DIY: Sprouts

Bryhanna Greenough sprouts.

Sprouting is part of nearly every kindergarten class. Somewhere between story time and trips to the water fountain; song circles and incubators full of fuzzy chicks; a cluster of beans were cracking apart inside a jar, their long white racers probing to the light.

But until recently I had forgotten how easy it was to sprout beans. It took a week-long run of anemic-looking salad to get me thinking beyond the grocery store aisle. You see, by cultivating sprouts in your kitchen, you get to eat some of the freshest, most tender, nutrient-rich goodies ever.

Around here these days, any pasta or soup I manage to conjure up is sure to wear a crunchy little green dress. And unlikely as it may be, if I decide to get all fancy and bake up a loaf or a batch of muffins, it’s guaranteed a handful of sprouted seeds will make it into the mix.

It’s easy to fall into thinking you need some sort of special talent or secret knowledge to grow things from scratch. But this is so not true.

Well, okay, starting seeds does require a bit of a leap of faith. They don’t make any promises. But if you can provide somewhat agreeable growing conditions, they’ll usually come through. It’s what they want to do.

All it really takes is water. It’s not unheard of for a forgotten pot of lentils left to soak overnight to develop tiny living shoots by morning. Likewise, if you have a birdfeeder, you may have noticed seeds splitting apart to begin plants.

Don’t let the snow laying in piles outside your window deter you. Right now in my kitchen it’s no accident that jars of green nibbles and bobbly bits are popping apart like mad, their mass almost doubling every two days.

Mixtures of alfalfa, clover, radish, canola, sunflower, fenugreek, kamut, adzuki and broccoli raab are in my kitchen right now, spawning in containers—pickle jars, strainers, a sieve, the salad spinner… Even the handheld lemon juicer is holding sprouts. And to tell the truth, I don’t even know what fenugreek is, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the fenugreek. As long as I keep it moist, it happily grows.

Besides the feeling of heady satisfaction I get from activating new life left and right, and, of course, the repulsive-attractive joy of watching wormlike shoots creep out from a seed shell, all of this sprouting comes back to an undeniable feeling of purposefulness.

I’m getting too enthusiastic in my rediscovery of the kindergarten bean? Tough noogies.

Before you get started, you need some seeds. I picked up some broccoli raab from the Rabinowitz Organic Farm booth at the Farmer’s Market last fall. Like mustard seeds, they’re small and sort of red, and they pack a spicy punch. Food For Thought also carries an excellent variety of sprouting seeds, and they all come with directions. Each pack costs about three dollars and will produce a number of crops. Remember too that organic is the best way to go, otherwise you risk eating seeds coated with pesticides.

You can also attempt to sprout some of the dried goods in your pantry, like beans, lentils and wheat. Be careful doing this, however, since sprouts from some otherwise edible foods—like kidney beans—are toxic. Check before you eat. Also, if the seed has been irradiated (treated with heat to kill bacteria) it likely won’t activate. That said, both orange and green varieties of my grocery store lentils are sprouting in my kitchen right now.

Sprouts usually take three to six days to be ready for harvest. The smaller the seed, the less time it takes. Whether grown commercially, or in your kitchen, sprouting only requires three real actions: soak, drain and rinse.

So to get started, soak two tablespoons of seeds in a big cup of water for about four to eight hours. Drain off the water. Deposit the seeds into a big, clean jar. Place a piece of cheesecloth or mesh over the top and secure it with a rubber band. Or, if you don’t have any cheesecloth handy, ditch the jar and just put the seeds right in a colander. (If you go this route, ensure the seeds are larger than the holes.)

Rinse well.

Tip the jar at a downward angle so all the water drains out and the seeds collect on the side of the jar. After the initial big soak, they’ll get fausty if they sit in water for very long.

Rinse the sprouts every morning and night, making sure they never dry out. Again, be sure to allow the water to drain off completely each time.

With any amount of luck, within a few days you’ll have a rich crop of sprouts. If you wait even longer, you’ll have delicious baby greens. Sunflower sprouts are great for this.

Just a little time, effort and space are required, and you really don’t need much in the way of equipment. It truly surprises me sprouts are transported here from thousands of kilometres away, given they can be grown so quickly, cheaply and easily on our kitchen counters.

A great site for learning more about the nuts and bolts of sprouting: ­

Illustration by Kira Sheppard.


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