Friday, January 27, 2012

Sprouting!

Image Credit.
Have you ever heard of sprouting?  I've been doing it for a couple of months, and I'm loving it.  I was lamenting the loss of our garden and local produce for the winter, and now I am growing edible sprouts in my own kitchen!

And it is easy.

What you need:
-a sprouting lid*
-a mason jar (that the sprouting lid fits on)*
-something to sprout (I have only done beans so far)

*There are other sprouting vessels/mediums - bags, trays, cups, etc - but this is what I am using.

How-to:1.  Soak the seeds (read up on that specific seed for recommended soak time), potentially changing out the water once or twice

2. Rinse, swish, and drain as often as you think of it for a few days - until your sprout gets to your desired size (the flavor changes).  You must have the container continuously draining to prevent a pool of water in the bottom.  I prop my jar upside down in a bowl.

3.  When they are your desired size, let them dry to the touch, then refrigerate and use within 2 weeks.  Rinse before use, as you would any other produce.  See safety information below for many links so you can decide for yourself whether you will eat them raw or always cook them first.

A few notes:
Buy organic seeds that are intended for consumption.  And do a little reading up on each seed you intend to sprout.  This has been my favorite source for figuring out what I can simply eat, what must be cooked, and other tips on sprouting different sorts of seeds.

What about safety?
This is going to be very link heavy.  This is the part of this post that has caused it to take weeks to put together.

Seed suppliers and sprout growers maintain that avoiding "sproutbreaks"  (E. Coli and Salmonella, to be specific) is all about starting with high-quality, organic seeds and then handling them properly and according to organic growing guidelines.  They seem to want badly for everyone to have access to the nutrition of sprouts, and the ease of sprouting.  And no one is arguing otherwise - sprouts are jam-packed with nutrition, and they are a fabulously easy way to eat fresh, home-grown produce year-round.

But.  Salmonella and E. Coli are hardy, dangerous buggers.  And any time you are consuming a food raw, you are at risk of such food-borne illnesses.  We could argue over whether organic farming techniques lower risk; we can argue over whether decades of factory farming and feeding livestock on things other than grass has caused an increase in E. Coli and/or salmonella.

Neither will change the fact that you will never have zero risk.This isn't the case only for sprouts (though the growing conditions for sprouts do overlap with the growing conditions of food-borne illnesses, so they are a riskier food).  Any time you eat a raw salad, you are at risk.  Any time you eat undercooked meat, you are at risk. 

This word "risk" is something we all need to assess for ourselves, though.  Every time we get in a car, we accept a degree of risk.  Every day we are alive, we run the risk of dying.

To lower your risk quite a bit with sprouts, cook them.  If you are comfortable with the increased risk of eating them raw, eat them raw. 

To sum up the varying viewpoints on how much risk is too much risk, and to attempt to let you make up your own mind with informed choice...here are a bunch of links (I will attempt to note where the quality of the source is questionable).

  • Foodsafety.gov has a great summary here.
  • This is a somewhat questionable source, simply because there are no citations, but she does offer some possible alternatives to cooking, to decrease risk of food-borne illness.  I would do some research into these methods and their efficacy.  Also, the list of sprouts that should not be eaten raw includes sprouts (like lentils) that I cannot find anywhere else as inadvisable to eat raw, and she does not say why those shouldn't be eaten raw or offer a source to find more information.  (Reasons to definitely not eat sprouts raw are things like kidney beans having a toxin that needs to be cooked away, or black beans not being digestible if they aren't cooked.)
  • The International Sprout Growers Association (ISGA) would, of course, like to decrease the risk (some would say they are only interested in looking like they are decreasing risk and that sprouting is simply inherently too risky.)
  • This "savvy vegetarian" offers ways to minimize the risk of raw sprouts.  She also claims that there is no more risk from sprouts than any other raw vegetable, but that is simply not true because of the overlap of growing conditions for sprouts and bacteria.
  • This is a succinct and thorough answer to the question of whether home sprouting is a safe alternative to purchasing sprouts.  This one is more succinct but much less thorough.

My choiceI have been eating them raw, though I am not generally consuming them in huge quantities.  However, after my latest round of reading up, I am planning to eat them cooked instead.  Also, I'm minimizing my risk by only growing them in the winter - our house is too hot and humid in the summer, plus we have less-risky produce available locally. 

My impressions*:

Chickpeas - These were terrible at first, and then got better (less bitter).  The Beast never liked them, but I thought they had a nice nutty flavor.


Lentils - these are my favorite so far!  They have a little bit of a bite, just like plain ol' cooked lentils.
Mung Beans - these are the probably best-known sprout, frequently used in Chinese food.  I found them to be a bit bitter, but The Beast really likes them.

Peas - so bitter.  I sprouted them until they grew their cotyledons, and they were still bitter.  Ick.

*I will keep this updated as I try more sprouts!
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