Mar. 25. 2014
Nutrition Articles
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

I often get asked about the reasons behind why I choose to use sprouted grains, recommend them, or soak nuts/seeds in some of my recipes. I’ve had this Guide to Soaking and Sprouting laid out for quite some time now and I figured it’s perfect timing to share another “how to” guide followed by one of my favorite sprouted recipes later this week! So let’s start with the basics first, what are sprouts?

Why soak and/or sprout?

Sprouts are truly “living” food! The process of soaking and sprouting at home essentially is mimicking nature’s germination of a seed into a plant. Gram for gram sprouts are more nutrient rich than it’s older version of itself (i.e. the seed). These sprouts can be eaten raw, steamed, or cooked completely, you can also dehydrate the sprouted grains to make flours (for example sprouted buckwheat flour).

Let me take you back, when I first starting experimenting with soaking and sprouting I have to admit I thought it was odd- until the first day I saw sprouts growing! It was something so simple as seeing the little green leaf pop out of the seed that got me really excited about having a “garden” in my own kitchen. I remember one summer coming back home to Cincinnati with my family, I brought home my 2 day old sprouts from my college kitchen because there was no way I was going to let them die without being enjoyed! To my humor, was the look on my moms face when I brought home jars of seeds/sprouts and her asking “what in the world McKel…?”- luckily they’re all used to my kitchen shenanigans by now.

I first begun sprouting alfalfa sprouts, because they were the most readily available seeds and super simple to sprout. I also started soaking almonds prior to eating and hulling the outer shell (the brown casing) for quick snacks or popping them into my smoothies. The next phase in experimenting were beans/legumes, I started sprouting both of these (especially lentils) to help aid in digestion and it worked fantastically for me.

If you’ve never tried sprouts before they vary depending on the seed; some are light and soft while others are more starchy and crunchy. I love adding these as a topping on salads, Nourish Bowls, blended into smoothies, stuffed inside Veggie Sushi Rolls, or on an open faced sandwich. 

Phytic acid is a compound found in all legumes, grains, and nuts that inhibits mineral and nutrient absorption in the body. Mainly minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, and B vitamins all of which are incredibly important and most often lacking in plant-based diet. Soaking and sprouting nuts/seeds/grains/legumes may help increase phytase activity (i.e. an enzyme that helps break down phytic acid- a good thing). A wide range of health related “benefits” have been associated and studied with sprouted grains including: increase in folate, increase in vitamin C and vitamin A, increase in B vitamins, reduction of common allergens (with some wheats/grains), increase and ease of digestibility, increases in protein content, cancer protection (especially from broccoli sprouts), increases in amino acid content, minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc are easier to absorb; and in general starches are converted easily into simple carbohydrates making them “easier to digest” in this regard. 

You can see why soaking and sprouting is extremely popular among raw food diets, vegan diets, and vegetarian diets- for good reason. Any practice or process that has the opportunity to increase the nutrient content (however small it may be) in a restricted diet/lifestyle is a great idea [when I say restricted, I’m referring to restriction of food groups that normally contain heaps of these precious minerals like iron, calcium, zinc, and more]. Also read the vegetarian position paper of the AND with mentions of soaking and sprouting benefits to nutrient absorption.

How to use?

It depends on what sprout we’re talking about and how to use it but in general I love adding fresh sprouts to salads, sandwiches, smoothies, or as a snack. Pictured above is my Nourishing Nut & Seed Bread with homemade hummus and roasted red pepper compote with fresh sprouts.

  • Sprout seeds: With sprouting seeds such as alfalfa/broccoli/mung bean/clover sprouts I use these mostly in salads and sandwiches because they’re much lighter in texture and mesh really well.
  • Grains: With grains such as sprouted quinoa or buckwheat I love making cereals, granolas, or desserts with them.
  • Legumes: With beans/legumes, I’ll cook them after sprouting or steam them and enjoy them just as you would cooking them without the soaking/sprouting process.
  • Nuts/seeds: With nuts and seeds I enjoy these soaked using them in homemade nut milks, cashew cheeses, patés, or sprouted and dehydrated for a crunchy snack.

STEP 1, SOAK

In a large glass mason jar (I use these sprouting jars), pour your seed/grain/legume along with enough water to cover completely with an each or two above. The measurement of water doesn’t matter here, it’s only for soaking purposes. 

  • Where to buy: If you’re looking for sprout seeds (alfalfa, broccoli, mung, etc.), check out your local health food store (such as Whole Foods) or online retailers.

STEP 2, WAIT

Let the nut/seed/grain/legume soak for the given time. Soaking and sprouting times differ amongst each grain, seed, nut, or legume. Refer to my chart below on specific times.

STEP 3, RINSE

Follow the soaking process with thorough rinsing. Rinse the water until it becomes clear, pour the old water out, fill with new clean water and repeat until clear. If you’re using a sprouting jar this is incredibly easy because you just pour water through the mesh lid and rinse as well- no needed to use a strainer. If you’re using a strainer simply rinse water on top and pay close attention for the water to become clear.

–> The process can stop here for most nuts/seeds and grains as they can be used just soaked and not sprouted. For example, making your own nut milks from the soaked nuts/seeds is perfect. Also, if you want to cook immediately your soaked grains and legumes, you can do so. Another option is to continue to STEP 4 with nuts/seeds/grains/legumes and sprout them, dehydrate, and then enjoy.

STEP 4, SPROUT

Refer to my soak/sprouting chart below for the times on how long it will take each nut/seed/grain/legume to sprout as they all differ. Essentially what you will be doing for this sprouting time is rinsing with filtered water several times/day- think of it as “watering” a plant (do this at least twice/day). The goal is to rinse the nut/seed/grain/legume and drain the rest of the water off (I do this by putting my sprouting jar upside down at about a 45 degree angle in my kitchen dish drying rack, it’s perfect because all the excess water goes right down the sink and gives the seeds enough air circulation to grow!

STEP 5, GROW

As the nut/seed/grain/legume starts to sprout, you’ll notice tiny “tail” coming from the seed, this mean it’s growing and sprouting! Sprouting times can vary from 1-4 days, you’ll know it’s finished when the seeds have a tail or they’ve sprouted greens! Check out this awesome picture of sprouted nuts/seeds/grains/legumes to visually see what you should be looking for.

STEP 6, STORE

Keep sprouts fresh in the fridge by wrapping them in a mesh cheesecloth or nut milk bag and use within 3-4 days.

Note: sprouts are at risk for contamination with food illnesses and bacteria such as e. coli. This can simply be avoided by keeping your kitchen clean, jars cleaned, hands washed, and purchasing organic seeds/nuts/grains/legumes. I’ve been sprouting almost weekly for the past 8 years and I’ve never had an issue. Just make sure you consume them fresh out of the fridge and within 3-4 days.

I hope you all find this helpful! Share this blog post with a friend or family member to share this interesting way to have grains/nuts/seeds/legumes. Hope you all enjoyed this “how to” post, would you like to see more?

xx McKel

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