Don't have a yard, or even a sunny window in your tiny city apartment? Still want to grow your own food? You should grow sprouts!
Sprouts are newly germinated seeds that are eaten at 4-7 days old, before they grow into the adult plant they were meant to be. Usually you'll find them grown from seeds of alfafa, clover, radish, broccoli, and mung bean, and you'll find them mostly in salads and chinese stir fries. Sprouts are easy to grow in your kitchen and require no soil and barely any sunlight-- just a bit of waiting. I grew some sprouts last week, take a look to see how I did it.
1. Gather seeds and equipment
If you want to get all fancy-pants, you can purchase a seed sprouter on Amazon or from seed catalogs. I prefer to use a recycled glass jar and some cheesecloth, because it's cheap and easy like... sorry, I was about to make a bad joke there. Anyway, you'll need a mason jar (as you would use for hot water bath canning) or any other recycled quart glass food jar, some cheesecloth, and either the canning jar band or a rubber band. Using these materials instead of a commercial seed sprouter is called The Jar Method.
You can buy your seeds the same place you buy your vegetable garden seeds. I found a seed packet at Whole Foods called "sandwich mix" which was a combo of seeds specially mixed for sprouts. If you decide you love sprouts, maybe it's better to buy seeds in bulk. To get the little green whispy sprouts, look for alfalfa, broccoli, clover, or radish seeds. For the crunchy white bean sprouts you see in stiry fries, get mung bean. For bean-on sprouts, use chick peas or lentils. For lots of flavor, scatter in some mustard seeds, fennel, and anise.
2. Disinfect your seeds
Seeds can carry E coli bacteria! It's important to disinfect your seeds before sprouting because you are eating the seed itself, unlike when you plant a seed in your garden and eat the fruit or stalk 2 months later. To disinfect, soak the seeds for 15 minutes in a 2% bleach solution- 1 tsp bleach to 1 cup of hot tap water. Then, rinse the seeds throughly before you continue. I used a canning strainer to rinse my seeds because it has such tiny holes that they won't fall out. Some brown husks will come off of the seeds; this is normal and you can just rinse them away.
Let's get started! First, put your disinfected seeds-to-be-sprouted into your jar- about 1 1/2 Tbsp of seeds for a quart-sized jar. Next, cover the opening of the jar with cheesecloth and seal it off by either screwing on the band or securing it with the elastic band.
Now, fill the jar about 1/3 full with cool tap water through the cheesecloth.
And here's where the waiting begins: Let the seeds soak in the water overnight, at least 8 hours.
The jar on the right is a canning jar that once held pickles made by my friend Jonah Schulz, and I used the original jar band to hold on the cheesecloth. The jar on the left is just a re-used food jar, and I secured the cheesecloth with a rubber band. Both methods are working just fine!
After 8-12 hours, you want to drain the water out of your jar. Don't remove the lid-- drain it right through the cheesecloth.
Shake the jar to get out as much water as you can, and turn the jar to spread the seeds around the walls and bottom of the jar. Ideally you want to make sure no seeds are sitting in puddles of water- the rule is keep the seeds moist, not wet.
Then, turn the jar on its side for airflow and cover the glass with a dishtowl to block out the light.
5. Rinse & Repeat
You'll repeat this rinsing-draining-waiting process for about 4-6 days, doing it 2-3 times a day. Each time you rinse, fill the jar with water again, pour it out completely, shake the jar to spread out the seeds, and put the jars back under the towel. I do it once when I wake up, once when I get home from work, and once right before I go to bed. It takes 30 seconds each time, stop whining that it's too much work. Come on, you're not lazy, are you??
After a few days, you'll start to see little sprouts emerging from your seeds. Sprouting time will differ from seed to seed: alfalfa seeds can take up to 5 days before you see any action, but peas will sprout in just 2 days.
My sandwich sprouting mix after about 4 days:
6. Green Up
If you're sprouting the whispy green variety of seeds, you'll need to do something known as "greening up". This actually means allowing the sprouts access to a bit of sunlight so they can start to produce chlorophyll, which increases their flavor and nutrition value. Apparently the Europeans like to keep their sprouts brown and will purposely deny them sunlight, which will still produce yummy sprouts that have all the nutrients except chlorophyll. Those crazy Europeans.
To green up, remove your dishtowel and place the jars in indirect sunlight for a full day. Do not put them in direct sun as if you were growing plants! This will actually cook your delicate sprouts and heat up the jar to the point of creating a gooey mess inside.
You can harvest your sprouts when they are about 1-2 inches long, usually one week after your initial rinse. Pour them out of the jar and clean them in a bowl of water to skim off any brown husks or ungerminated seeds that could start to form mold if you leave them around your sprouts. You'll see I actually had husks and seeds stuck to the inside of my cheesecloth from all the rinsing; this makes it easier to separate them from my sprouts.
Once your sprouts are rinsed and cleaned, strain off as much water as you can and store them in an airtight container with space for air circulation (I store mine in a giant Ziploc bag).
Sprouts are highly perishable so they won't last more than a week in the fridge. You will want to rinse them off before eating them, as they can become kinda gooey the longer you store them. Do not attempt to store them in the freezer for future use, they're too delicate and won't make it.
I now have a new system where I grow one week's worth of sprouts at a time and immediately start a new batch after harvesting. By the time I run out of the sprouts in the fridge, a new fresh batch is fully grown and ready to eat!
When initially deciding how many seeds to use, remember that the sprouts will stick together and condense during growth. This is how much harvest I got from this sized jar- it was much more than I thought it would be:
Fresh sprouts are super yummy and healthy, and an easy way to regularly produce fresh greens throughout winter. You can eat them raw straight from the jar, or cook them into soups, spring rolls, and veggie burger patties. I use them as the main green in salads, put them on sandwiches, and mix them into omlets. If you have any recipes using sprouts, I'd love for you to share in the comments!