I just love kitchen science, especially when it results in something pure, simple, healthy, and the process itself is enjoyable. Several years back I bought what I jokingly called “the sproutinator”. It was a hunk of green plastic (before the BPA scare of 2008) that was supposed to be for growing sprouts. Despite following all of the instructions, include sanitizing the contraption and the seeds with a bleach solution, all I seemed to grow was moldy sprouts. Yuck. After a couple attempts I gave up and relinquished the thing to the garage and eventually freecycled it with the guidance that I could never get it to work.
I’ve just always loved sprouts. I will choose sprouts on a sandwich or burger over lettuce any day of the week. There’s just something about the extra crunchy texture and flavor that I just really love. I’m always disappointed that they aren’t more common at restaurants and I was even sadder when most grocery stores pulled them from the shelves during an e.coli scare.
A few years after the sptroutinator experiment I started researching sprouting again and decided to try a jar. I liked the idea because of it’s simplicity and lack of plastic. A sprouting jar is really just any standard canning jar with a mesh insert put in place of the normal canning lid. You can use a standard canning ring to secure the mesh insert, but I do prefer a plastic ring. There’s limited contact between the plastic and sprouts and you can find them in BPA-free plastic these days. The reason I prefer the plastic ring is mostly because the metal ones will rust over time. The rust isn’t harmful, but I find it seems to spoil some of the seeds and it leaves rust rings in the bowl I set the sprout jar in. The rust rings do not come out. Grrr. Not even with bleach. I now have a permanent “sprout bowl”.
I have always thought of sprouts as hippy fodder so I have to admit I was a little bit surprised to learn that my very unhippy-like boyfriend actually preferred sprouts as well. Since I’ve been trying to watch my budget a bit more closely and he has been packing his lunches it seemed like a perfect opportunity to pull out my sprouting lids and get to sprouting.
Growing sprouts in jars really can’t be easier in my opinion. Well, I guess other than just buying them at the store. You can use any size jar you would like, but the quart tends to be the most common with some folks going up to the half gallon jar for large batches. Because we are just using them for lunches I keep a couple quarts going at the same time. It allows me to stagger them a few days a part so we always have a supply but they aren’t going bad before they get eaten.
You should always sanitize your sprout jar, mesh insert, and lid with a bleach solution before each batch. Failing to sanitize them can result in molds and/or the dreaded e.coli. A 2% bleach solution can be achieved by adding 1 tsp bleach to each 1 cup of water. Since I just fill the quart jar I’m using, I add 4 teaspoons of bleach to the jar because a quart is 4 cups. I’ve had some sprout seed packages recommend rinsing the seeds in the bleach solution also. It doesn’t seem to harm them, but I like the idea of sanitizing my sprouter and not the seeds. I also understand you can use Star San which I happen to have around from brewing, but the bleach is more often with in reach.
Sprouting seeds are still seeds and come from places where dirt and fertilizer are common. You should make sure you are using a reputable seed source. My favorite through the years has remained Sprout People. They offer traditional and organic seeds for sprouting and you can get all the necessary accessories (like the mesh inserts and plastic rings).
You can get a lid and insert for less than $5 and a pound of alfalfa seeds for $10. With that, and your mason quart jar, you can yield SEVEN POUNDS of sprouts! I’m a visual person so to put it in a visual context. The bag pictured is 1 lb of seeds (minus 2 Tablespoons). One quart jar uses 2 Tablespoons of sprouts and yields a quite full jar when sprouted. It’s a lot of sprouts!
So once you’ve sanitized your sprouter and have good seeds you simply add the seeds to the jar and fill it with water. I rinse the seeds a few times before refilling it and letting it sit on the counter to soak for 8 to 12 hours. This is one of the reasons I love the lids. To rinse your seeds you just let water pour through the mesh and then swish, shake, and swirl the jar before pouring the water right back out of the mesh. No hassle. Once the seeds have soaked for 8 to 12 hours, I just let mine sit over night, you just pour off the water and shake out as much extra moisture as you can. To make sure mine fully drain I prop them in a bowl on the counter. This allows air flow in and any excess water to run out. For common leafy sprouts like alfalfa and clover you want to keep them out of direct light, but you don’t need to keep them completely dark. Mine sit below the window sill which has a bit of a shelf to shade them.
Every 12 hours I rinse the sprouts a few times before shaking off the extra moisture and putting them back in the bowl. By day 5 or so you should have good progress and some greening. At this point I’ll rinse them really well and then take off the lid. If you let water pour in to the jar slowly the sprouts will stay together but the seed hulls (and any duds) will either float off the top or sink to the bottom. Sometimes I’ll reach in and pull the big sprout mass out so I can rinse the hulls and defective seeds from the bottom of the jar, but they tend to separate just fine on their own too. It can also be good to break up the mass and put it back in the jar so you are certain the middle is getting some light exposure and rinsed. Otherwise you might start seeing mold growth. After about a week I put the whole jar in to the fridge to slow down the growth while we consume them, but as soon as you have a good amount of green on the sprouts you can start eating them even if they are still on the counter. Obviously if you see mold you probably want to discard the batch, at least I do.
Once you’ve mastered alfalfa sprouts there’s a whole world open to you! I sprout various blends (again, love Sprout People for this!) as well as mung beans for pho and stir fries.