a zombie apocalypse, when crunchy veggies may be hard to come by: since nobody really likes these sprouts, we could stretch them out to last a long, long time.

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