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Sprouting 101: How to Sprout and Why You Should

Overhead shot of various types of sprouts in mason jars, including lentils, alfalfa, clover, mung bean, wheat, radish, pea, and mustard

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Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about sprouting, including what sprouts are, why you should try them, and how to sprout.

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!

What are the benefits of sprouting?

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.

Side shot of various types of sprouts in mason jars, including lentils, alfalfa, clover, mung bean, wheat, radish, pea, and mustard

Is it safe to sprout?

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.

What can I sprout?

You can sprout almost any legume, seed, or nut. Everything from chickpeas to broccoli to millet to radish to red clover to mung beans. 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 them.

Quinoa contains a high concentration of saponins, which in some folks causes a strong allergic reaction that makes them feel ill.

Individual piles of sprouts labeled with the type of seed - radish, mustard, alfalfa, clover, lentil, pea, wheat, mung bean

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 (so digestion is easier) and makes them a healthier choice. Then if you like, you can dehydrate them if you want crunchy snacking nuts.

Do I need special sprouting seeds?

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. This 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.

Where do I get sprouting seeds?

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.


Overhead shot of bags of sprouting seeds - pea, radish, clover, mung bean, and lentil seeds

Do I need special tools?

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.  If you find yourself enjoying sprouting, then I do recommend spending the few bucks on these sprouter lids that fit on wide-mouth Mason jars. They make the rinsing and draining process ever so slightly easier. 

Two mason jars side-by-side filled with clover and lentil sprouts


Can my fur-and-feather babies eat sprouts, too?

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!

Can I make sprouted grain flour at home?

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.

Okay, how do I actually sprout?

The sprouting process is a breeze. Let me walk you through it:

Step 1: Soak your seeds

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).

Chart laying out how to sprout various types of seeds, including the amount of seed needed, and the yield, soak time, and when to harvest

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.

Overhead close-up shot of 12 mason jars filled with seeds and water for sprouting; each jar contains a different type of seed

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.

Step 2: Drain and rinse your sprouts

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.

Hand holding a jar of alfalfa sprouts under a sink faucet to rinse the sprouts

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:

Upside down mason jar filled with broccoli sprouts, tilted into a white bowl

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.

Step 3: Rinse, drain, repeat.

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.

Step 4: Harvest, store, and use your sprouts!

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.

Overhead split shot - on the left, pea sprouts on a tea towel in a glass container; on the right, the container sealed around the sprouts and towel

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!

Optional Step 4a: Rinse away the hulls

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 finished. Here is a great tutorial on how to rinse away the hulls with a salad spinner.

Mix of various types of sprouts on a white background



Why do my sprouts always go moldy?

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.

Fruit flies are all over my sprouts! What do I do?

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…).

I think my sprouts have gone bad in the fridge, how do I know?

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, fresh sprouts can keep around a week in the fridge when stored properly.

Overhead shot of 12 mason jars filled with seeds and water for sprouting; each jar contains a different type of seed

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!

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

Leave a Reply

141 Responses
  1. Kate

    This is the first article I’ve ever read about sprouting. I am so relieved because you made this process seem far less intimidating. I can’t wait to try sprouting today!

  2. Lynn

    Hi, trying first batch of sprouts today. If I do well with them over the next few weeks, then I would like to continue. My question is, how can I keep renewing my sproutable beans/seeds without having to mail order them? Would love to be self sustaining.



    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Lynn! You can, of course, grow the plants to maturity and save your own seeds—but we really don’t recommend this for sprouts (great for gardening, though!). It’s almost impossible to create the sterile environment and have the testing equipment needed to ensure your seeds are free from bacteria. That’s why we recommend ordering your seeds from a reputable company. We love the idea of being self-sustaining, too, but since sprouts are consumed raw, we would much rather have the peace of mind that they’re safe for us and our families!

  3. Danielle

    Hello! I’m new to sprouting and I would like to sprout zucchini. I can’t find anything on it. Should I be expecting 7 days? Is it better to microgreen them? (I’d prefer sprouts.) Will the seeds be okay since they aren’t for sprouting? I couldn’t find any sprouting zucchini seeds, so I just got them from True Leaf (I found this article after!) Thanks!!

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Danielle! We’ve never sprouted zucchini before for eating, but when we grow it for the garden, it typically germinates within 4-5 days. We don’t recommend using seeds from a non-sprouting source though—they aren’t tested with the same rigorous testing that sprouting seeds go through and can contain diseases that will easily spread in the hot and humid environment. We hope this helps!

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi Mariana! Thanks for pointing that out—apparently they don’t sell it anymore. That’s such a bummer! Unfortunately, we haven’t used any other no-rinse solutions. But the typical rinsing process is really easy and we outline everything you need to sprout safely and successfully in the post. Hopefully, that helps! Let us know how it turns out for you!

  4. Ingrid

    please stress to use filtered water not the chlorinated and 22 different chemicals added faucet water otherwise your sprouting is almost pointless.

  5. Leslie


    I am trying to use sprouted beans in my recipes for beans (such as soups and chilis) in order to eliminate the anti-nutrients in them. If I am sprouting beans for this purpose how long should I allow the sprouts to get before I cook them. On that same note, the beans don’t all sprout at the same rate, so do I assume the beans are ready for cooking when the majority have sprouts on them?

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi, Leslie! We’re not sure the exact amount of time it takes to remove the anti-nutrients, but we’ve always heard that if you are sprouting to use the bean in cooking, just sprout until you can see it first breaking through the shell. And yes, cook them when the majority are sprouted. Hope this helps!

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi, Lucia! The sprouting chart in the article is printable, otherwise we don’t have any specific print features on the post. Your best bet will be to use the print function on your browser to print out what you need. I hope this helps!

  6. Ilse

    Thank you for the detailed information and the time guide. It is really useful. I live in South Africa and we have just bought a place with a small garden that I have big plans for (my husband teases about extending the garden to an upper floor to accommodate all my ideas – don’t tempt me). I found a really good supplier of heirloom seeds and they have sprouting seeds as well, so my limited mung bean, lentil and chick pea sprouting options are getting a boost with urad dahl, clover, alfa-alfa, buckwheat and a few others. And I will be getting into the world of micro greens too. I am about to read your article on it.

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      That’s so great to hear, Ilse! Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us. Best of luck with your sprouts and your micro greens! =)

  7. Rachel

    I am considering buying the SproutGrower (I don’t have a wide mouth mason jar so I need to buy something anyway). Are you still enjoying using it for sprouting?

  8. Micheal

    I have been growing hot peppers lately and just started trying sprouts ( alfalfa, clover, radish and mustard). I was wondering if the hot pepper seeds would be good for sprouting. If so how do I prep the seeds?

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi, Michael! Yes, you can use hot pepper seeds for sprouting, but we’ve never done it ourselves. So other than the general ideas outlined in the post, we don’t have any insights into how to prep those specific seeds. It will take a bit of experimenting, but we think that’s the fun part! Good luck and please let us know how it goes!

  9. Mary Buckley

    I do a lot of sprouting, and really appreciate all the information here especially trying other beans and legumes. I have a question about the water that you drain from the sprouts. Can you use that water for watering plants? Would it contain any good things, or is it just not a good idea to use it.

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi, Mary! We generally discard ours, but we think it would probably be okay for watering established plants if you’d like to put it to use.

  10. Hilary Sassen

    Hi, and thanks for the tips! I used to sprout ‘beansprouts’ years ago, forgot about them, and now with lockdown trying to lose some weight!!! so eating a lot of salads (summer here), so started sprouting again!!! Loving it.
    Have done lentils – my chickpeas didn’t sprout (probably old) so will try Sesame next! Thanks for a great website!

  11. Chris Hickey

    Is there a list of seeds that will work in water alone vs those that need soil? I’ve had great success so far with radish and kale seeds done in the manner described, but it seems as though my beets and arugula need the bed to root in…is this true?

    1. Danielle @Wholefully

      Hi, Chris! We don’t have a list of seeds for sprouts versus microgreens, unfortunately. Trial and error is a fun way to figure it out, though! It sounds like you’re already on your way to creating your own list by doing just that. Good luck and happy sprouting!

  12. Hi, Cassie! Thanks for this very thorough article. Have you tried sprouting pistachios? I though that wasn’t possible until I saw them sprouted pistachios in an online specialty foods store, super expensive.

  13. Domi

    I read somewhere that srpouts should not be eaten raw because of bacteria. Is it really so? Wouldn´t cooking kill the nutrients and make one lose all the benefits of sprouts?

  14. Joyce Pyle

    I’m having trouble sprouting my onions we bought a bag of seeds from a company and only 5 or 6 will sprout out of two table spoons of seeds. What am I doing wrong?

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Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

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