By Cassie Johnston
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Was anyone else really big into sprouting beans when you were a kid? I’m talking the whole put a bean on a damp paper towel inside of a zip-top bag kinda deal. I always loved doing that. I thought it was so much fun to see this little unassuming bean go from, well, a little unassuming bean into something alive and green. Once the beanstalk was a certain size, my parents would help me transfer the little dude into a pot with some soil and we’d continue to watch him grow.
Eventually, something more interesting would always come along (Sonic the Hedgehog! A new Ghostwriter episode! A movie where Devon Sawa shows his butt!) and my foray into horticulture would end. But fast forward to now, and my love of sprouting things comes in so handy in my kitchen!
I’ve been collecting your sprouting questions for a few months now, and we have a lot to cover in this post, so I’m going to dive right in!
Sprouts are one of the easiest foods you can grow indoors. They require barely any space—if you can fit a Mason jar on your counter, then you have enough space. You don’t need any special equipment. And heck, you don’t even need a sunny window! Sprouts are a veggie that everyone can (and should) grow.
Aside from the fact that sprouts are an easy, cheap, and tasty vegetable anyone can grow, sprouting also has some real nutritional benefits. Sprouting legumes, grains, and seeds makes them much easier to digest by breaking down the anti-nutrients that are common in those foods. If you’ve ever had troubles digesting a particular grain or legume, I highly recommend trying it sprouted before writing it off all together. You might be pleasantly surprised that sprouted beans or grains don’t bother your body! In general, sprouting also increases the vitamin C and B content and the fiber! Sprouts rock.
I know a lot of folks are worried about sprouting safety because there have been so many outbreaks of salmonella and e.coli associated with sprouts from the grocery store. Why is this the case? Well, the warm humid environment that sprouts grow in is also the prime climate for bacteria to spread. In large-scale commercial operations, it’s almost impossible to keep the environment clear from all types of pathogens.
But luckily for you, the chance of getting a food-borne illness with sprouts is greatly diminished when you sprout at home. You control the seeds you use (and if they’ve been tested to be free of salmonella and e.coli). You control if your sprouting jar is clean or not. You control how much air circulation your sprouts get. You control who touches the seeds (and if they wash their hands first). You control how long the sprouts stay in the jar before being rinsed.
Basically, I never buy sprouts from the store (or get sprouts out a restaurant), but I’ve been happily eating sprouts grown at home for a decade now without a lick of trouble. And if you’re still concerned, you can always cook your sprouts to put the final nail in the coffin of any leftover bacteria.
You can sprout almost any legume, seed, or nut. Everything from chickpeas to alfalfa to kale to onions to clover. There are a few exceptions—not because they won’t grow a sprout, but because the effort required to get it “right” isn’t really worth it or because they aren’t good for you.
Chia seeds, flax seeds, and other mucilaginous seeds (the ones that create the goo) are tricky to sprout properly. You definitely can do it, but I generally just avoid it because there are so many other seeds that are way easier to sprout.
Avoid sprouting kidney beans for raw eating. They contain a toxin that causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in many folks. If you do choose to sprout kidney beans, make sure to boil the finished sprouts for at least 10 minutes before consuming.
Quinoa contains a high concentration of saponins, which in some folks causes a strong allergic reaction that makes them feel ill.
Nuts like almonds don’t actually make sprouts, they make “soaks,” which is what it’s called when a seed doesn’t produce a root during the sprouting process. They are still delicious, and the soaking process helps break down the anti-nutrients and makes them a healthier choice. Then if you like, you can dehydrate them if you want crunchy snacking nuts.
Technically, no. You can walk into the grocery store and pick up a bag of lentils, and chances are, they’ll sprout fine. BUT, I recommend you buy sprouting specific seeds for two reasons:
Here in the States, many foods that come in from other countries are irradiated to stop sprouting before they hit our grocery store shelves. Which means that no matter how well you take care of your seeds, they are never going to sprout.
Sprouting seeds are all tested and verified to be free of e.coli and salmonella. Growers of sprouting-specific seeds take great care to make sure the seeds they sell are very clean—meaning they are free of harmful bacteria and other pathogens that can thrive in the sprouting environment. That bag of lentils you picked up from the grocery store? The packagers of that were assuming your plan was to boil them at high heat—which would kill any pathogens. Sprouting seed providers know that isn’t the plan for their seeds and adjust their growing and packaging processes accordingly.
My local health food store carries some packets of sprouting seeds, but the vast majority of my sprouting seeds I purchase online. I’ve ordered sprouting seeds and mixes from Johnny’s Seeds (I really like their Organic Sprout Mix). But far and away, my favorite place to order sprouting seeds is from Sprout People. They have an amazing selection of varieties, mixes, and tools. I’ve also been really impressed with their germination rates and how long the seeds stay viable. I have a few bags from them that are going on three years old—and they sprout just as well as they did the day I go them.
Nope. To get started, all you need is a large clear jar (you don’t even need a lid), a small piece of natural, breathable fabric (cotton and cheesecloth both work), and a rubber band. That’s it. We tend to use wide mouth quart Mason jars for most sprouts, but sometimes we’ll also do wide mouth half-gallon Mason jars if we want a lot of sprouts. They do sell sprouting-specific jars, but honestly, they are a lot of markup for pretty much the exact same thing you get if you buy a $2 Mason jar.
If you find yourself enjoying sprouting, then I do recommend spending the $6.50 on these sprouter lids that fit on wide mouth Mason jars. They make the rinsing and draining process ever so slightly easier. There are other kids of sprouters—like tray sprouters—but I just love the simplicity and availability of a good ole Mason jar.
Oh, heck yes they can! Chickens, in particular, will devour sprouts like it’s their job (which it kinda is—to turn those sprouts in my eggs for breakfast). During the winter, I like to grow a few batches of sprouts per month for the chickens to get them some fresh food. We like these bird mixes from Sprout People and this foraging mix from Peaceful Valley (we also plant that foraging mix).
Dogs and cats are less apt to eat seed sprouts themselves, but they do love themselves some wheat grass—which just means you need to let your wheat sprouts grow a little bit longer!
Sure can. Follow the process below for whatever grain you want to use (wheat, rye, etc.), but only let your seeds just begin to sprout—you’re looking for at most 1/4” of a sprout. Then place them in a food dehydrator on the lowest setting until completely dry—about 24 hours. Grind in a grain mill, and voila, homemade sprouted grain flour! You’ll probably want to do a larger volume of sprout (using a half gallon jar works) to make enough for baking.
The sprouting process is a breeze. Let me walk you through it:
Different seeds will soak up different amounts of water, but a good rule of thumb is to use three parts water to one part seed. How much seed do you use? Well, it depends on the seed, the size of your container, and how much sprouts you want in the end. I made a handy-dandy little chart for some of the most common kinds of sprouts (you can click to enlarge and print).
Place the seed in a clean Mason jar, cover with cool water, and then stir to make sure all seeds are wet. You can leave the jar open (that’s what I normally do), or you can cover it with either a sprouter lid on top of the jar or a piece of breathable natural fabric (like cheesecloth or muslin) secured with a rubber band. Set it aside to soak for the listed amount of time.
A note about soaking: you don’t really need to stress about soaking precisely what’s listed in the chart. You aren’t going to mess your sprouts up if you soak for ten hours instead of eight.
Once the soaking time is up, you need to drain your sprouts. If you have a sprouter lid, just tip the whole jar over the sink and let the water rush out. If you used the cloth method, remove the rubber band and cloth, and place a fine mesh sieve over top of the jar. Invert it over the sink and let drain.
Then add more fresh, cool water to the jar, swirl it around a little bit, and rinse out that water. Make sure to really shake out as much water as you can.
Once the sprouts are all rinsed, I like to turn the jar in my hand so as many seeds as possible stick to the outside of the jar. This tends to get a bit better of a germination rate for me. Then prop the jar, upside-down, in a bowl, like so:
It’s important to keep the sprouts draining nicely, and this little trick seems to do it well. Set it in an out-of-the-way-but-not-forgettable spot. It doesn’t need to have sunshine (although, it doesn’t hurt), but it does need to be able to breathe. So I wouldn’t recommend storing it in a cabinet. I just do my sprouts on my kitchen counter.
Now your only job is to visit your sprouts twice a day (for most sprouts) and rinse them with fresh, cool water, drain, and prop back up in the bowl (you might want to empty out the water that collected in the bowl at this point, too).
For most seeds, you’ll start to see little baby sprouts within a day or so. You can honestly harvest and eat your sprouts at any stage, but most folks prefer to harvest sprouts that are 1/2-2” long. Keep on rinsing and draining until you get to the length you want.
You’re ready to harvest…now what? Give your sprouts one final rinse and drain, then remove the jar lid and dump all the sprouts out onto a clean, absorbent kitchen towel. Spread them all out onto one layer and let them air dry for 30-60 minutes before storing.
To store: I like to line a glass food storage container with a clean tea towel (paper towels work too) and then put the sprouts in. Then I wrap the sprouts up and close the container. Extra moisture is the enemy of sprouts (and most produce—this trick also works with herbs, lettuces, and other greens). Store in the fridge for up to a week.
You can now use your sprouts in any way that pleases you. I love them on sandwiches, in wraps, on salads (or even as the entire base of a salad). Bean sprouts are great in stir fries, frittatas, and scrambles. The possibilities are endless!
I almost never do this, but some people like to rinse away the hulls (the outer seed coatings) on their sprouts once the sprouts are finish. Here is a great tutorial for how to rinse away the hulls with a salad spinner.
Guess what? There is a very strong chance that your sprouts aren’t moldy at all, you’re just seeing the fine root hairs that look A LOT like mold. Like, a lot, a lot. Root hairs start to show up when the sprout is at its driest (and that’s why you see them when you go to rinse your sprouts again). If you use clean seeds, a clean sprouter, and make sure air is circulating (don’t keep your sprouts in a cabinet), the chances of having moldy sprouts is pretty slim. And yes, this applies to high humidity climates, too. I’ve sprouted without mold even in those glorious 90%/90° Indiana summer heat waves.
How do you tell the difference between mold and root hairs? Well, when you rinse your sprouts, does all the “mold” magically disappear? If so, then it’s root hairs. The water makes the fuzz fall back against the main root until they dry out again. You can also tell because mold smells! Root hairs don’t. Use your sniffer.
Sigh. Fruit flies are a natural (and annoying) part of having fresh produce—including sprouts—in your life in the summertime. We use apple cider vinegar fruit fly traps to try to keep the population down, but just accept that we’re going to have some houseguests for the warm weather months. To keep fruit flies out of your sprouts, I recommend using the cloth method instead of sprouting lids. The cloth keeps the fruit flies out, but they can fly through the sprouting lids. If you do notice fruit flies flying in and out of your sprouts, I’d recommend composting the batch and starting again (although, I hear insects are a good source of protein…).
Again, use your sniffer! Bad sprouts smell “off” and rancid. Many sprouts will also start to rust right before they go bad—so if they don’t smell bad but suddenly look a bit rusty or brown, make sure to use them up that day. In general, sprouts can keep around a week in the fridge when stored properly.
Phew, did you make it through all of that? If so, you are completely well-versed in the world of sprouting and ready to go order yourself some seeds and get going! As always, if you have any questions, leave a comment below, connect with me on social media, or shoot me an email. Happy sprouting!
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This is one of the things that has been on my “to try” list for a long time. I don’t actually know why I haven’t, since I have a bunch of lentils (and chia seeds) in my cupboard. I think you’ve motivated me to give it a go this weekend!
I look forward to lots of sprouted bean recipes! I’ve been really into them but I need more recipe ideas :)
I love sprouted lentils, I don’t put them in a jar though, I use a sieve, a bowl and a tea towel to cover them. I’ve seen it done in jars but it’s not encouraged here. I think it’s one of those cultural things, like boiling your jars of jam, we don’t do that!
They are great, sprouted lentils are a complete protein as well, you can use them in salad but you can use then as you would use cooked lentils. I add them to stir fries…
This is the article that inspired me to start. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipes are great!
Of all the things I have sprouted, I haven’t tried lentils yet! I think I’m going to go start on this right now!
Mung beans are my fave. :)
Oh my gosh, I am a lentil, bean and legume FREAK. How did I never hear of doing this? Sounds so simple. I wish my hubby was more on board for food like this because I could eat food like this every day all day!
This is so awesome! How have I never realized this before. Totally used to do that with beans too :)
I’ve never tried sprouted lentils before, but I’m really intrigued by this. I have about 1/3 cup of lentils just hanging around and I was trying to figure out what to do with them..I think I know now!
When you say “easier to digest” do you mean… the gas thing? Because I love legumes but they do not love me… if I could skip that by sprouting them that would be so great…
I found this awesome article on why sprouts are easier to digest. Check out the “Sprouting Aids Digestibility” section: http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2009/01/why-sprout.html
Need to start doing this , getting a Macaw soon and sprouts are number 1 on great things to feed her, thank you for teaching me how!
I have red lentils. I think they were a dollar at trader joes… So I got them for “just in case” purposes. I wonder what the difference is…
Red lentils are great for soups because they become very soft when cooked.
I started mine over the weekend and I haven’t gotten any sprouts, I am thinking its because we keep our house pretty cool. Do you think thats the cause?
We keep ours pretty cool, too. Are you rinsing them every 8-12 hours? Are any of them starting to split (that’s the first sign). And where are your lentils from? I’ve heard if they are oldish, they might not sprout.
I am rinising regularly. I got them at the co-op last week so I would imagine they aren’t too old as they were in a bulk bin but you can never be sure. Maybe I will try some from whole foods if these don’t sprout by the weekend. Thanks!
Hi Cassie, sprouts not just these but any you can make independently from the age even older than years. Just when they’re put in jar make a sign on the jar outside where their height inside is, then leave them in the water until they rise the height sign at least 30%. If they are older and more time needed to absorb water, water replace/wash them more often after that, first 1-2 times. And you can even leave them to sprout longer up to 10-15 cm, and than just cut without the roots for use. On that way you can put back roots again in jar to grow, sometimes you can repeat that even 4 times, depends on sources. It is better this way, because if they were with pesticides, their % is lowered to minimum without eating the roots.
kitchen science project with the kids this weekend. woot!
Thank you so much Cassie! The neighborhood I live in doesn’t have a store that sells fresh sprouts and I am tired of traveling to get them. I was investigating elaborate sprouting systems having decided I should invest in one. If only I had known it was so easy! I am soaking my sprouts as we speak…. thanks again = awesome post!
try some mung beans
Hi, I am big time into sprouting lentils at home since 15 years. I saw my mum do it. Well, here’s how it is:
-Soak 4 handfuls of any lentils overnight-green or brown or whatever you prefer in a container with some water.
– Next day, wrap the lentils in a soft, damp muslin cloth and transfer them into a colander. Keep washing the lentils( in the cloth) 5-6 times a day. Colander keeps draining the water and damp cloth keeps the lentils moist.
-Within 24-48 hours (depending on the room temperature), you would see long shoots popping out. Fun and easy and healthy!
I use the sprouted lentils raw in my salads with tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach etc with a dash of lemon.
You could also cook lentils with onion, tomatoes, ginger , garlic , salt in a pressure cooker. Each lentil has varied cooking time and if I was to start writing out on the yummy recipes, I would have to start a recipe blog. :)
You made my day. I just enjoyed some lentil’s I sprouted in a jar but I have some virgin muslin bags just waiting to become incubators.
thanks for this! how long will they stay good once they are sprouted? should they be rinsed again?
I sprout red lentils and make hummus so yummy
Ooh I want to try this! Do you think it would work to use a coffee filter instead of cloth? Also, how long do your lentils last once they are sprouted?
We’ve used coffee filters, too! The only issue is that they start to tear easily at the top when they get damp from rinsing, so you have to replace them often, but they work just fine. And I’d say they’ll last 3-5 days in the fridge—although they’re so yummy, they rarely make it that long!
Thanks so much for these great recipes and tips. I’ve been checking out your blog this past week and love what you are putting out there. Excited to go shopping and try your salads, bread, and breakfast recipes!
Hi Cassie! I just stumbled upon your blog while looking for how to sprout lentils, and I just had to leave a comment because your philosophy of getting back to your roots resonates so much with my husband and I on our blog, Curious Cuisiniere. We are just starting out on the journey to re-connect with our ‘roots’. It is such a learning process, but so much fun. I am so excited to have found another blogger so in line with our ways of thinking! Best, Sarah
Have you tried sprouting chia seeds yet? I always have chia in my house and was super curious about sprouting them.
I have, and haven’t figuring out a good method yet because of the gel quality that happens when they get wet. If you figure it out, let me know!
Was just going to ask how sprouting chia went. What about flax seed? Would flax sprouts enhance the omega 3 benefits?
I’ve actually never tried sprouting flax! Let me know if you try it out. :)
Hi Cassie, Great to meet another sprouter! I have a dark brown glass jar from the 70’s when I first sprouted.. LOL. But have done many kinds – except lentils! Do you use organic, from the bulk bin? I am thinking it is an important consideration, as the regular ones may certainly have pesticide on them, which is not a good idea.
I do! :)
This is so cool! Thanks for the great explanations. I have some lentils in my pantry and can’t wait to try it out.
I had no idea it was this easy to sprout lentils! I love them on top of salad (they bring a nice crunch) but cannot always find them in the store. Thanks to this I can just make them at home!
Do you know if this would work for sunflower seeds?
I’ve never tried, but I don’t see why not!
Sunflower seeds work too and are delicious!
Hi Cassie! Would it work for canned lentils? Thanks!
No, probably not. Canned lentils have been heated so high, that they probably lost all their sprout-ability (new word!).
I sprouted lentils but I notice that not every single lentil sprouted, only some of them. Did you have this same experience? I soaked the lentils in a jar and then transferred them to a colander until the process was complete.
Question! Do you eat the whole bean and sprout??? Or just the sprouts??? :) Thank you!
The whole she-bang!
I noticed you say water but not what kind is preferable or even the temp of the water. Doesn’t that make a different in the lentils ability to sprout? Clarification please :)
I just use room temperature tap water without issue. :)
Now and Then is an awesome movie!
Devon Sawa. Sigh.
Do I need to take out all the half-lentils? That seems like a lot of sorting.
Another very good thing about sprouted Lentils is that they are a good source of Vitamin B-17 — which is considered to be an “anti-cancer” vitamin.
Thanks for sharing this. it will help a lot
Hi, I was wondering if you know much about how sprouts fit into the autoimmune protocol. Would it just be ones from vegetables that are safe like radish and broccoli, or is it a no go since they are from seeds?
Yes, I researched this! It’s a gray area, but at least in the first few months on AIP—any sort of sprouts are out. If you’ve been on AIP for a while, and have complete elimination of symptoms, some folks have started to bring back in sprouts from veggies (the act of sprouting eliminates the antinutrients that are so problematic for autoimmune folks—so you’ll probably have good luck when you do bring them in).
I’m new to sprouting and i’m curious how long you would sprout quinoa since you said it has a high concentration of saponins….do you reduce the time to avoid that or you just have to take the risk and see if you’re one of those folks? Also, what would you recommend using for quinoa….a super super fine mesh? Lastly, my plan is to sprout quinoa as well as brown rice….after sprouting, do you cook as you normally would?
thanks in advance!
If you look at this chart, you can see how we recommend doing quinoa: https://wholefully.com/sprouting-101/#recipe
Thanks for this post! I’m starting to sprout my beans before cooking them to make them more digestible and lower in carbs. However, I’m not sure how long to let the sprouts get since I’m not eating the sprouts but cooking the beans like I would cook non-sprouted dry beans. Any ideas? Right now there are tiny sprouts just barely poking out of the pinto beans. is this the time to cook them or should I wait another day or two? Thanks!
That should be plenty long!
You’ve got a bit of misinformation above. The contamination issues arise from the seeds themselves (even ones you’ve grown at home, those seeds came from somewhere), not just the sprouting conditions of commercially available sprouts. This is why seeds should be disinfected before sprouting.
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