Food News

Grow Your Own Sprouts: Hippocrates Greenhouse Manager Brian Hetrich Shows Us How

Want to incorporate healthier foods into your diet but don't have the budget to be splurging on expensive organic eats? That's OK. We feel you. Instead of buying expensive food, we suggest growing your own. Even if you weren't blessed with a green thumb and don't have an inch of outdoor space to spare, you can still grow your own nutritious, raw, living food right at home. No dirt, weeding or tilling required.

How? None of the ordinary rules apply if you're growing sprouts, according to Hippocrates Health Institute greenhouse manager and naturopathic doctor Brian Hetrich. The process feels more like prepping food than actual gardening. All you need to get started: sprout seeds, a glass Mason jar, and mesh lid.

See also:
- Hippocrates Health Institute: Raw Vegan Eats
- The Hippocrates "Sex" Salad Recipe

At Hippocrates, Hetrich grows sprouts including alfalfa, buckwheat, sunflower, lentil, radish, broccoli, mung, and lentils for the salad bar that feeds guests going through the Life Transformation Program. Once every few weeks, he also teaches a class on how to grow your own sprouts at home, a good place to start for those interested in following the Hippocrates raw vegan diet.

According to the Hippocrates ethos, living foods are an integral part of healing through food. By the natural process of transmutation, the vitamin, mineral, enzyme, phytonutrient, and amino acid (protein) content of sprouted food can be up to 30 times more available than that of raw vegetables, making sprouts a true "super food." They are also biogenic, or capable of creating new life when planted, and will transfer this life-force energy to your body through consumption, said Hetrich.

"Sprouting [seeds] releases dormant enzymes that make [sprouts] more nutritious than any organically grown vegetable," Hetrich told Clean Plate Charlie during a recent interview. "Because of this superconcentration of natural enzymes, sprouts are easily digestible, and their nutrients are more bio-available."

Full of antioxidants and a full profile of enzymes, vitamins, and minerals, sprouts have a long history as a "health food." And because they also contain an abundance of highly active antioxidants that prevent DNA destruction and protect us from the ongoing effects of aging and cellular breakdown, recent research shows they can have an important curative ability as well, said Hetrich.

Mung bean sprouts are among the easiest to grow and contain pure forms of vitamins A, B, C, and E, in addition to an assortment of minerals including iron, calcium and potassium. They're also free of cholesterol and ideal for anyone counting calories. One cup of mung bean sprouts contains about 30 calories, three grams of protein, six grams of carbohydrates, and less than one gram of fat. Sprouts are also a good source of fiber and are easily digestible.

Sprouts like alfalfa, radish, broccoli, clover, and mung bean are known for having concentrated amounts of phytochemicals that can protect against disease. Many sprouts also contain plant estrogens, which have been shown to help increase bone formation and density and prevent bone breakdown and osteoporosis. In women, it can be helpful in controlling hot flashes, menopause, PMS symptoms, and fibrocystic breast tumors.

Likewise, studies on canavanine -- an amino acid found in alfalfa -- have been shown to fight certain types of cancers, including pancreatic, colon, and leukemia cancers. Alfalfa sprouts are also a good source of another compound, saponins. Saponins have been shown to help lower "bad" cholesterol, and also stimulate the immune system by increasing the activity of natural killer cells such as T- lymphocytes and interferon. 

However, here's the most important part: the saponin content of alfalfa sprouts is more than 400 percent over that of unsprouted alfalfa. This exponential jump in bioavailable nutrients is similar for any living sprout over its unsprouted counterpart.

While it's easy to argue that sprouts are good for you, some argue it's not safe to eat raw, uncooked sprouts -- especially for those with a compromised immune system or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding -- due to reported cases of food-borne illness from eating contaminated sprouts. It's also why you don't often see them on restaurant menus as an add-on to your favorite salad or sandwich.

However, according to Hetrich, the debate over sprout safety has been one-sided. The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that of the 4 million people who contract salmonellosis from foods each year, 93 percent are caused by meat, chicken, dairy, milk, eggs, and cheese while less than 0.002 percent of these cases are the result of eating raw sprouts.

"There is simply no reason to avoid eating fresh sprouts," said Hetrich. "While no one can guarantee the absence of germs on any food, I believe it's far safer to eat raw sprouts over foods like meat, chicken, milk, and eggs. Eating these supernutritious living foods is one of the best things you can do to boost the strength of your immune system, protecting you from all diseases."

Luckily, sprouts aren't just good for you -- they're also incredibly easy to grow at home. A single batch made from just 1/2 cup of sprout seeds takes less than a week to harvest and can feed a person for three to five days with very little maintenance. In addition, most sprouts can be grown using the same basic method and using the same jar set-up.

The best part: Outside of their nutritional value, growing your own sprouts presents a huge cost savings, said Hetrich. Once you have the necessary equipment, a few dollars' worth of sprout seeds can supply you with months of raw, living food. For example, a single batch of sprouted mung beans will cost less than a dollar to grow but sells for $3 to $5 at your local grocer or fresh market.

Although you can also sprout larger beans like red, black, pinto, and lima beans -- even nuts and grains, including wheatgrass -- here we teach you the basics on how to grow your own bean sprouts, the easiest and fastest type of sprout to grow. Use them to make a nutritious raw vegan salad, or use them as a crunchy sandwich topping.

The following is Hetrich's step-by-step for growing the most basic type of sprouts: bean sprouts including mung, red and green lentil, green pea, garbanzo, adzuki, and fenugreek. Once your sprouts are ready to harvest and eat, there's plenty you can do aside from salad toppers. Whole raw garbanzo beans, for example, can be used to make a great hummus. Get the recipe after the jump.

How to Grow Bean Sprouts

Your air-conditioned home is the perfect place to grow sprouts, especially the kitchen. Never grow sprouts outdoors. Humidity will produce mold, and direct sun will keep seeds from sprouting. Just follow these basic guidelines:

  • No direct sun.
  • Low to moderate humidity (50% or less is ideal).
  • Room temperature between 65 and 75 degrees is best.

  • A sprouting jar (such as Easy Sprout) OR a 1-litre Mason jar, preferably wide mouth
  • A set of sprouting lids OR mesh screen or cheesecloth, elastic band or mason jar ring
  • Fresh, filtered water
  • 2-5 Tablespoons of seeds to sprout (small seeds start with 2 T, larger ones go with 4-5 T)

A commercial plastic sprouting lid is made to fit a standard 1-litre glass Mason jar.

  1. Put your seeds of choice in a Mason jar (or other glass jar of your choice)
  2. Cover with water generously (seeds will expand during soaking) and soak overnight for 8 hours.
  3. Cover the mouth of the jar with a sprouting lid (or your cheesecloth/mesh cloth secured with an elastic band or Mason jar ring). Prop jar at a 45-degree angle in a dish-rack or bowl, and let water drain. Repeat this process 2-3 times a day, thoroughly rinsing and draining seeds.
  4. Continue rinsing and draining until you see sprout tails (taste as they are sprouting to see which stage you find most desirable). The flavor becomes more neutral as they grow.

Once your sprouts are ready for harvesting, rinse them well and pat dry. Place the sprouts in a sealed container or jar in the fridge for up to five days. You can also use Debbie Meyer Green Bags (available at Whole Foods), which will double the life of your sprouts. Don't forget to place a piece of paper towel or cloth at the bottom of the container / bag to absorb any excess moisture.

Hippocrates Raw Hummus Recipe
Yield: 5 ½ cups

4 cups sprouted chick peas
1 Tbs. kelp powder
1 ½ cup olive oil
1 Tbs. Frontier pizza seasoning
3 cloves garlic
1 pinch cayenne
4 oz. lemon juice
2 Tbs. ground cumin seed
1 Tbs. coconut aminos

  1. In a high speed blender such as a VitaMix, combine all ingredients.
  2. While blending, stir vigorously using the plunger through the lid.
  3. Season to taste.

If you are interested in learning more about how to grow your own sprouts or to reserve a spot in Brian Hetrich's next tutorial, visit the Hippocrates Health Institute website, or call 888-228-1755.

Follow Nicole Danna at @SoFloNicole.

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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna