Sprouts are considered wonder foods. They rank as the freshest and most nutritious of all vegetables available to the human diet. By a process of natural transmutation, sprouted food acquires vastly improved digestibility and nutritional qualities when compared to the non-sprouted embryo from which it derives.
Sprouted foods have been part of the diet of many ancient races for thousands of years. Even to this day, the Chinese retain their fame for delicious mung beansprouts`. Sprouts provide all the essential vitamins and minerals. They should form a vital component of our diet. Sprouting requires no constant care but only an occasional sprinkling of water.
All edible grains, seeds, and legumes can be sprouted. Generally, the following are used for sprouting :
Grains: Wheat, maize, ragi, bajra, and barley.
Seeds: Alfalfa seeds, radish seeds, fenugreek seeds, carrot seeds, coriander seeds, pumpkin seeds, and muskmelon seeds.
Legumes : Mung, Bengal gram, groundnut and peas.
Alfalfa, as the name in Arabic signifies, is the king of all sprouts. Grown as a plant, its roots are known to grow as much as 12 meters into the subsoil to bring up valuable trace minerals of which manganese is especially important to health and digestion; it is a vital component of human insulin. Apart from minerals, alfalfa is also a rich source of vitamins A, B, C, E, and K and amino acids. Sesame seeds are another good source of nourishment. They contain all the essential amino acids in their 20 percent protein content and higher concentration of calcium than milk. They are high in lecithin, unsaturated fats, vitamin E, and vitamin B complex, besides other live nutrients.
How to Sprout
As a first step, a good variety of seeds should be used for sprouting. It should be ensured that the seeds, legumes, or grains are of the sproutable type. Soybeans do not sprout well as they often become sour. Wheat has to be grown in soil. It is advisable to use seeds that are not chemically treated as this slows down the germination rate. The seeds should be washed thoroughly and then soaked overnight in a jar of pure water. The jar should be covered with cheesecloth or wire screening. The duration of soaking will depend upon the size of the seed. Small seeds are soaked for five hours, medium size for eight hours and beans and grains for 10 to 12 hours.
On the following morning, the seeds should be rinsed and the water drained off. Not more than one-fourth of the jar should be filled with the seeds for sprouting. Soaking makes the seeds, grains or legumes fatty, pulpy and full of water. It should, therefore, be ensured that the jar has enough room for the seeds to expand during sprouting. They will expand about eight times their original size. The jar should be kept at a place which is exposed neither to chill nor hot winds. It should also be ensured that the mouth of the jar is not completely covered so as to allow air in. The seeds should be rinsed and water drained off three times every day till they are ready to eat. The seeds will germinate and become sprouts in two or three days from commencement of soaking, depending on temperature and humidity. Care should always be taken to ensure that sprouts do not lie in water. They should be kept well drained to prevent souring. Sprouts are at their optimum level of flavour and tenderness when tiny green leaves appear at the tips. Their nutritional value is also optimum. To retain their freshness and nutritional value, they should be placed in a refrigerator, if they cannot be consumed immediately after reaching suitable maturity. Sprouts can be kept for several days in this way.
Some caution is necessary in sprouting. Soaking for a longer period than required makes the seeds rot or ferment. The main factors for germination are water, air, heat and darkness. There may be poor germination or no germination at all if any of these factors are not present such as insufficient water, or too much water, lack of sufficient heat, lack of fresh air, either too cold or too hot surroundings and too much light.
Benefits of sprouting
There is an amazing increase in nutrients in sprouted foods when compared to their dried embryo. In the process of sprouting, the vitamins, minerals and protein increase substantially with corresponding decrease in calories and carbohydrate content. These comparisons are based on an equivalent water content in the foods measured. Analysis of dried seeds, grains and legumes shows a very low water content. But this increases up to tenfold when the same food is converted into sprouts. For accurate comparison each must be brought to a common denomination of equal water content to assess the exact change brought in nutritional value. Sprouted mung beans, for instance, have a 8.3 increase of water content over dried beans. Hence the nutritional value of sprouted and dried mung beans can be compared by multiplying the analysed nutrients of sprouted mung beans by the factor of 8.3.
Based on this criterion, the changes found in sprouted mung beans when compared with the figures for the beans in the dried state are as follows :
|Energy content – calories||Decrease 15 per cent.|
|Total carbohydrate content||Decrease 15 per cent|
|Protein availability||Increase 30 per cent|
|Calcium content||Increase 34 per cent|
|Potassium content||Increase 80 per cent|
|Sodium content||Increase 690 per cent|
|Iron content||Increase 40 per cent|
|Phosphorous content||Increase 56 per cent|
|Vitamin A content||Increase 285 per cent|
|Thiamine or Vitamin B1 content||Increase 208 per cent|
|Riboflavin or Vitamin B2 content||Increase 515 per cent|
|Niacin or Vitamin B3 content||Increase 256 per cent|
|Ascorbic acid or Vitamin C content||An infinite increase|
The increase in protein availability is of great significance. It is a valuable indicator of the enhanced nutritional value of a food when sprouted. The simultaneous reduction in carbohydrate content indicates that many carbohydrate molecules are broken down during sprouting to allow an absorption of atmospheric nitrogen and reforming into amino-acids. The resultant protein is the most easily digestible of all proteins available in foods.
The remarkable increase in sodium content supports the view that sprouted foods offer nutritional qualities. Sodium is essential to the digestive process within the gastro-intestinal tract and also to the elimination of carbon dioxide. Together with the remarkable increase in vitamins, sodium materially contributes to the easy digestibility of sprouts.
Dried seeds, grains and legumes do not contain discernible traces of ascorbic acid, yet when sprouted, they reveal quite significant quantities which are important in the body’s ability to metabolise proteins. The infinite increase in ascorbic acid derives from their absorption of atmospheric elements during growth.
Sprouts have several other benefits. They supply food in pre-digested form, that is, the food which has already been acted upon by the enzymes and made to digest easily. During sprouting, much of the starch is broken down into simple sugars such as glucose and sucrose by the action of the enzyme ‘amylase’. Proteins are converted into amino acids and amides. Fats and oils are converted into more simple fatty acids by the action of the enzyme lipase.
During sprouting, the beans lose their objectionable gas producing quality. Research has shown that oligosaccharides are responsible for gas formation. For maintenance of health, some amount of gas production is necessary but it should be within safe limits. As the process of germination ends and sprouting begins, the percentage of oligosaccharides is reduced by 90.
Sprouts contain a lot of fibre and water and, therefore, are helpful in overcoming constipation. Sprouts are an extremely inexpensive method of obtaining a concentration of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. They have in them all the constituent nutrients of fruits and vegetables and are ‘live’ foods. Eating sprouts is the safest and best way of getting the advantage of both fruits and vegetables without contamination and harmful insecticides.
It should, however, be ensured that seeds and dried beans are purchased from a store where they are fresh, unsprayed and packaged as food. Seeds that are packaged for planting purposes may contain mercury compounds or other toxic chemicals.