This is the first in a series of posts that I’ll be doing that focuses on how to be a bit more frugal in the kitchen. We’ve all probably felt the pinch in one way or another in this lovely recession, but we don’t have to forgo good food to save money. We can have our cake and eat it, too. In this post, we can have our sprouts. :) Stay tuned in the coming days and weeks for other ways you can save money on good homemade food in the kitchen.
When I was a kid I remember my mom growing a copious amount of alfalfa sprouts. She’d pack them in my lunches for school, and at lunchtime my classmates would make fun of me for eating worms. I liked the sprouts, though, and so much so that I grew sprouts for a school science fair (I believe I even won something). I showed them at different stages of growth, from humble seed to full grown sprout.
It’s been years since I’ve grown sprouts on a regular basis, but I’ve recently taken it up again. It’s an extraordinarily easy process, and it’s much more affordable to grow them than to purchase them fully grown at the store. The options are pretty limitless, as well. Typically people are used to seeing mung bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts or wheat grass in stores or little cafes, but there are many many other beans, grains, nuts and seeds that can be sprouted. Some of them need to be cooked after sprouting, as they are not digestible raw (pinto beans is one example), but a lot of them can be eaten without any sort of preparation.
Sprouts are also very nutritious. According to the International Sprout Growers Association, clover sprouts are great for fighting cancer, alfalfa sprouts are good for women’s health, and many sprouts have a significant amount of protein and vitamins. Of course, all sprouts are low in calories.
The process of growing sprouts is essentially the same for anything you aim to sprout. First is soaking. This gives whatever you’re sprouting a jump start, and you’ll often have little tiny sprouts poking out on the first or second day. Secondly, you have to make sure you rinse your seeds on a daily basis (I aim for once in the morning and once in the evening). Finally, you get to harvest and then store your sprouts.
Where to Buy Sprouting Supplies
There are also a lot of online stores that you can purchase sprouting supplies from, like Sprout People (my personal favorite) or Handy Pantry Sprouting, however you can usually also find some basic sprout supplies at your local health food store. If you are going to sprout beans, you can grab those from pretty much any grocery store. If they don’t have what you need or want, you can ask to see if they will do a special order for you.
As far as equipment is concerned, there are several different containers that you can get. So far I’ve tried three different types.
I tried this for the first time recently, and still have to decide if I like this way of growing sprouts or not.
Pros – The version we got has three trays, and each has a removable divider, so we could probably grow six types of sprouts at once. It has holes on the bottom of each tray, so water can easily drain out (drainage is extremely important – you don’t want your sprouts to be sitting in water, which can make them go bad). It doesn’t take up a lot of space, which is nice if you have a smaller kitchen. It’s also dishwasher safe.
Cons – You can’t soak your seeds in the trays. While the drainage is pretty good, I have found that I need to spend a little extra time shaking the water out, because there will be a little extra water sitting in the trays if you don’t take an extra 30 seconds. Once your sprouts grow to above the top of the tray, it’s harder to stack the trays, so you may have to spread the trays out to a single layer level. Finally, these are more of a pain to clean. If you are growing sprouts like alfalfa, which has smaller seeds, they will get caught in the holes, and you’ll need to poke the holes out with something like a paper clip to make sure they get clean.
Easy Sprout Sprouter – I got this one a few years ago, and while it works I don’t prefer it.
Pros – You can soak your seeds in this sprouter, which means less dirty dishes. This one has good drainage, and is pretty easy to clean and is dishwasher safe.
Cons – There are too many parts, which means it’s easier to lose something you need to maximize your sprout growing experience. It’s also designed in a way that can make drainage and air flow more difficult if you accidentally don’t line up a couple of the pieces correctly.
So far this is my preferred method and the way my mom did it, however I’m still not fully convinced this could be the best way to grow sprouts.
Pros – If you already have wide-mouthed mason jars on hand, all you need to do is buy the screens which can be an economical solution. If you don’t already have the jars, they aren’t too expensive and you only really need one or two to get started. Drainage is good, but you do need a dish rack or something similar so it can drain well. It’s also very easy to clean, is dishwasher safe, and you can soak what you are growing in the jars.
Cons – Once your sprouts are a couple of days old, air flow is not as good and humidity can build up in the jar, making it easier for your sprouts to go bad faster. It’s important to rinse very well because of this. It can also take up more space if you have to purchase a dish rack for drainage.
There are other types of sprouters including electric sprouters that do a lot of the work for you, as well as hemp bags that are supposed to be really effective (you just have to find a place to hang them).
Now, to the actual growing.
Day One – Soak
I measured out about 3 tablespoons of fenugreek seeds, and about 1 tablespoon each of red clover and the Italian seed mix (normally if I was going to do a larger batch I would have done 2 tablespoons each). The fenugreek seeds I put straight into a mason jar, and the other seeds I put into two small glass bowls.
I covered all the seeds with enough water to soak.
About eight hours or so later, the seeds had soaked for long enough and their water was a bit cloudy.
When I first started rinsing the water was a bit foamy at the top – this is normal. You want to rinse until the water is clear and no longer has bubbles.
After rinsing my fenugreek sprouts, I placed the jar upside down and at an angle on a dish rack on my counter to make sure it drained. It’s interesting, because you’d think that putting the jar straight up and down would still allow the sprouts to drain, but if you try this, you’ll see it’s not nearly as effective as when the jar is at an angle.
I drained the other sprout seeds straight into the Sprout Master, and rinsed them well. I also shook the container a little bit to make sure the excess water drained out. I then covered it with it’s own lid and left it on the kitchen counter overnight.
In the morning I could already see my seeds were sprouting. Yay!
I gave them a good rinse in the morning just before leaving for work, and then again that night before going to bed.
My sprouts are really doing well, but still a bit early to harvest. Another good rinse/drain for all my sprouts in the morning, and then again in the evening.
Day 4 – Almost there
My sprouts were doing really well at this point, and I could have gone ahead and eaten some. I think I held off, though, and just did my two rinses/drains (once in the morning, once in the evening).
Day 5 – Harvest
After giving my sprouts a final rinse, I let them dry off for most of the day, and that evening I put them in the refrigerator. You can store sprouts by putting them in a plastic bag with a paper towel (draws the moisture off the sprouts), or in another container with a paper towel on the bottom. You should eat your sprouts within a few days, however, otherwise they may grow mold.
The fenugreek sprouts were very firm and crunchy, and a bit bitter, however I found that they got less bitter the longer I grew them.
The red clover sprouts were very mild, and reminded me a bit of alfalfa sprouts. The Italian mix was also very mild and tasted only slightly different from the red clover sprouts.
How to Use Sprouts
Sprouts can be used in a variety of ways, but one of my favorite ways is on a sandwich with hummus or avocado. You can also add them to salads, or eat them by themselves. For other ways of eating them, I’d recommend Sproutman’s Kitchen Garden Cookbook, filled with vegan and gluten-free recipes. I still have to try many of them out myself, but it’s hard to not be impressed by the variety of ways you can consume sprouts.
Cost of Growing Sprouts vs. Store-Bought Sprouts
So is the time and effort worth the cost? I crunched the numbers (with the help of my husband), and while this probably isn’t entirely accurate I’d say it’s a good estimate of the money saved.
The cost is based upon how much I paid for each one-pound bag from Sprout People. This doesn’t include shipping costs or potential taxes, which are definitely things to consider. We found, with the help of Google, that one pound has 73 tablespoons. This, of course, can vary, so some bags may have less and some may have more. The harvest cost is based upon how many tablespoons were used to get two cups of sprouts. In the case of the fenugreek I used about three tablespoons, and I used about two tablespoons each of the other two kinds of sprout seeds.
Finally, I looked up online the cost of organic alfalfa sprouts available at a random grocery store. The store I looked up had the price as $1.99 for four ounces. Four ounces is equal to 1/2 cup, therefore if I were to buy the same amount of sprouts I could grow myself, then it would cost me $7.96 for two cups, a.k.a. four packages. Since two cups could be grown from two tablespoons of alfalfa seeds, I divided $7.96 in half to get $3.95 per tablespoon.
Here’s a handy little table that lays this all out.
|Organic Alfalfa Sprouts|
Of course, let me know if I’ve miscalculated (it’s so completely possible – I’m not a very good numbers person!).
Do you grow sprouts? If not, and if you are considering it, I would suggest starting out small. Get a one-pound bag of alfalfa and one of the less expensive sprouting containers and see if you even like it. If you don’t wind up enjoying it or growing them on a regular basis then you will have at least not spent that much money.
If you do grow sprouts, what do you like growing, what equipment do you use, and how do you like eating them? I’m also curious to know if anyone grows sprouts in hemp bags and how you like it. I’m tempted to try it out for myself, but it seems that they would be a pain to clean. Do share!