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The Best Sprouts to Eat and Grow
Fresh is hard to find in early Spring, except for growing your own sprouts or buying them at the indoor Farmers’ markets. Which ones pack the most punch?
Spring is one of the best times of the year. Picturesque signs of new life, growth and renewal emerge as we thaw from a long, dark and cold winter season. Light patches of green grass surface, birds and squirrels come out and play, and the first little buds push out from the ground; all signalling the bright and warmer days ahead. What is most exciting about spring are the abundance of foods that start to come out from hiding.
However, being in between winter and summer, it can still be quite challenging to find a variety of fresh foods to nourish our bodies. The vegetables and fruits we often find in grocery stores and markets these days are largely imported and travel many food miles to get to our plates. But if you’re an organic locavore and prefer to find your fare at community farmers’ markets you might not find what you need.
A great alternative is to start up your own do it yourself (DIY) project and grow your food in the comfort of your own home. Sprouts are a wonderful plant food source to consider – they are easy to grow, take up very little space, are low-maintenance, are versatile in many recipes and are a healthy and nutritious addition to your meals, snacks and beverages.
What are Sprouts?
Sprouts are edible plant sources of food and come in multiple varieties (e.g. bean sprouts, sunflower sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, rye sprouts, pea sprouts). They are essentially the shoots of germinated seeds that we use to grow plants. Sprouts are nutritionally great sources of protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
On top of this, sprouts support heart health, help lower cholesterol, and can also help us maintain and, or lower our weight due to their fiber content. The most common types of sprouts we use are alfalfa, mung bean, soybean, lentil, cabbage, radish and rye, which we often find in our salads, soups, casseroles and wraps.
Alfalfa generally take 1-2 days to sprout and can be incorporated into your meals raw or cooked. These sprouts have a mild flavour with a light crunch. The average serving of alfalfa sprouts contains 35% protein with 4 out of the 8 essential amino acids we need for our bodies. Alfalfa sprouts also provide a good source of vitamins D and E – with vitamin D complimenting our absorption of calcium, and vitamin E supporting a healthy immunity and restoring skin and eye health.
Pea sprouts take an average of 3-4 days to grow and provide 22% protein per serving. A tiny but a goodie (not only because they are sweet and
fresh-tasting), pea sprouts provide all essential amino acids and are a great addition to salads or soups if you are looking for added protein. Essential amino acids help with the maintenance of protein balance in our bodies and help support muscle repair.
Very mild in flavour (almost none) and big on crunch, these sprouts take an average of 4-6 days to grow and can be consumed raw or cooked as well. An average serving of soybean sprouts contains 40% protein, vitamins A, B and C and a good amount of minerals for good health. Vitamin A supports vision health, provides immune support, and promotes cell growth and restoration. Vitamin B can help boost our moods, maintain a healthy nervous system, repair our cells and ease stress and aid in our memory. Vitamin C can provide immune protection, promote cardiovascular and prenatal health and maintain skin health.
With a mild flavour and an extremely tender texture, clover spouts are also big on nutrition (very similar to alfalfa sprouts). Often incorporated into micro-green gardens at home, clover sprouts provide 35% protein per serving with vitamins A, B, C, E and K. These sprouts also contain a handful of minerals – calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, carotene, chlorophyll and amino acids.
This is not a common sprout we hear about, but fenugreek sprouts are extremely nutritious. With a bitter and a distinct aromatic flavour (pairs well with a sweet dressing for salads), fenugreek sprouts offer an array of nutrition – vitamins A, B, C, E and are loaded with minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, carotene and amino acids.
Now that you know the health benefits of sprouts, try incorporating them into a variety of different recipes – adding nutrition, vibrant colour and texture to your meals! Some neat ways to use sprouts are adding them to curries, smoothies, cakes, stir fries, juices, breads and cereals. For a listing of more creative recipe ideas, check out Sprout People for some added inspiration! http://sproutpeople.org
Rosanna Lee, PHEc., MHSc., BASc. is a nutrition and health expert, a professional home economist and an avid foodie with diverse experiences in healthcare, community nutrition, industry, education, public health and research. Call: (647) 889-8854.