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SPROUTING: A BRIEF
Copyright (c) 1995 by Thomas E. Billings. This document may
be distributed freely for non-commercial purposes provided 1)
this copyright notice is included, 2) the document is
distributed free of charge, with the sole exception that a
photocopy charge, not to exceed ten cents (U.S.) per printed
page may be charged by those distributing this paper. All
commercial rights reserved; contact author for details (contact
address given at end).
- Obtain seed for sprouting. Store in bug-proof
containers, away from extreme heat/cold. Seed should be
viable, and, to extent possible, free of chemicals.
- Basic steps in sprouting are:
- measure out appropriate amount of seed,
visually inspect and remove stones, sticks, weed
seed, broken seeds, etc.
- rinse seed (if seed is small and clean, can
usually skip this rinse)
- soak seed in water for appropriate time
- rinse soaked seed, put in sprouting environment
for appropriate time
- service seeds (rinse) in sprouting environment
- when ready, rinse seeds. Store in refrigerator,
in sprouting environment or in other suitable
container until ready to use. If not used within 12
hours, seeds should be serviced (rinsed) every 24
hours in refrigerator. Best to eat as soon as
possible, as freshness is what makes sprouts
Jars and Cloth: Two Suggested
Jars: use wide-mouth, glass canning jars, available at many
hardware stores. You will need screen lids - cut pieces of
different (plastic) mesh screens, or buy some of the special
plastic screen lids designed for sprouting. Sprouting in jars
is quite easy: simply put seed in jar, add soak water, put lid
on. When soak is over, invert jar and drain water, then rinse
again. Then prop jar up at 45 degree angle for water to drain.
Keep out of direct sunlight. Rinse seed in jar 2-3 times per
day until ready, always keeping it angled for drainage.
Cloth: soak seed in flat-bottom containers, in shallow
water. When soak done, empty seed into strainer and rinse. Then
take flat-bottom bowl or saucer, line bottom with wet 100%
cotton washcloth, spread seed on wet cloth. Then take 2nd wet
cloth and put on top of seed, or, if bottom washcloth is big
enough, fold over wet seeds. Can add additional water to
washcloths 12 hours later by a) sprinkling on top, or b) if
very dry, remove seed from cloth, rinse, re-wet cloth, put seed
back between wet cloths. Cloths used should be 100% cotton
(terrycloth) or linen, used exclusively for sprouting, and of
light colors. Cheap cotton washcloths (and cheap plastic bowls)
work well and will last a long time.
Comparison: Jar vs. Cloth
Jar method is more versatile; can grow greens in the jar
(e.g., 6-8 day old alfalfa greens), and the jar is less likely
to mold than cloth for sprouts that require more than 2 days.
However, the jar method needs a convenient drainage system
(otherwise mold can develop). The cloth method can withstand
some direct sunlight (direct sunlight in early stages of
sprouting can cook the seed in jars), and needs no drainage
system. The methods require roughly the same time, though 2nd
service of cloth is very fast. Almonds, buckwheat give better
results in cloth.
Other Methods of
- Plastic tube - variation on jar method; opens at both
ends - easier to remove long sprouts like greens from tube
than from jar.
- Sprouting bags - cotton or linen; also plastic mesh.
Soak seed in bag in water, then hang up inside plastic bag
(forms a little greenhouse). Trays: very good for growing
greens. Might need drainage system.
- Clay saucer: used for mucilaginous seeds like flax,
- Commercial sprouters: wide variety available. Often
fairly expensive; most don't work as well as cloth/jar
What is the best time/length
to eat sprouts?
Ultimately you will answer this question by experimenting -
growing sprouts and eating them at different ages/lengths. My
preference is to eat sprouts (except almonds, pumpkin seeds)
when the growing root is, on average, the length of the soaked
seed. Almonds and pumpkin seeds are discussed below.
A note on times: the sprouting times given below are based
on cloth and/or jar method, and reflect an average time. The
soaking times can be increased or decreased somewhat (except
for buckwheat), with little or limited impact on the results.
If you are using a different method, especially one of the
commercial sprouting units, the times here will not apply and
you will have to monitor your sprouts to decide when they are
Grains and Similar
- Amaranth: Soak 2-4 hours, sprout 1-1.5 days. Method:
cloth. Very tiny seeds, likely to flow through screen in
jar method; line strainer with sprouting cloth to retain
seeds. Sprout can be very bitter. Might be able to grow as
greens, if you can get appropriate variety of
- Barley: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 1.25-1.5 days. Method:
cloth or jar. Use only unhulled barley; "whole" hulled
barley and pearled barley won't sprout. Chewy, somewhat
bland sprout. Hulls are tough; people with stomach or
intestinal ulcers might find hulls irritating. Can be used
for grass also.
- Buckwheat: Soak 15-20 minutes only; sprout 1-1.5 days.
Method: cloth. Use hulled, *raw* buckwheat groats. Kasha is
usually toasted, won't sprout. Raw buckwheat is white/green
to light brown; toasted buckwheat is medium brown. Unhulled
buckwheat (black hulls) are for greens, not general
sprouting. Don't soak longer than 20 minutes as it spoils
readily. Monitor moistness, rinse or change cloths every 12
hours to avoid spoilage. Good sprout, mild flavor. Sprouts
much faster in warm/hot weather.
- Corn group:
Field corn: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 2.0+ days. Method: jar
- Popcorn: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 1.5+ days. Method: jar
or cloth. Blue mold can be a problem, esp. with field corn.
Sweet corn seeds (if you can find them) will sprout also.
Field corn sprouts, if long enough, are tender but
bland/starchy tasting. Popcorn sprouts are very sweet, but
the hull doesn't soften much in sprouting - very hard to
eat. Not worth the trouble; suggest eating raw sweet corn
(including raw corn silk, which is delicious) instead.
- Millet: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 1-1.5 days. Method:
cloth or jar. Hulled millet - most seeds will sprout, but
some ferment, producing very sharp taste. Unhulled millet
best sprouter, but hull is very crunchy and sprout is
rather bland. Best used in recipes.
- Oats: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 1.25-1.5 days. Method:
cloth or jar. Must use unhulled oats; so-called "whole
oats" or oat groats won't sprout. Good sprout, mild flavor
similar to milk. Thick hull makes it difficult to eat; best
used in recipes (see sprout milk recipe). Can grow as grass
- Quinoa: Soak 2-4 hours, sprout 12 hours. Method: cloth
or jar. Very fast sprouter. Must rinse seeds multiple times
to get off soapy tasting saponin in seed coat. Very fast
sprouter; can grow as greens. Strong flavor that many find
unpleasant. Small seed, line strainer with cloth. White and
black quinoa are available.
- Rice: Soak 12-18 hours, sprout 1.0+ days. Method: cloth
or jar. Only brown, unprocessed rice will sprout. White
rice, wild rice are dead and won't sprout. Standard long
grain rice doesn't sprout. Short, medium grain brown rice,
also brown basmati (but not Texmati) rice will sprout.
Before root appears, rice can be eaten but difficult:
bland, chewy, *very* filling. Once root appears, rice
sprout is very bitter. The only rice I suggest sprouting
is: Lundberg Farms "Wehani" rice, a specialty rice (sprout
1.5 days). It is least bitter - less bitter than fenugreek
- of possible use in recipes.
- Wheat/rye group:
- Rye: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 1-1.5 days.
Method: cloth or jar. Nice sprout - good flavor.
Rye harvested immature or handled improperly can
have strong, unpleasant flavored. If it molds,
discard (ergot mold possible).
- Triticale is a cross between rye and wheat;
used to be available from Arrowhead Mills, but
haven't seen it in market for some years.
- Wheat, including Kamut and Spelt: Soak 8-14
hours, sprout 1-1.5 days. Method: cloth or jar.
Hard Winter wheat better than soft Spring wheat.
Wheat can get excessively sweet at 2+ days of
sprouting. Spelt has nice texture, but spelt and
kamut are more expensive than ordinary wheat.
Wheat, rye, kamut, spelt, triticale can be used for
- Almonds: Soak 10-14 hours, sprout 1.0 day. Method:
cloth Use only unblanched almonds. Sprout+storage time
should not exceed 2 days or sprouts may turn rancid. Best
to peel sprouts before eating (peeled have incredible
flavor). Peeling is tedious, reduced by blanching in warm
water (15-30 seconds in hot water from faucet). One of the
very best sprouts!
- Cabbage, Kale: Soak 6-14 hours, sprout 1+ days. Method:
cloth or jar. Very strong flavor, best used as flavoring in
mixtures. Can also be grown into greens. Seeds relatively
- Fenugreek: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 18 hrs or more.
Method: cloth or jar. Slightly bitter, best used as
flavoring additive in mixtures. Hindi name: methi.
According to "The Yoga of Herbs" by Lad/Frawley, fenugreek
sprouts are good digestive aid and good for the liver. Hard
seeds are common in fenugreek.
- Mucilaginous seeds: flax, psyllium, chia These can be
sprouted as flavoring additive in mixtures (alfalfa,
clover, or mustard); to sprout alone requires special clay
saucer method. Sprouts are not so good tasting, not worth
the trouble for most people.
- Mustard: Soak 6-14 hours, sprout 1.0+ days. Method:
cloth, jar, or tray. Good flavoring additive for other
sprouts. Available in 3 forms: black, brown, yellow. Brown
seeds are smaller and harder to handle in mixtures; yellow
or black recommended for mixtures. Can grow as greens
- Pumpkin: Soak 8-14 hours; sprout (if you must) 1.0 day.
True sprouting by pumpkin seeds (developing root) is quite
rare. Bacterial spoilage and rancidity are problems when
you try to sprout them. Best to simply soak them, then eat.
Pumpkin seeds as sold in the market are not hulled - the
variety grown has no hulls on its seeds.
- Radish: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 1.0+ days. Method:
cloth, jar or tray. Very hot flavor! Use sparingly in
mixtures as flavoring agent. Can be used for (hot!) greens
- Sesame: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 1-1.5 days. Method:
cloth or jar. Must use unhulled sesame seeds for sprouting;
hulled seeds can be soaked to improve flavor and
digestibility. A black sesame seed (considered superior to
white seed in Ayurveda) is available; haven't found it in
unhulled form. Sprout+storage time should not exceed 1.5
days; sprouts continue to grow in refrigerator and start to
get bitter at 2.0 day mark, and can be very bitter by 2.5
days. A small bowl of sesame sprouts, with a bit of raw
honey on them, is very nice.
- Sunflower: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 18 hours. Method:
cloth or jar. Use hulled sunflower; unhulled are for
sunflower greens only. Need to skim off seed skins at end
of soak period, when rinsing. If you leave them in, they
will spoil and your sprouts will spoil quickly. Has a nice,
earthy flavor; very popular.
- Alfalfa, Clover:
For greens: soak 4-6 hours, sprout 6-8 days. Method: tray
For use when short: soak 4-14 hours, sprout 1-1.5 days.
Method: jar or cloth.
Alfalfa and clover are most commonly grown as greens. A
good non-traditional use for them is as flavoring additive
in mixtures, for ex: lentil, alfalfa, radish is nice
(alfalfa counteracts "heat" of radish). Alkaloid levels can
be very high in alfalfa. Need alfalfa seed with very high
germination rate (over 90%) to successfully grow greens in
jar - else unsprouted seeds will decay and spoil
- Garbanzo group:
- Garbanzos, standard: Soak 12-18 hours, sprout
1.5+ days. Method: cloth or jar.
- Kala channa: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 1.5 days.
Method: cloth or jar.
- Green channa: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 1.0 day.
Method: cloth or jar. Garbanzos, also know as chick
peas or ceci, are common in commercial mixtures.
They sprout easily but they also spoil easily
(bacteria or mold). Kala channa is a miniature
garbanzo, sold in (East) Indian food stores, that
sprouts reliably - try sprouting it instead of
- Green channa is similar, naturally green, and
sprouts very quickly. Green channa has stronger
flavor; best to eat with turmeric or ginger.
- Large beans: Anasazi, Black, Fava, Kidney, Lima, Navy,
Pinto, Soy, etc. Except for soy, these are irrelevant to
the sprouter - raw flavor is truly horrible. Also, serious
toxicity/allergy/digestibility issues with these raw beans.
Except for soy (edible raw if grown long enough), these
beans must be cooked to be digestible, hence are not of
interest to the raw-fooder.
- Lentils, brown/green and red. Soak 8-14 hours, sprout
1.0 day. Method: cloth or jar. The brown/green lentils come
in a variety of sizes; the smallest sizes generally sprout
faster than the larger. Red lentils are usually sold in
split "dahl" form; for sprouting you must buy whole red
lentils. Red lentils are red inside and brown outside;
their Hindi name is masoor (brown masoor). Lentil sprouts
have a spicy flavor and are very popular. Might find hard
seeds in lentils from India.
- Mung bean group:
- Mung beans: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 18 hrs - 1
day. Method: cloth or jar.
- Urid/urad: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 18 hrs - 1
day. Method: cloth or jar.
- Adzuki beans: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 1.0 day.
Method: cloth or jar.
- Moth beans: Soak 8-14 hours, sprout 12 -18 hrs.
Method: cloth or jar. Urid (also spelled urad) is a
black shelled mung bean, available in Indian
stores. Stronger flavor than regular mung. Hard
seeds common in mung and urid. Moth is a brownish
bean, similar to mung, available in Indian stores.
Very fast, reliable sprouter, with mild flavor -
similar to mung. Discard "floaters" when sprouting
moth. P.S. there is a mung bean that is yellow
inside, in Indian stores, but so far have only
found split (dahl) form.
- Peanuts: Soak 12-14 hours, sprout 1.5 days. Method:
cloth or jar. Must use unblanched peanuts; recommend
removing skins to improve digestibility. Spanish variety
peanuts have loose skin, can remove most before soaking.
Other peanuts - soak 1-2 hours then peel off skins, return
to soaking in new, clean water. With peanut peeled you will
probably observe high incidence of (bright) yellow mold -
- Peas, Blackeye: Soak 12-14 hours, sprout 1 day. Method:
cloth or jar. Flavor is too strong to be eaten alone. Makes
good flavoring additive for mixtures, if used
- Peas, (Field): Soak 12-14 hours, sprout 1.5 days.
Method: cloth or jar. Be sure to buy whole peas, not split
peas (split won't sprout). Yellow peas are slower to
sprout, and have stronger flavor than green peas. Flavor
too strong when raw for many people. Insect problems common
with peas in storage (beetle infestation); store in
bug-proof containers. Can be grown as greens also.
Note: if purchasing kala channa, green channa, urid/urad,
red lentils, etc. from Indian store, be sure to obtain the
whole seeds, and not the split (dahl) or oiled form of the
Some Sprouting Seed Mixtures
- mung/adzuki, fenugreek
- mung/adzuki, urid, dill seed
- lentils, blackeye peas, alfalfa, radish
- sunflower seed, moth, fenugreek
- alfalfa/clover, radish/mustard (for greens)
Experiment and develop your own favorite mixtures!
Soak Instead of
- Herb seeds: fennel, celery, caraway, cardamom, poppy,
- Filberts: soak 12 hours; makes crisper, improves
- Pecans: soak 8 hours; long soaks can make mushy.
- Walnuts: soak 12 hours; flavor changes - you might like
- High fat nuts (brazil nuts, macadamias) may benefit
some from soaking, but difference (soaked vs. unsoaked) is
Staple Foods for
- (first tier) wheat, almonds, sunflower, sesame,
- (2nd tier, obstacles) oats, barley, buckwheat, rice,
lentils*, other legumes*
- (flavoring) fenugreek, mustard, radish, kale, cabbage *
see question on legumes below
wheat, sunflower, almonds,
Indoor Gardening (grown
indoors, in soil):
- Grasses: wheat, barley, oats, rye, kamut, spelt,
triticale, and others.
- Vegetables: amaranth, mustard/mizuna, fennel, kale,
- Legumes: peas, snow peas
- Other greens: buckwheat, sunflower
What are hard
Seeds that are hard, like rocks, and they stay that way
during soaking and sprouting. Hard seeds are a sort of natural
insurance in the sense that if planted in soil they will
eventually sprout - late in the season or next season. Hard
seeds may be a threat to certain types of dental work, esp.
porcelain crowns (porcelain on gold crowns are stronger and
hard seeds are less risk; metal crowns are stronger than
natural enamel). To minimize hard seeds, suggest you soak seeds
as in the cloth method: in shallow water, in a large container
with a flat bottom. Then at the end of the soak stage, you can
visually inspect the soaked seeds and remove those that are
still hard. This technique is not 100% foolproof, but if done
carefully, will substantially reduce the number of hard seeds.
The method will work with any seed, but fenugreek seeds are so
small that picking out the hard ones is quite difficult.
Anything wrong with sprouted
If you can digest them without the production of a lot of
gas (flatulence), there's nothing wrong with them. Legumes are
very high in protein, hard to digest, and cause gas for many
people. Gabriel Cousens (Conscious Eating, pgs. 70, 372, 490)
recommends that consumption of sprouted legumes (except
alfalfa, next question) be minimized. Ann Wigmore (Rebuild Your
Health, pg. 73) tells us that flatulence gas is toxic and harms
your entire system. From an Ayurvedic viewpoint, legumes
aggravate the vata dosha; individuals with vata body type or a
vata disorder should minimize legumes. Ayurveda suggests eating
turmeric or ginger with proteins (legume sprouts) as a
digestive aid. A number of other herbs/spices can serve as
digestive aids and/or counteract the vata effect of legumes.
Among legumes, mung and adzuki beans are considered easiest to
What about toxins in alfalfa
Alfalfa sprouts contain saponins, a class of alkaloids
(7.93% on dry weight basis, sprouts from commercial sources)
and L-canavanine sulfate, an amino acid analog. Saponin levels
are at their maximum when sprouts are 6-8 days old (most common
time for eating); L-canavanine sulfate is present in the seed
and decreases as the sprout grows. The issue of whether these
factors are significant is subject to debate.
- Livingston et al. (Nutritional and Toxicological
Aspects of Food Safety, pgs. 253-268), citing research by
Malinow, report negative health effects in animals and
humans from consumption of alfalfa sprouts. They believe
that consuming large amounts of alfalfa sprouts is
- Cousens (Conscious Eating, pg. 372) , citing relevant
client cases, reports no harmful effects from consumption
of moderate amounts of raw alfalfa sprouts.
- Readers are encouraged to check the above references
and decide for themselves on this issue. An alternate,
experimental approach is to hold your diet constant for a
few days, then add alfalfa sprouts to your diet, and
observe the effects (if any) of the alfalfa - that is,
listen to your body.
Don't Sprout: Sorghum (potentially toxic levels of cyanide
in seed coat)
Oat Sprout Milk - Special
The following makes around 3 cups of delicious oat/almond
Start with: a little more than 1/4 cup dry sprouting oats,
and, optionally, 1/8 cup Lundberg Farms Wehani rice. Soak 12
hours, then sprout for 1.5 days. Separately, soak 15-20 almonds
for 12 hours, then sprout for 1.0 days (should be ready about
same time as oat sprouts).
Rinse oat(/rice) sprouts, put in blender with 2 cups good
quality water, blend. Best to add 1 cup water, blend on medium
for 30 seconds or so, then add second cup of water and blend on
high for another 30-45 seconds. Now strain the blended liquid
through a steel mesh strainer and/or cheesecloth (or
similar).Discard hull pulp, rinse blender clean, put base milk
back in blender. **
Peel the sprouted almonds (might blanch first with warm
water), rinse, put almonds in blender. Add 1 tablespoon of raw
honey (or other sweetener, optional) to blender. Now add
flavoring, one of: vanilla bean (about 1/2 inch or so),
cardamom seed (decorticated or powder, 1/4 tsp), or cinnamon (1
rounded tsp). Run blender on medium speed for a few seconds to
mix/grind, then turn down to low speed and let blender run for
5+ minutes to homogenize. (The almonds are not strained out but
retained in the milk for full flavor and nutrition.)
Note that the recipe up to ** is the basic milk recipe; can
use recipe, substituting other types of grains, seeds, or nuts
for the rice, to yield other types of oat sprout milk.
Sprouting/soaking details will vary with grain, seed, or nut
used in place of the rice.
Author contact: T. Billings, 2125 Delaware St; #F; Berkeley,