You probably already know that alfalfa and mung bean sprouts add nutrition and color to sandwiches, salads, stir-fries, and soups. Sprouted wheat and other grains provide similar health benefits, as well as adding flavor and interesting texture to breads and other foods. As you think about your favorite holiday recipes, consider adding sprouted grains to your repertoire.
In his book On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee says, “Sprouts have nutritional value midway between that of the dry seed, which they just were, and a leafy green vegetable, which they’re on their way to becoming.” Sprouted grains and other seeds are lower in calories than most vegetables, and higher in protein; vitamin C; B-complex vitamins; and minerals such as iron, calcium, and potassium. The carbohydrates in sprouted grains are also more easily digested because of the enzymes activated during sprouting.
What to Sprout
Technically, you can sprout any grain that’s whole, uncracked, and untreated. Wheat is the obvious choice for baking, but amaranth, hull-less barley, buckwheat, corn, einkorn, farro, kamut, millet, quinoa, rice, rye, sorghum, and spelt can all be easily sprouted. Oats sprout well, but you’ll need to look for untreated oats specifically intended for sprouting; because oats are relatively high in fat, they’re often steam- or heat-treated before drying, which will prevent the grain from sprouting.
Milling and cracking crush the germ inside grain, destroying the embryo plant, so they can’t sprout. Likewise, grains that have been hulled, husked, pearled, rolled, or flaked won’t sprout. I recommend starting with wheat; it’s often easier to find as a whole grain than other choices, and it also sprouts reliably.
You can usually find common grains such as wheat, spelt, and rye in the bulk foods section of health or natural food stores. Untreated sprouting oats, einkorn, and other less-familiar grains may be harder to find locally, but can be purchased online (see “Where to Buy Whole Grains,” below).
Sprouting isn’t fermentation — you’re simply germinating grain, much like any other kind of seed, except you’re not going to grow mature plants. You want the grain to just barely sprout.
Use a small amount of grain, say 1/4 cup, until you get the feel of the sprouting process. A little goes a long way; the grain will increase in weight by half again during the sprouting process, and you only need about 1/2 cup sprouted grains per loaf of bread.
Start by rinsing the grain and picking out any stones or visible dirt. Put the rinsed grain in a container, and cover it with room-temperature, non-chlorinated water — spring or filtered water is best. A ratio of about two parts water to one part grain is ideal. Cover the container and let the grain soak for 12 to 24 hours.
Drain the water off the grain, but save it! You can use it to make bread or water your plants, as it’s rich in enzymes and minerals.
Put the grain back in the container, cover it with a damp, clean kitchen towel, and keep it at room temperature in a dark place — I put mine in a cupboard. Rinse with room-temperature, non-chlorinated water at least once every 12 hours. Depending on how warm it is in your kitchen, you might see the first tiny tail of a sprout within 3 to 6 hours. Be patient, though; some grains take longer than others to sprout, but most will be ready to use within 1 to 3 days.
The Daily Grind
You can grind barely-sprouted grain into a flour that will make a fairly light yeast bread, while grinding grain when it’s been sprouted longer tends to result in a denser loaf. Because three days of sprouting brings enzyme activity to its peak, it’s best to stop the sprouting process at about three days to begin drying the sprouted grains.
I recommend drying sprouted grains in a dehydrator, not in the oven. Line the dehydrator trays with non-stick sheets, such as parchment paper, and dry the grains for 12 to 18 hours. You want the grain to be firm and dry before you grind it.
Any mill designed for dry grain can handle dried sprouted grain, too. To retain the nutritional benefits of sprouting, avoid over-grinding; at and above 120 degrees Fahrenheit — a temperature some grain mills can reach when grinding room-temperature grain — some of the enzymes activated through sprouting will be destroyed.
Don’t attempt to grind wet grain sprouts with a grinder only designed for dry grain. If you want to grind wet sprouts and aren’t sure whether your mill is suited for wet material, use a meat grinder, chopping knife, blender, or food processor instead.
If you don’t have time to sprout or grind grains, but you still want a flavor, texture, and nutrition boost for your bread, you can substitute about ½ cup whole or coarsely cracked grain in the No-Knead Sprouted Grain Bread Recipe. Steam the grain until it’s al dente, drain, and cool before adding to the bread dough.
Moisture activates amylase — an enzyme in the endosperm that converts starch to sugar — initiating the sprouting process. Amylase in grain transforms stored starches into food for the growing plant; in our saliva, it initiates carbohydrate digestion. “Malting” also refers to sprouting and drying grain, typically for brewing, and gave rise to the name “maltose” for the primary sugar sprouted grains produce. The maltose produced during sprouting feeds yeast during fermentation — useful for bakers and brewers alike. Sprouted grain helps bread rise well during fermentation, brown nicely during baking, and taste pleasantly sweet.
Other Uses for Sprouted Grain
If your sprouts are ready to bake, but you aren’t, then refrigerate them and use them up within a few days in salads, casseroles, or soups. Sprouted grains are a great treat for chickens or turkeys, too!
After you get used to the process of sprouting grains, I’m confident you’ll find that you enjoy taking one more step toward being in charge of your diet and health. Sprouted grains are an easy, inexpensive way to add nutrition and variety to many different foods. Here’s to a healthy diet that’s rich in whole grains!
Where to Buy Whole Grains
If you don’t have time to sprout or grind grains, but you still want a flavor, texture, and nutrition boost for your bread, you can substitute about 1/2 cup whole or coarsely cracked grain in the No-Knead Sprouted Grain Bread Recipe.
Victoria Redhed Miller is the author of From No-Knead to Sourdough: A Simpler Approach to Handmade Bread; Pure Poultry; and the award-winning Craft Distilling. Victoria is also a regular speaker at the Mother Earth News Fair. She lives on an off-grid farm in northwest Washington state with her husband, David.