Grow Sprouts for Fresh Food This Winter

Nutritious sprouts are perfect for indoor winter gardening. In just a few days, you can grow sprouts from a handful of seeds.

sprouts in bowl

Although some plants are more common than others (alfalfa or mung bean first come to mind), a wide variety of other plants are great for sprouting.

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As fun and satisfying as it sounds to have fresh food growing indoors in winter, the truth is that, unless you have a greenhouse or the absolute perfect window, most produce can’t grow with the limited light it would get indoors in winter. This is not the case with sprouts. Sprouts grow wonderfully indoors, and they add a burst of flavor to a wide variety of dishes.

Plus, sprouts are incredibly healthy. Contained inside a single seed is everything it needs to grow into a hearty plant. And that’s exactly why these tiny guys are such great sources of nutrients. You can certainly benefit from eating raw seeds, but soaking and sprouting them helps them begin to grow, unlocking some of those powerful compounds. It’s a great—and easy—way to release all that nutrition into a tangy, tasty treat.

In culinary terms, sprouts are typically enjoyed raw or cooked as flavorful additions to other foods, rather than eaten on their own. Sprouts fall into three broad categories: salad-, grain- and bean-type sprouts. Eating a variety of sprouts is the best way to take advantage of their complete buffet of flavors and health benefits. Many types of dishes can be improved by the addition of fresh, homegrown sprouts including scrambled eggs, salads, coleslaw, dips and spreads, salads and wraps, casseroles, soups, breads and stir-fries.

How to Sprout Seeds

First, choose a few plants to sprout and get organically grown seeds from your favorite company (try Johnny’s Selected Seeds or Sprout People). Although some types of sprouts (such as alfalfa) are more common, all the plants listed in “Seeds for Sprouting” below make good sprouts. Seeds require very little in order to sprout: mainly, to be kept moist and in contact with air. Although you can find commercial sprouting kits (including great automatic sprouters), the following simple methods fulfill the requirements. With any method, first rinse your seeds a couple of times, then soak them overnight in a clean jar of water.

Hemp bag method: Dump the soaked seeds into the bag, wet it thoroughly, then hang the bag on a hook to drain.

Jar method: Dump the soaked seeds in a glass jar. Cover the jar with fine-mesh cheesecloth or window screen, and secure it with a rubber band around the lip. Turn the jar over into a container with a wider mouth to catch dripping water.

For the freshest and best-tasting sprouts, rinse and drain the seeds (and then the sprouts) at least a few times a day. You can begin to harvest your sprouts as soon as the tails emerge, which is when they are sweetest, usually within a few days. Or let them grow an inch or two to determine when you like them best. Store in the refrigerator; they’ll stay yummy for a few days. For more growing tips and tasty recipes, read "Kitchen Counter Gardening: Try Sprouts." To learn even more, check out the useful book Sprouts: The Miracle Food by Steve Meyerowitz.

Seeds for Sprouting

Though some (such as alfalfa or mung bean) are more common than others, all of the following plants have great seeds for sprouting—experiment away!

Adzuki bean
Chinese cabbage
Garlic chives
Mung bean
Red clover

Safe Sprouts

Since 1990, several outbreaks of food poisoning have been traced to commercial sprouts. Should we worry about their safety if we grow sprouts ourselves? Probably not. Most seed sold for sprouting purposes has been tested for bacterial traces. As long as you start with uncontaminated seeds, use clean jars and water, and refrigerate grown sprouts, the risk of growing a crop of salmonella is next to nothing.

Sprout Hummus Recipe

This yummy dip packs a wallop of flavor and nutrition. 

• 1 cup sprouted beans, peas or lentils (or a mixture)
• 2 tablespoons tahini
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, diced
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
• Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Boil sprouts for 10 minutes or until soft, then drain.

2. Mix with remaining ingredients by mashing with a fork. (For a smoother consistency, use a food processor.)

3. Serve with seasonal vegetables, chips, crackers or toasted pita bread. Serves 6 as an appetizer.