Radish and pea sprouts.
Radish and pea sprouts.

Sprouting a miracle food

"WANTED! A vegetable that will grow in any climate, will rival meat in nutritive value, will mature in three to five days, may be planted any day of the year, will require neither soil nor sunshine, will rival tomatoes in vitamin C, will be free of waste in preparation and can be cooked with little fuel and as quickly as a … chop."

So wrote Dr Clive McKay, Professor of Nutrition at Cornell University in the 1940s.

He was talking about soybean sprouts.

Dr McKay and a team of nutritionists had spent years researching the properties of sprouted soybeans.

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They found that sprouts retain the B-complex vitamins present in the original seed, and show a big jump in vitamin A and an almost unbelievable amount of vitamin C.

Some nutritionists point out that this high vitamin content is gained at the expense of some protein loss.

But, even so, the figures are impressive - an average 300% increase in vitamin A and a 500-600% increase in vitamin C.

In addition, in the sprouting process starches are converted to simple sugars, so the sprouts are easily digested.

They are also high in fibre, low in fat, and absolutely delicious.

Ancient Chinese traders used sprouts to help prevent scurvy on long voyages.

The seeds are easy to transport, easy to grow, and, as Dr McKay confirmed thousands of years later, contain extraordinary levels of vitamin C.

Captain Cook followed suit in the late 1700s.

Along with citrus fruits, sprouts became part of the mariners' diet, thus eliminating one of the greatest problems faced by mariners on long voyages.

I have read that the British Army sprouted beans to ward off scurvy in the trenches of the First World War.

As Dr McKay pointed out, sprouts are quick and easy to grow.

The easiest way is to use a sprouter, which you can usually buy in health food shops or nurseries.

The sprouter will have a tray or series of trays to hold the seeds.

Always make sure that the seeds you use are safe for sprouting - some commercially packaged seeds are treated with chemicals to preserve them.

They are fine to use if you are germinating seeds to grow into mature plants, but not for sprouting.

Just rinse the seeds thoroughly, and remove any that look damaged or broken.

Put them in the sprouter, pour off any excess water, and wait.

Rinse the seeds carefully 2-3 times a day, being careful not to damage the delicate shoots that emerge.

They should be kept moist but not too wet.

Bear in mind that sprouting increases the seed volume 6-8 times, so don't put too many in the tray at a time.

Ideally, the temperature should be 18-24°C, and the sprouting seeds should be out of direct sunlight.

The kitchen bench is usually a good spot.

Your sprouts will be ready to in 3-10 days, depending on the variety.

Alfalfa, radish and broccoli are great on sandwiches.

Mung beans, chick peas and soy beans are good for stir frying, and adzuki beans, mung beans, lentils and fenugreek are good for salads. Sunflower and snow pea sprouts are delicious anywhere, anytime.

Seed sprouting is a great activity for kids. From sowing to eating can be only a couple of days, and the process is very simple.

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