Imagine troops on the front lines of World War II. By day they served their country, and by night they subsisted on tins of boiled meat and can after can of metallic-tasting potatoes. This miserable circumstance was something that food scientists in the 1940s worked hard to overcome—they wanted a vegetable that would grow quickly, could be cultivated under almost any conditions, and yet would have a high nutritional value and virtually no waste. What was the eventual answer? Sprouts!
Small but mighty, sprouted vegetables pack an enormous nutritional wallop for their size. Although nutritional profiles vary between different types of sprouts, all varieties of sprouts have a high level of antioxidants and vitamins A and C, and contain protein and essential amino acids. This makes them a uniquely powerful way, ounce for ounce, to eat your veggies. Sprouts are quick and easy to grow, and contribute a bright, fresh taste to your favorite foods.
The most commonly sprouted seed (for human consumption) in the United States is Alfalfa, which is a plant in the pea family. You can find containers of fresh, springy alfalfa sprouts at food co-ops year round. These crunchy little wisps of green help to liven up sandwiches and salads, and can also be used to garnish tacos, egg scrambles, cold vegetable soups or this Thai peanut pizza. Alfalfa sprouts are mild in flavor and contribute an elegant appearance to a finished dish.
Some of the more flavorful, nutritious sprouts that are commercially available are broccoli, daikon and onion sprouts. Broccoli sprouts have been the subject of much scientific attention, as some studies indicate they may have a high potential for cancer prevention due to their high concentration of sulfurophane. Broccoli sprouts have a spicy, sharper flavor that is great on a sandwich with creamy, rich cheeses like chevre. They also work well to accent dishes with strong flavors, like this Spicy Szechuan Sprout Salad.
There are more substantial varieties of sprouts. Mung bean sprouts (often referred to as simply “bean sprouts”) are used in many Asian cuisines. You may have encountered them as the long, crunchy, juicy white vegetables topping your Korean Bibimbap or bowl of Vietnamese Pho. They also appear in spring rolls, sushi, and even take a turn as pickles.
Sprouts are easy to grow at home—you just need a few pieces of basic equipment: a mason jar and a lid with a few holes poked in it, some cheesecloth and seeds. Be sure to use a suitable sprouting seed, like alfalfa, broccoli, radish, or kale. Plants that do not have edible leaves, such as any plant in the nightshade family, should never be sprouted. Generally sprouting is a process of soaking and rinsing seeds for several days, but you should ask your co-op's staff for information about the sprout you’d like to try, and get growing!
For more info on growing your own sprouts, check out Dana Thompson’s tutorial in this Co+op Kitchen video on sprouting!