Food News

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

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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.

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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