A few days ago I sprouted myself some fenugreek, and it occurred to me that perhaps not everyone is in the know about this food preparation technique. Alfalfa sprouts, for example, are frequently for sale in supermarkets, often at a premium price. But many people don’t realise that it’s a straightforward thing to do for ourselves at home and that it drastically improves the digestibility (and nutrient availability) of nuts and seeds.
So What’s the Deal with Sprouting Seeds?
You may have heard the term ‘activated nuts’ before. It has become a trend in the health food world of late – and for a good reason. An activated nut is simply a seed (of a tree) that has been soaked in water. Although it seems an obvious thing to say, many people don’t make the connection between nuts and seeds and the future plants they are going to become. And so I’ll start with some basics. Nuts are seeds, and seeds are, well, seeds, as are grains (grasses) and legumes (beans and pulses). Their purpose in fleeing the nest of their parent plant is to proliferate as new plants, the next generation of their species. Think dandelion clocks (their seeds) catching the wind and spreading far and wide, to grow into more dandelions. The same applies to seeds that are common in our food chain – sunflower, pumpkin, cress, almonds, alfalfa, mustard, etc. Each has come into existence for the purpose of growing into a new plant.
The Plant Life Cycle
To become a new plant, the seed must remain intact and undamaged until it can find it’s way into a cosy little nook of soil, where it will let down its guard and sprout into a seedling. Various plants have different ways of getting their seeds spread around; some use the wind, and some have come up with the means to get animals to do the hard work for them – we call one of these methods ‘fruit’.
Plants create sweet, delicious fruit to attract us animals, who will then carry the fruit away and consume it. As most of us know, at the heart of fruits are those precious little (sometimes huge) seeds, which will either fall to the ground once the fruit is eaten, or will be consumed, but will pass through the digestive tract and be deposited somewhere in a neat little package of compost. The plants need their seeds to remain undigested. Seeds contain a chemical compound called phytic acid which interferes with our digestive processes, but which breaks down into and releases phosphorous for the use of the seedling upon sprouting (learn more on phytic acid here: https://authoritynutrition.com/phytic-acid-101/ ).
The key is to trick them. Sprouting seeds is essentially re-creating the environment in which they would, in the wild, be triggered into growing. This therefore degrades the phytic acid and accesses the nutrient store the seed has reserved for itself. Soaking (the pre-cursor to sprouting), sprouting, and lacto-fermentation (think sourdough bread), all achieve the breaking down of certain digestion disrupting compounds and improve the nutritional value for the animals eating them (us).
So… How to Sprout?!
The core principles are;
- Soak the seeds: soak in filtered water in a jar at a ratio of at least 3:1 water to seeds. Cover the jar with a cloth that doesn’t let the light through.
- Drain and rinse the seeds: After soaking (usually overnight) drain in a sieve, and rinse using filtered water, ensuring that all excess water has drained away before returning to the jar.
- Leave them in the dark: seeds like the dark, it’s like being in the ground, so re-cover with the cloth, and leave at room temperature for a day, or longer, until the shoots of new plants are visible.
- Store: I like to remove them from their jar and tease them apart to give them more space if they’ve become compacted while growing, and then stick them in the fridge and eat within a week.
There are some variables involved here. Different seeds take different times to develop so some need to be soaked for longer than others. As a general rule of thumb, I leave mine (whatever they are) to soak overnight – there’s not many that need more than 12 hours, chickpeas being the main culprit for an extra long soaking.
Once soaked, some take longer to sprout, so have patience! I used to live in a very cold house, and it once took me almost a week to see my buckwheat sprout, although it can be as quick as 1 to 2 days. It is important to keep the seeds moist during the whole process, so rinse them through with fresh water each morning and evening. Make sure they are always fully drained – if they are left sitting in a puddle they will rot. Tie-ing a piece of mesh over the top of a jar and leaning it upside down on a dish rack, or something else that will keep it at an angle, is a good way of making sure all water drains out. And there you have it, tiny little nutritional bombs – add them to everything. Sprouts make a perfect garnish for pretty much any dish and activated nuts are the ultimate satiating snack.