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As winter kicks into high gear and many gardens lay dormant, the demand for fresh greens peaks across North America—along with their price. Enter sprouts, the powerhouse of the vegetable world. Grown year round and packed with nutrients, sprouts are finished in days and often provide more vitamins and minerals
than our favorite vegetables.

They are also inexpensive and easy to grow.

Add to this impressive list their health benefits: some sprout varieties have been found to contain cancer-fighting agents, reducing the risk of breast and colon cancer. One study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in 2004 (and later featured in Time magazine) linked broccoli sprouts to reduced risk of stroke, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Another, earlier study from John Hopkins University noted that broccoli sprouts have higher levels of cancer fighting compounds than broccoli heads—up to 100 times higher!

So why are sprouts often overlooked as a basic winter vegetable? A few easy steps in the home kitchen easily converts naysayers and brings satisfying results. For those interested in growing sprouts for health or just their fresh taste, here are a few things to consider.

What Are Sprouts?

Sprouts are tiny plants grown without soil. In most cases, nature packages seeds with enough energy to germinate and produce two small leaves before requiring inputs from sunlight and soil. Sprouting encourages this transformation on your kitchen counter with water along, and you consume the results. Leaves, stem, and root: all are delicious and make excellent additions to sandwiches, salads, dips, spreads, and stir fries.

What Equipment Do I Need to Make Sprouts?

A variety of sprouting equipment is available today, both online and in specialty shops. Designs range from simple containers with built-in sieves to multi-tiered set-ups for sprouting several varieties at once (or for staggering sprouts of one kind). You can also use a simple glass jar with cheesecloth secured by a rubber band over the opening or screening fastened by a metal, screw-top ring. Other necessities include clean water (non-chlorinated is best) and untreated seeds (more on seeds below).

Choosing Which Seeds to Sprout

In theory, almost any seed will sprout given the right conditions, but some are better than others for eating in their sprouted state. Seeds marketed specifically for sprouting are also free of the harmful fungicides and other chemicals that some seed growers use to treat their seeds. Ensure your seeds are meant for sprouting before you start and choose the seed best suited for your purpose. Over the past three decades, select seeds have emerged as popular choices thanks to their ability to grow quickly and stay fresh. Some of these choices include:

Sprout Type


Common Uses



salads, sandwiches



salads, sandwiches, dips, spreads



salads, sandwiches



salads, stir fries (good mixed with other sprouts)

lentils (blue, red, green)


salads, soups, dips

mung beans


salads, stir fries

mustard (oriental)


salads, sandwiches, dips



salads, sandwiches, dips



salads, dips, soups, spreads


distinct (almost peppery)

salads, sandwiches, spreads

Seeds and mixes are available online from sprout and seed companies or at your local health food store. Mixes include more than one seed type, and add nice variety to your favorite dish thanks to their blend of flavors.

How to Sprout Seeds

A few tablespoons to half a cup of seed are all you need to produce ample sprouts for sandwiches, salads, and other dishes. Sprouts will double or triple in size, depending on the size of the seed and the variety you are sprouting. Keeping things small will ensure you don’t end up with sprouts going bad in your refrigerator.

In general, use 2-3 tablespoons of small sprouting seed (alfalfa or clover) and 1/3-1/2 cup of larger sprouting seed (lentils or beans) for ample amounts. Quinoa is one exception: this ‘pseudo-grain’ sprouts small and stays small.

Here are some other general rules of thumb to observe when growing sprouts at home:

  1. Rinse and clean your seeds to remove any dust or other debris.
  2. Spread evenly in your container so seeds form a thin layer. Avoid piling seeds on top of one another.
  3. Soak your seeds to “wake” them up and encourage sprouting. While you can skip this step for a few, lesser-known sprouts, soaking seeds is an important first step for most varieties. Cover your seeds completely and soak for 6-12 hours. (Be sure to poke down any floaters.)
  4. After soaking, drain water from the seeds and keep moist. If using a jar, try laying on one side for more even distribution.  Rinse and drain 2-3 times per day. (Note: rinse hulled sunflower seeds more frequently, since they tend to get slimy. Rinse or pick off seed skins to prevent rotting.)
  5. After your seeds have sprouted, continue to rinse and drain regularly (every 8-12 hours) until sprouts reach the desired length.
  6. Eat fresh or store in the fridge until consumed.  Most sprouts last 1-2 weeks when kept cool.

Average Days to Finish Sprouts

Lentils: 3-4 days
Mung beans: 3-5 days
Radishes: 4-5 days
Mustards: 3-6 days
Alfalfa and clovers: 5-6 days

Keeping Sprouts Safe

Despite their health benefits, instances of E. coli or Salmonella bacteria have been known to occur in commercially grown sprouts. Research suggests that some seed might have been contaminated by fertilizers while growing in the field. To ensure that your seed is safe, purchase organic or “pathogen-free” sprouting seed where possible. Always use clean water, utensils, and sprouting containers. Store finished sprouts in the refrigerator and consume while fresh. Like any food consumed raw, sprouts may carry a risk of food-borne illness, but this risk is extremely low.

A Word About Micro-Greens

Micro-greens are similar to sprouts but grow in soil or another growing medium. They also tend to be leafier than sprouts, since they are in essence, baby plants. Unhulled sunflower seeds, arugula, Swiss chard and other greens do very well as micro-greens, because the growing medium provides the added nutrients they need to thrive. After trying your hand at sprouting, micro-greens are a great next step to extend both the production and nutrition of your winter greens.

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