August 17, 2017

A Crop in 3 Days? And That’s in January

sprout_salad

Janine Pineo Photo - Clover sprouts top a salad, adding an extra crunch and more nutrition.

• By Janine Pineo •

As I write this, I am eating the results of a crop I sowed early in the week and harvested days later. And it tastes like spring.

Doubtful? Not a bit.

About eight years ago, I discovered the fastest way to get a big bang of nutrition  — and that fresh greens flavor — was to sprout sprouts.

You don’t need sunshine, which actually isn’t good for those sprouting seeds. You don’t need soil, except for a few of the larger seeds if you want to try those kinds.

You do need some things as simple as a jar, a warm spot (think top of the fridge) and some indirect lighting. If you have that and a bit of water for them twice daily, then you have a good chance of getting a crop in a matter of days.

And that is a beautiful thing in the middle of winter when the garden is to bed and your mind is craving something fresh you grew yourself.

If the seed is new, then three days is the usual time for many of the smaller seeds to reach their peak, such as alfalfa and broccoli. The larger seeds, such as mung bean (for the standard beansprouts) and lentils, can take a day or so longer. If the seed is nearing the year mark, then expect slower growth. And in some cases, the seed will fail because it is no longer viable.

I know about failed seed because I tried some older that I found buried in the seed bag and it went out with a stink. Literally. The seed barely sprouted and then just mouldered in the tray.

The stench was remarkable for a tablespoon of seeds.

sprouts_bioset

Janine Pineo Photo - Three trays means either one large single crop or three different varieties at one time.

Back in that first year when I got a hankering for sprouts, I purchased a germinator from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and it still serves me well. The germinator is a set of trays with drains except for the bottom collector tray. I fill the top tray with water and it drains down through each tray below, leaving enough moisture in each to keep things chugging along. When the last tray drains, I empty the collector tray and set the whole unit back on top of the fridge until the next watering.

It couldn’t be easier. It also is a lot less expensive than what you pay for a box of sprouts in the grocery store. Depending on where you purchase your sprouting seeds, a package could be as little as a couple of dollars. And that amount of seeds will grow several trays’ worth of sprouts.

You do the math.

The Basics

The most important thing is to purchase seeds that are specifically for sprouting. Seeds for sowing in your garden can be treated with chemicals or even contaminated with E. coli or salmonella, while sprouting seeds usually have been tested for contaminants. Make sure to check with the supplier.

Don’t think that alfalfa, broccoli and beans are the only kinds of sprouts out there. I have grown everything from clover to radish to kale to onion to lentils to fenugreek and beyond. The difference in flavor between all of them is astounding because one doesn’t expect those little sprouts to taste like much. But radish really tastes like radish. And mustard is usually spicy. And onion sprouts are exquisitely flavored.

My usual sources for seeds are two Maine seed companies: Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Pinetree Garden Seeds. Both offer an array of seeds for sprouting along with the germinator at Johnny’s and a number of supply options at Pinetree, including the germinator, hemp bags and mesh covers for Mason jars. You can visit a page of sprouting supplies for Johnny’s and Pinetree by clicking on the respective links.

I also just discovered the “grooviest” sprouts on the Web and mean to give them a try. Sproutpeople.org sounds like the owners are fearless in their adventures in sprouting and I think I would like to expand my repertoire a bit further. They also offer Sprout School for newbies and old sprouts alike who may want to try something different but need a bit of tutoring to get it right. The only downfall to their sprouts is that they sell them in really big quantities, as in a pound at a time. That’s a lot of sprouts, so you may want to try smaller offerings elsewhere to see what you like.

sprouts_trays

Janine Pineo Photo - The ready-to-harvest crops are (clockwise from top) alfalfa, mung bean and clover.

A Nutritional Wallop

Look up nutrition and sprouts on the Web and you will be awarded more stories than you could read in a lifetime. Much has been written about the powerful punch in sprouts, but each kind delivers different “good for you” things.

You can find information about nutrition at sproutpeople.org’s site and also the International Sprout Growers Association site.

For example, did you know that clover sprouts contain the most isoflavones of any sprout? Isoflavones have anti-cancer properties.

Or that lentil sprouts are 26 percent protein? Or that onion sprouts are 20 percent protein? Or that radish sprouts have 10 times more calcium than a potato?

And the king of sprouts, alfalfa, is a source of phytoestrogens that has been connected with the prevention of menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, cancer and heart disease?

You can find all that and more on the ISGA website.

More than Salad Fixings

If you still aren’t convinced, then maybe you need a few recipes to show that you can do more than just top a salad or stuff a sandwich. Although those are perfectly good uses, it doesn’t hurt to know how to spread sprouts around the menu for variety’s sake.

For some tasty-sounding recipes visit the ISGA site or the Sprout People site. There’s everything from pizza to breads to casseroles to drinks to tempt you into a food adventure.

So what are you waiting for? A fresh ingredient you grew yourself is just days away.