Sprouts and Shoots: For the Love of a Winter Salad
As we all search for ways to eat fresh, home-grown food year round—especially those of us with harsh winter climates—let us give tribute to the sprout and shoot…two super easy ways to feed your family fresh green and living foods all winter long; all year long, for that matter, for just a few moments of care a day. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals and are rich in antioxidants; so get ready to do your body good!
I used to be avid jar sprouter, using the Sprout Jar Lid but have recently converted to the Sprout Master Mini Triple Sprouter due to its great space-saving design and ease of use. It gives you the option of starting up to 6 varieties at a time in a 6”x5”x7” space. I wrote an article a few years ago about sprouting in a mason jar with a sprouting lid , so today I will focus mainly on sprouting with the Sprout Master as well as taking look at all of the varieties of sprouting seed that we carry.
How to Get Started Spouting
Whichever varieties you should choose to grow, there are just a few simple guidelines that will aid you on your sprouting adventure. First, be sure to purchase seed specifically sold for sprouting. You can be certain that the seeds we carry for sprouting have been handled in a sanitary manner, have been tested for salmonella and e-coli O157, and do not have any seed coatings. Even if you are not using this particular sprouter, this method can be applied to most other sprouters:
- Soak your seeds in warm water overnight (or 10-12 hours) in a warm location in a container that allows room for expansion of ~300%.
- Pour your seeds or seed mixes into your sprouter, rinsing them lightly to spread the seed evenly across the surface.
- Place your sprouter in a warm location, ideally around 75º F (slightly warmer for mung beans). Sprouting in cooler temperatures will result in slower sprouting and warmer temperatures will be faster.
- Double rinse each variety twice every day (morning and night), using cool water (3-4 times a day for Mung Beans). This process keeps the seed moist and washes away natural toxins.
- Allow the rinse water to drain thoroughly and then place on top of the drip tray.
- Stack each layer of the sprouter. The lid for one doubles as the drip tray for another.
Sprouts can take anywhere from 2 to 6 days to be ready to eat, depending on the variety and the temperature in your home. Some types, such as legumes and fenugreek, should be grown just until the root tail begins to emerge, while others, such as alfalfa, broccoli, and radish, are grown until they put up their first cotyledon leaves. For varieties grown to cotyledon (about the 3rd or 4th day), put them on a windowsill uncovered but out of direct sunlight so that they can green up which will allow the chlorophyll and carotenes to develop. Be sure to taste test along the way to determine the stage at which each variety is most appealing to you. After the sprouts have shed their hulls, rinse them in a bowl of water. Hulls will either sink or float for easy removal. Some people just leave them because there is evidence that the hull also contains nutritional value.
When your sprouts are ready, you can eat them right away for maximum health benefits or they can be stored for several days with minimal nutrient loss by simply turning over the sprout tray so that the drip tray becomes the lid and stops airflow. Or you can put them into another airtight container and start a new batch to be ready by the time you eat up the prior batch. Yum! Once you start, you won’t want to stop!
The Results Are In!
I did a taste test with all the varieties that High Mowing offers and am happy to report what my taste buds told me:
- Alfalfa is a very fine rooted sprout, has a good crispy texture, and mild sweet flavor. They are my all time favorite, whether on a salad, sandwich or just to munch on alone.
- Mung Beans are a close second though, as another mild and delicious sprout. Mung beans are much larger than alfalfa, so they have an even bigger crunch and are equally as versatile.
- China Rose Radish makes a great accompaniment to the mild sprouts because they really pack a punch. Initially sweet, they follow up with quite a peppery radish flavor which increases the longer you let them grow. They are also very attractive with a gorgeous rosy accent on deep green cotyledon.
- Crunchy Bean Mix is just as it sounds: crunchy, beany, and delightfully nutty and earthy. The array of beans range widely in size from fairly small lentils to medium sized peas to quite large garbanzos; this mix alone could make its own side dish. I can’t wait to experiment with recipes.
- Broccoli and the Broccoli Blend were similar in that they both had a strong brassica flavor, but the Broccoli Blend was a bit more complex and slightly milder. They both had a gently spicy aftertaste, which was delicious.
Spicy Salad Mix had a nice crunch and was also, umm…spicy! It was not quite as spicy as the China Rose Radish, however.
- Sandwich Booster Mix had a mildly sweet start, a crispy texture, followed by a nice earthy finish.
- Fenugreek have a pungent bitterness, which is a bit of an acquired taste. Though some people love bitter, it’s not usually my cup of tea.
So there you have it, my flavor report. My very favorites were the Alfalfa, Mung Bean, China Rose Radish, and Crunchy Bean Mix, but I am excited to try them all again and play with new combinations.
Growing Shoots: Another Great Option for Easy Indoor Growing
Growing shoots is another easy way to boost your winter green intake. You will need:
- An open flat growing tray with drainage holes and something to catch moisture for the bottom (I use another open flat with no drainage.)
- Potting soil or other soilless mediums such as vermiculite
- A clear propagation dome to hold in moisture
- A dark towel to block light
- A watering can, the type that has the option for a gentle shower.
- A spray bottle to gently mist seed
I have always used Vermont Compost Company Fort Vee potting soil for starting my shoots because that is what I usually have on hand, so I cannot speak directly for or against soilless mediums; however shoots do not need to be grown in soil, and do not need fertilization. That being said, there are many different mediums that can be used successfully, so you may want to experiment. This is my method:
- Soak your seeds in warm water overnight (or 10-12 hours) in a warm location in a container that allows room for expansion.
- Shallowly fill your open flat with about ½-1” of evenly damp soil.
- Spread seed evenly across the top of the soil and gently press into the surface. You do not need to cover the seeds with soil.
- Use a watering can with a gentle shower to water in the seeds.
- Cover with a clear propagation dome and place a towel over the dome to keep out light. Seeds prefer dark for germination.
- Each day, mist the seed with your spray bottle. You do not usually have to water them again because the propagation dome will hold in most of the moisture. If the soil does dry out, however, you can water again with the gentle shower.
- Once the shoots begin to grow, remove the towel to allow light in and place on a windowsill or under fluorescent bulbs, such as the ones used in a seed starting work station. You can keep the propagation dome on to hold in moisture until the plants grow tall enough to start pressing against the dome.
Our Varieties of Shoots
The two types of shoots that I have really enjoyed growing in the past are sunflowers and peas. Both of these shoots are wildly delicious. And if you don’t believe me, ask my 3 year old who will choose to munch on them over almost any other snack. They are both sweet and mild, and go well with any kind of salad, can be eaten alone as a snack, and also make for a pleasantly verdant winter garnish.
- Sunflower Shoots should be grown until their cotyledon fully emerge and then cut at the base of their stem before their first true leaves appear.
- Pea Shoots can grow a bit taller, but remember to taste along the way to see when the flavor appeals to you most. Peas will grow side shoots after their first cut, so you can get a second harvest, but they are slightly tougher the second time around. I can appreciate getting more for my money, so I usually endure and go for the cut-and-come-again method.
- Wheatgrass Shoots should be grown to about 7-10”, but harvested before the next growth spurt, known as jointing. I always thought that I could not consume wheatgrass because I am gluten intolerant, however I have recently learned that wheatgrass is not the part of the plant containing the gluten (it’s in the wheat berry), hooray! Wheatgrass, which is typically juiced, is jam packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, essential fatty acids and enzymes. It is, often times, used for detoxification and is very powerful stuff; therefore it should only be consumed medicinally in small amounts. I would suggest you read up a bit before experimenting because the detoxification can bring on headaches, but from what I have read the health benefits are plentiful. The flavor is sweet, but very strong, so if you are a wimp like me, you may want a chaser!
I just want to emphasize that anyone and everyone can grow sprouts and shoots. They are easy, fun, and you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to be successful. Once you give it a try, you will be hooked, as am I. And even if I wanted to stop, my family wouldn’t let me. We are all in love with winter greens!