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Sprout vegetables are freshly germinated seeds of plants. They are mostly grown from cereals, pulses and other plants.

The following plants are well suited for the germination of sprouts: Cereals: barley, oats, millet, corn and rye. Pulses: azuki bean, alfalfa or lucerne, pea, lentil, ricebean and pigeon pea, oilseeds and other plants: buckwheat, Daikon radish, garden cress, linseed, rice, radish, mustard, sesame and sunflower seeds.

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Properties of sprouts

The nutrient content of plants is at its highest soon after germination. Sprouts therefore have a higher content of minerals, vitamins and other important secondary plant matters than seeds or mature plants. Sprout vegetables also have a high content of dietary fibres and are lower in calories than fresh vegetables.

Up to 80% of the complex carbohydrates of pulses, usually hard to digest, are converted to easy to digest disaccharides during germination. Some sprouts of pulses contain lectins though. These are not completely broken down during germination and may be detrimental to health. For this reason some sprouts have to be blanched before consumption. The remaining lectins are broken down during boiling. Unfortunately some heat-sensitive vitamins are also destroyed during blanching.

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Growing sprouts

The easiest way to grow sprouts is in a large glass jar. Cover with a cheesecloth or piece of muslin and secure with a rubber band. Special sprouters or germinators made from plastic, glass or clay are available in retail stores. In them sprouts may be grown on several trays stacked on top of each other.

Only cover the bottom of the sprouter, the seeds should form a single layer and have room to swell and germinate.

Before putting the seeds in the sprouter it is advisable to wash them under running water. Smaller seeds, such as alfalfa, do not need to be soaked. Larger seeds should be soaked before spreading them in the sprouter. During soaking the husks swell and germination is more successful. Soaking time depends on the size of the seeds and hardness of the husks. Pulses and cereals have a longer soaking time than oil seeds. The easiest way to do it, is soaking the seeds overnight.

Seeds need moisture and warmth to germinate. For the first day a dark place with temperatures between 20 and 21°C is perfect. From the second day on the germs need light but no direct sun. They should not lie in too much water, otherwise they may rot or grow mouldy. During longer growing times, cleanliness becomes very important. To prevent mould from growing the sprouts should be washed every now and then. Cress and some cereal varieties produce a slime that may be confused with mould. Some seeds grow very fine roots.

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Use of sprouts

Most sprouts may be eaten raw. They are used in salads or served with other raw vegetables. Sprouts go well with salad greens such as Belgian endive, Batavia salad and lettuce, with fruits such as bananas, figs and currants or with nuts. Depending on the variety the sprouts should be washed with cold water or blanched shortly. Very fine sprouts like cress must be used immediately or they become limp. As a side dish to other vegetables they are very tasty when tossed in butter. Sprouts may also be served with potato or rice dishes, or as an addition to vegetable stews or quark.

Sprouts are also sold tinned. Soybean or chickpea sprouts are well suited for tinning. Bean sprouts are popular vegetable preserves in Asia.

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Storage of sprouts

Sprouts should be eaten as soon as they have reached the desired size. Sprouts that cannot be eaten immediately should be stored in the refrigerator. The cold prevents the sprouts from further development. Sprouts should be stored in a glass jar or resealable plastic bag. They should have room and not be pressed. They should also be as dry as possible as moisture lets them rot quickly. Sprouts should not be stored longer than 48 hours.

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