by Tom Billings
The material below consists of questions and answers on some common situations that may arise in sprouting.
Q: I use a commercial, plastic, multiple tray (type) sprouter, and I notice that sprouting rates are uneven. I find that pre-soaking the seeds, overnight, helps promote even sprouting. Comments?
A: Due to their design, uneven soaking, hence uneven sprouting, can occur with these sprouters and thus pre-soaking the seed is a good idea - separate, even soaking promotes more even sprouting.
Q: I want to grow large amounts of sprouts, so as to increase the % of sprouts in my diet. I typically grow sprouts for 3-5 days in the tray sprouter. Any suggestions for increasing production? The tray type sprouters seem too small and limited to produce large quantities.
A: First I would note that you are growing sprouts for 3-5 days, so they are relatively long. You can eat sprouts when they are short, and that is an easier approach. Now, to your question: Ann Wigmore suggests using 7-10 half gallon jars (~2 liters each - large jars) for a large scale sprouting setup. She discusses this in her book, "The Sprouting Book". Certainly 7-10 large jars serviced 2-3 times per day will require some time, as well as a substantial amount of counter or shelf space. Another to consider is an automatic sprouter; more expensive but possibly easier. One can grow large quantities of (short) sprouts using the cloth method - simply use larger bowls and cloths.
Q: The price of sprouting seeds at the health food store is very high. How can I get seeds at lower cost?
A: Buy in bulk, in 5 pounds (2.5 kg) or larger containers. Here in California, bulk seeds are readily available in health food stores, supermarkets, and by mail. For example, bulk wheat ("berries") range in price locally from $0.29 per pound (non-organic) to $0.65 per pound (organic); 1 pound = approx 0.45 kg. You may have to search for bulk sources in your area.
Q: I remove the hulls from my alfalfa sprouts, by swishing the sprouts in a large bowl of water. How do you get rid of hulls?
A: Hulling is generally not necessary if you eat your sprouts when short; however removing the hulls is a good idea for alfalfa and clover greens (as the hulls will spoil and decay in the sprouter). The method you describe - swishing in water - is pretty much standard.
Q: I find grain sprouts to be tough, fibrous, and sometimes bitter (except wheat which is usually sweet). Suggestions?
A: These problems are greatly reduced if you eat the sprout when the root shoot is about the length of the soaked seed (1-2 days sprouting time for most grains). Also you are not limited to grains and pulses: try sunflower seeds, sesame seeds (eat when short - can be bitter when long), almonds, fenugreek, soaked nuts, and so on.
Q: What sprouts do you consider to be staples for the diet?
A: Depends on your tastes. My staples are wheat, mung, sunflower, sesame, oats (for sprout milk), almonds. Also eat soaked walnuts, other soaked nuts on occasion.
Q: What changes in nutritional content occur when seeds are sprouted?
A: This is a rather complicated topic; Viktoras Kulvinskas discusses this at length (with lots of data) in his book, "Sprout for the Love of Every Body".
Q: I find that legume (pulse) sprouts give me flatulence. Is this due to the legume skins? Comments?
A: The skins are not the major source of gas in pulses; in India some pulses are skinned and then cooked (dahl) and they still produce gas. This topic is addressed in some detail in the article "Enhancing the Digestion of Sprouts". Basically, the easiest way to reduce flatulence is to add anti-gas spices and digestive aids; see the mentioned article for more information.
Side discussion. In the veg-raw posts, I described lentils as a 'coarse' food. This produced a discussion on the properties and nature of lentil sprouts. Portions of that discussion are as follows.
Re: meaning of brown lentils being coarse food. I interpret it as meaning that it is coarse in digestive effect: potentially unsettling, tending to produce lots of gas, the opposite effect of a soothing food (like, for example celery juice with lemon or lime added: that is a soothing food). After eating lentils, you might "feel" them - not heavy, but rough or coarse. These post-digestive effects can be subtle, and you might not notice it if you regularly consume lentils. By the way, I find that if you eat lentils with turmeric and a bit of cumin seed, it seems to digest much easier, with less gas - that was the point of my post.
Re: possibility of excluding legumes from the diet. If one excludes all legumes from the diet, there are still a large number of grains and other seeds one can sprout. However, most people thrive on variety; a diet that excludes legumes might be too limiting for many people.
Re: which types of lentils are easiest to digest? The small green lentils are lighter and easier on the system than the brown lentils. Also, small red lentils are lighter than and easier to digest than the brown. (When sprouting red lentils, be sure to get whole lentils, not split ones.) It appears that the smaller the lentil, the easier it is to digest. Further confirmation of this comes from a batch of very large green lentils I bought some time ago - they were larger than brown lentils, and also very heavy, very hard to digest.
Q: How can I sprout sesame seeds?
A: They can be sprouted using the standard jar or cloth methods. Soak seeds overnight, then allow to sprout in cloth or jar; I let sesame seeds sprout for 1-2 days. For sprouting to occur, use only unhulled sesame seeds; hulled won't sprout (although you can soak hulled seeds overnight then eat). Sesame seed sprouts get bitter quickly, even in refrigerator. Recommend that sprouting + refrigeration time total be 1.5 days or less (2.0 days maximum), to avoid bitterness. (There is a black sesame seed, and if you can get it unhulled, it will usually sprout nicely. The problem with the black sesame seeds is that it is often difficult to tell if it is hulled or unhulled.)
Another note on sesame seeds - I tried an "unusual" combination of tastes and found it very nice: add 1 rounded teaspoon of whole coriander seed (or fennel seed) to 1/3 or 1/4 cup of dry sesame seeds, then soak and sprout as usual (coriander/fennel probably won't sprout). Then eat with a bit of raw honey - unusual, but very nice (Ayurveda says coriander seeds are good for the eyes and a digestive aid; they have a mild flavor. Fennel is tridoshic - said to be good for everyone, in moderation.)
Q: I live in a cold climate (Canada). How can I increase the amount of sprouts in my diet, without becoming ravenously hungry?
A: I have never lived in a cold climate; San Francisco and Dallas are the
coldest climates I have ever lived in (grew up in Florida). A few suggestions
come to mind, however. Try sesame sprouts, or sesame and almond sprouts, for breakfast. You can add fennel seed in the soak period, and it tastes great! Another breakfast idea is (short) buckwheat sprouts mixed with soaked raisins or dates. Make sprout milk, including almond sprouts, daily. Add ginger to your lentil and mung bean sprouts when you eat them - tasty and it is "hot" as well. Ginger also helps you digest legume sprouts, and avoid/reduces flatulence.
I find short sprouts, which are effectively pre-digested seeds, to be more
satisfying to the appetite than long, greened sprouts - which are a vege
and a lettuce substitute. So you might want to eat both long and short sprouts.
Additional suggestions to increase amount of sprouts in your diet:
1) eat mixtures of grains if you get tired of eating individual grains,
2) add seeds to sprout mix for flavoring: mustard, radish, fenugreek, fennel,
cumin, coriander, dill, etc. 3) make different sauces or dressings for the
sprouts (for variety), 4) use seasonings: seaweed, ginger, hot pepper,
whatever you might want.
One simple sprout dish is: rye sprouted with a bit of fennel seed added, eaten with honey. It's a very nice combination! Quinoa, sprouted for 1-2 days, makes a nice salad base (eat with turmeric to help digest the protein -
quinoa is very high in protein). Sprouted buckwheat can be mixed with dried fruit, fresh sweet fruit, honey, to create very tasty sweet dishes.
Q: What sprouts do you consider staples, and what is your experience with
A: My staple sprouts are wheat, sunflower, mung, sesame. I rotate among these for variety. I also daily grow oat and almond sprouts for sprout milk. Sprouts are 30-50% of my diet. For variety, I also grow buckwheat, fenugreek sprouts.
Q: Any suggestions re: sprouting in the Summer? What about mold?
A: If you have mold/bacterial spoilage, be sure to sterilize all utensils (using
hot water, sunlight, or your choice of disinfectant). Experiment with more/less rinsing - see if that helps. Keep the sprouts out of direct sunlight unless you are growing greens, and then only when they are big enough. Direct sunlight on jars/bags/trays can overheat the seeds, reducing germination, and promoting mold and decay.
Q: Any comments on sprouting success, batch selection?
A: It can be useful to buy small amounts from a bulk bin, test for viability
and suitability, then buy a large amount if they are good. Recently I have had
real difficulty finding decent mung beans - 3 batches from local, organic
suppliers were simply awful - hard seeds were 20-50% of total! (The worst seeds I have ever tried.) Anyway, I then obtained some non-organic mung beans, from a local Indian store, that sprout vigorously and have almost no hard seeds. They're not organic, but I don't have to spend an hour picking out hard seeds! So it is a good idea to test first.
Regarding methods, I would suggest jars (or trays) for greens; jars for rice,
corn, popcorn sprouts; cloth for almonds, buckwheat, mung; for the rest jars or cloth give equally good results.
Q: Any suggestions on hull removal for buckwheat or sunflower?
A: You can buy buckwheat that is already hulled. If you want buckwheat sprouts, you should use hulled buckwheat. If you want buckwheat lettuce, i.e., indoor gardening, then you should use unhulled (black) buckwheat. Hulls should not be a major problem with greens.
A recent article discussed sunflower sprouts and greens. If you are growing
sunflower sprouts, removing the (inner, clear) hulls is very important - your
batches of sprouts will quickly spoil if you don't. To remove inner hulls, add
more water at end of soak period and stir - hulls will float to top. Then pour
them off. You may have to repeat this process 3-4 times to minimize loose hulls. If growing sunflower greens, you will be using unhulled seeds (black or striped outer hulls). You might have better germination/fewer hulls clinging there if you blanch the seeds for a few seconds in hot tap water (not boiling water, just hot tap water), before soaking/pre-sprouting them.
Q: Any suggestions on how to handle mucilaginous seeds?
A: Add in small amount to your alfalfa (say 15-20%), unsoaked, when alfalfa is a few days old. To sprout them by themselves requires special procedure - the clay saucer method. As the sprouts are not so great, you might find that it is not worth the trouble (also, flax, psyllium sprouts can be highly laxative).
Q: What about fenugreek sprouts?
A: Fenugreek grows very quickly and is an easy sprout to grow. If you let it
turn green it can be rather bitter, so you might prefer it ungreened. Fenugreek is good for your liver, according to "The Yoga of Herbs", by Dr. Vasant Lad and David Frawley.
Q: My batch of sprouts spoiled? What went wrong?
A: Most spoilage comes from: over-watering, under-watering, bad seed (too low germination rate), exposing the seeds to light before they are big enough
to stand it (direct sunlight on jar can overheat the seeds in the early
stages of sprouting), lack of cleanliness, failing to sterilize media when a previous batch spoiled, and so on. Some seeds are simply prone to
spoilage: garbanzos tend to spoil quickly.