Growing Sprouting Beans and Seeds
Sprouting is the simplest method of producing a food crop, and as well as the familiar Mung beans used to produce delicious bean sprouts, there are other beans and seeds which quickly provide nutritious sprouted shoots useful for salads and cooked dishes.
Bean sprouts are rich in vitamins and protein content. They contain iron and potassium, as well as fibre essential to good digestion. After four or five days, sprouted beans or seeds provide from six to eight times their original weight in nutritious elements, so they are a surprisingly valuable food source yet easy and quick to grow. In addition to Mung beans, a vital ingredient of Chinese cooking, Aduki and soya beans provide equally tasty, fresh sprouts within a short period.
Looking through a seed catalogue, you may come across names that you recognize without being quite sure how to grow the plants or use them in the kitchen. A number of seeds can be recommended for sprouting- alfalfa, fenugreek, triticale, and alphatoco, among the less well-known items. Mustard andis a more familiar example which for little effort provides attractive greenery for sandwiches, salads and garnishes.
Do make sure when buying any kind of bean or seed for sprouting that it is labelled and recommended for human consumption. Similar products may be sold for field use or animal feedstuffs, and these are generally less expensive, especially if packaged in bulk; but they may have been subjected to chemical or other treatments which make them quite unsuitable for humans. Follow the advice given in growers’ catalogues or on pre-packaged goods, and follow the rule that if in doubt, do not use unrecommended seeds to provide food.
These green beans produce succulent shoots within a matter of days and provide you with fresh bean sprouts at any time of year. To sprout them you need a large glass jar, a piece of muslin or other porous cloth, and a rubber band.
Place a handful of beans in the bottom of the jar. Do not be tempted to put in too many, as the growing sprouts will need plenty of space to expand. Place the muslin over the top of the jar and secure it in place with the rubber band. Hold the jar under the cold tap and allow water to run through the top of the cloth into the jar. Swirl it around to rinse the beans thoroughly and pour the water out, again through the cloth. Repeat the rinsing twice more. Place the jar on its side in a suitable place where it can remain undisturbed. This does not have to be in complete darkness, although a shady position produces better results than a light one. In a warm location, the beans take less time to germinate than at ordinary room temperature.
Rinse the beans through twice a day, as described above, and after about three days in a fairly high temperature, or five days in a cooler location, you will see the husks split open and the tiny shoots appear. This is the advantage of using a glass jar as the container, as you can follow the progress of the bean shoots from the first sprouting to full development. After germination, the sprouts grow rapidly as you continue the twice-daily rinsing process. When they are 2in (5cm) or so long and filling the jar, they are ready for use. At this stage they are still growing, so if they are eaten immediately no nutrient value is lost.
Before putting the bean sprouts into a salad or using them for cooking, remove the husks. These usually rub off quite easily if the sprouts are rinsed under running water in a colander. Otherwise you can cut off the husks, but this wastes some of the nutrients.
Bean sprouts germinated in mid shade are pale green, but you can keep the jar in darkness to produce white shoots if preferred. The white shoots are good for cooking, while the green have an attractive appearance in a salad.
These beans are of Japanese origin and are advertised in many seed catalogues alongside the Chinese Mung beans. They are sprouted in exactly the same way and can be used fresh or cooked in the same kinds of dishes. Their flavour is nuttier than that of the Mung beans.
It is quite difficult to grow soya bean plants to produce a bean crop, but it is easy to sprout them by the method described for Mung and Aduki beans. The advantage of soya beans is that they germinate more quickly, and germination can be accelerated even more by soaking the beans in tepid water overnight before starting the twice-daily rinsing procedure.
Alfalfa, sometimes called lucerne, has been used for a long time as animal fodder and, but has only quite recently come into use as an edible product for human consumption. It can be grown as a plant or sprouted and used in the same way as bean sprouts.
To sprout alfalfa, put a handful in a glass jar just as for the sprouting beans, and carry out the rinsing process. The only difference is that a higher temperature is needed to ensure germination — 68-70°F (18-20°C). The sprouts will be ready to eat five days after starting.
You can also grow alfalfa as an alternative toand cress by sowing the seed on moist tissues or kitchen paper towels placed in a shallow dish. The crop is ready for cutting in five days and produces several harvests from one sowing, at about five-day intervals. The shoots stay in good condition in the salad compartment of a refrigerator for up to four days, but are not suitable for freezing.
The seeds of fenugreek germinate rapidly and the fresh young sprouts have a flavour reminiscent of curry, which becomes milder as the sprouts mature. You can harvest them early to take advantage of the spicy flavour. Fenugreek sprouts are rich in protein, iron and vitamin A. You can eat them raw in salads or add them to casseroles and stews.
These seeds are excellent for sprouting, germinated by the method described above. They are said to keep better than other bean or seed shoots, and will last for about 14 days if stored in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. This is a useful quality, but it should be remembered that all sprouts are at their best for eating when freshly cropped. Triticale sprouts are excellent for salads and stir-fried dishes, or may be lightly steamed in a colander over a saucepan of boiling water.
This is a fairly recent introduction to the sprouting seed market. These are grown as for the other types, but offer a sweeter flavour than any of those listed above. They can be used in the same way as triticale sprouts.
Mustard and cress
An old favourite among sprouting seeds, and one which has introduced generations of children to the joys of growing edible crops, mustard and cress is easy to grow and will provide two or more harvests from one sowing. The seeds can be sprouted on any permanently moist substratum – blotting paper was the traditional favourite, but these days kitchen paper towels or tissues are the most convenient materials.
Place the damp tissues flat in a shallow dish and sprinkle on the seed. Sow the mustard three days later than the cress for both crops to mature at the same time. Once the seed is sown, you need only remember to keep the base layer moist at all times. Keep the dish shaded at first and move it to the light as the shoots appear.