In the Grain: Jack and the bean sprout

Baking with bean sprouts.

Bean sprouts (photo credit: MRSIRAPHOL - FREEPIK.COM)
Bean sprouts
(photo credit: MRSIRAPHOL - FREEPIK.COM)
We have all seen those small, plastic containers of bean sprouts in the supermarket refrigerators, a tangled mesh of white, fibrous strands. We have heard about the health benefits of bean sprouts, perhaps know some people who add them to their salads, but the concept seems foreign to us, something perhaps associated more with a Chinese diet than our Western palate.
The truth is that bean sprouts are very healthy, but beans are not the only thing that can sprout. In fact just about every seed – grains and lentils among them, has the ability to sprout and it is what happens during the sprouting process that causes the magic to happen.
As we know, seeds can be kept for long periods of time and still remain viable. This is due to the hard skin around the seed that protects the interior.
Seeds are smart! They have built-in growth inhibitors that prevent them from germinating until optimal conditions exist in terms of temperature and moisture. When conditions are just right, germination begins and enzymes are formed that deactivate the growth inhibitors and allow the seed to germinate and grow.
The lower portion of the seed – the germ – is the embryo of new life. As it begins to grow, it sprouts roots that tunnel into the ground and absorb nutrients from the surrounding soil. As any pregnant mother knows she needs to “eat for two,” the embryo mobilizes the entire seed to provide extra nutrients for the little sprout, which will eventually grow into a big plant. Other enzymes break down the starches in the inner portion of the seed – the endosperm – converting them into simpler sugars that are more easily digested by the growing embryo. Vitamins and minerals are also made more readily available and increase in quantity to feed the hungry baby plant.
So much for the botany, but it is how these sprouted seeds can benefit us that is of particular interest.
Much of our diet is derived from grains, lentils and other seeds. A portion is ground into flour to make bread, pasta and other foods, while the remainder is consumed in the seed form, in soups, salads, side dishes and the like. By sprouting the seeds before we process them, we benefit twofold. First, due to the enzymes in the seed that break up the starches for the growing embryo, the grains are easier for us to digest. Second, the increase in vitamin and mineral content (sometimes by a factor of 4 to 5) of sprouted grains, as opposed to dormant grains, makes them a nutrition powerhouse! So we should be sprouting grains before using them, thereby reaping the many benefits described above. It is not rocket science to sprout grains. We all did it in first or second grade, remember? Placing a little bean between two layers of cotton wool, which we watered every day until it sprouted. You can do that just as easily for a pot full of grains as you can for a single bean. Simply soak the grains in water until they swell up and begin to sprout.
You have to be careful, though, because the best environment for sprouting grains is also the perfect scenario for growing dangerous pathogens like E. coli, salmonella and others. For this reason it is necessary to sterilize all the utensils you will be using for the sprouting process with boiling water before you begin and also to treat the seeds and grains to remove harmful, unwanted organisms that abound in agricultural produce.
To sterilize the grains, mix them in a metal/ Pyrex container together with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution (available in pharmacies) and heat the container with the grains and the soaking solution in a preheated oven for five minutes at 60º. It is recommended to use an accurate cooking thermometer for this purpose, because exceeding this temperature may kill the seeds, and if the temperature is too low the pathogens will not be destroyed. After five minutes in the oven, pour out the peroxide solution and rinse the seeds under running water for about two minutes. Discard the peroxide solution and do not reuse.
Place the rinsed seeds in a sterilized container (that has a lid) and fill it up with boiled and cooled water until the level of the seeds. Cover with a lid and leave it to sit. Every 24 hours replace the water with new boiled and cooled water to prevent fermentation. After a day or two you will see the sprouts protruding from the grains. The nutrient- packed, sprouted grains are now ready for use. If you are not in a rush, we recommend performing the entire processes described above, but leaving the closed container in the fridge and not out on the counter. It will take a few extra days for the grains to sprout, but it is safer in terms of pathogen elimination.
The sprouted grains may now be used, fresh or cooked/baked. It is recommended that anyone in a high-risk category with lower immune systems, such as children, pregnant women, the elderly, etc. not eat raw sprouted grains.
Try this with wheat, quinoa, barley, beans and just about any grain/lentil you can think of for a boost to your health!
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife Sheryl and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, that specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition.
SPROUTED WHOLE WHEAT BREAD (makes two loaves) 5½ cups sprouted wheat kernels 4 cups water 1 Tbsp. honey ¹⁄3 cup olive oil 1 tsp. salt 1½ Tbsp. instant dry yeast In a food processor, grind the sprouted wheat kernels into a paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Mix with a spoon for about five minutes. The dough will be thinner than regular bread dough. Pour into two loaf pans, leave to rise for one hour and bake for approximately 50 minutes at 175º.