Let's Eat Shoots AND Leaves!

Coffee jar sprouting: puy lentils from day 1 weigh-in and soaking, through day 3 and 5 progress, to final weigh-in on day 7

As I don't have any maturing salad leaves at the moment, sprouting seeds is an excellent way to grow something fresh and tasty for my salad until my January sowings are ready sometime next month. They also take up very little space on the kitchen windowsill, so here's something quick and easy you can grow even if you don't have a garden!

I've raided my store cupboards for various seeds and my stash of old coffee jars which I've kept in case they come in handy one day. I'm using some elastic bands brought in by Skimble (and washed) to keep the cloth in place on top of the jars. I don't recommend you use a piece of j-cloth like I did at first as the weave is just a little bit too tight and makes draining the seeds a wee bit tricky. Sterilised muslin or old tights are a much better bet.

If you don't have coffee jars to hand, jam jars will do though you'll need to adjust the amount you grow accordingly. Smaller seeds such as mustard, cress, mung and aduki beans can be grown successfully on damp kitchen towel on saucers or small plates/dishes. It can work for larger seeds too if you ensure they're kept thoroughly damp (though not waterlogged). The picture below shows some dried peas I had left over from my Mushy Peas post on the posh sprouting tray I usually use for chitting my parsnip seed.

  1. Select which seed(s) you're going to try - I particularly like mung (aka beansprouts), aduki (similar to mung), peas (NB use whole, not split), chickpeas (my absolute favourite) and lentils (whole)
  2. Tip a small handful of seeds per person you're catering for into the jar. For once I've weighed this out, so you have an idea of how many I used - it came to 30g. You'll probably find you'll need to adjust this up or down accordingly depending on you and your family's tastes and usage. The amount you see was a good sized addition for 2 salads each for NAH and me
  3. Resist the urge to add more seeds to the jar because it looks such a paltry amount. They need room to breathe and grow
  4. Fill the jar 1/2 full with water and swill the seeds around for a minute. Tip out the water and fill the jar again to the same level. Leave to soak for 12 hours - overnight is easiest. This gets rid of anything nasty and kick-starts the sprouting process
  5. In the morning, discard the soaking water and replace with fresh. Gently swill the seeds around and tip out the water. NB you can do this without needing to remove the jar cover
  6. Tip the jar on its side and leave to drain for a couple of minutes - the seeds need to be kept damp but not absolutely soaking wet for the rest of the process
  7. Stand the jar upright and leave on the windowsill to sprout. In winter a south facing windowsill is fine, but at other times of the year somewhere less bright is needed to prevent scorching or drying out
  8. Repeat step 5-7 both morning and evening until the seeds are ready to eat - this is from when the white shoots reach a reasonable size (day 5 in the picture above would be fine) through to them turning bright green 1 or 2 days later
  9. When ready, sprouted seeds can be eaten straight away (preferable) or kept in the fridge for 1-2 days
Typical growing times (days - might be a little slower in winter)
  • Aduki (aka azuki, adzuki) - 4-5
  • Alfalfa - 1-4
  • Chickpea - 3-5
  • Cress - 3-5
  • Fenugreek (spicy taste!) - 3-5
  • Lentil - 2-4 (so mine were a little old, but still tasted great)
  • Mung - 3-5
  • Mustard (and most other brassica seeds) - 3-5
  • Pea - 6-8
  • Radish - 2-4
  • Sunflower - 1-3
  • Sweetcorn - 2-3
Hints and Tips
  • If you'd like to have a variety of seeds and they all grow at around the same rate, you can put them all in the same jar. @I_Like_Cake is growing a nice mixture of alfalfa, rocket and broccoli
  • Try getting in a routine with your seeds. I start batches off on Sundays and Wednesdays. I also wash them first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Adjust this routine accordingly if you have any time away planned
  • Don't throw away the water. It's choc full of minerals and other good stuff. Use it to water plants or as a starter for making soup or vegetable stock
Price and Weight Watch (all January 2012)

Overall verdict: for beansprouts there's not much to choose pricewise between shop bought and sprouting your own. However, your own will be fresher and not wrapped in plastic. The real benefits are reaped by sprouting other kinds of seeds and it means you can add a much wider variety of tastes to your salad bowl. If you feel OK about using store cupboard seed, then this works out much cheaper (just a few pence per serving) than buying special seed for sprouting.
  • Beansprouts are around 50p-60p for 400-680g of sprouted (possibly non-organic) seed - way too much for us to use before they go off! The more unusual sprouted seeds are much more expensive and not so easy to find
  • Store cupboard seed is around 79p (chick pea) - £1.35 (mung) for 500g; my puy lentils come in at the luxury end of the market at £2.29, though I could have used green lentils at 95p (both are for 500g)
  • Seed company sprouting seed is typically £1.95 to £3.25 for various 50g of organic seed (250g packs also available) and £2.50 for 120g non-organic alfalfa - look out for special offers
  • The weight of your sprouted seed will typically be 2-4 times greater than what you started with (82g from 30g seed in the pictures at the top of this post). Did you know a sprouted seed can grow up to 30 times its seed size?
  • My twice weekly sprouting is enough to replace one bag of bought salad leaves
  • NAH's verdict? They're a nice crunchy change for our salad :)
NB If using coffee or jam jars aren't your thing, you can buy ones like @GillyInAriege has. She says they work much better than the trays like the ones I showed you earlier. They also come with a neat tilting mechanism (picture courtesy and copyright @GillyInAriege)

FAQS - NB most of these were aired during #saladchat on Twitter this week - thanks for your contributions everyone :)

Q. Can you really use store cupboard seeds for sprouting? I thought they'd been treated to prevent germination (via Diana at Elephant's Eye)

A. I haven't had any problems with the shop bought seeds I use for cooking, but then I live in the UK, not South Africa. There are plenty of seed companies selling seeds especially for sprouting if you want to ensure you're using seed and nothing but the seed. From what I've seen, Suffolk Herbs has the most extensive range in the UK. I haven't used them for sprouting seeds, but I've been pleased with the results from seeds ordered from the other pages of their catalogue.

Q. Can I use my old packets of seed from last year e.g. peas?

A. No - they've almost certainly been treated with e.g. fungicides, so are best used for growing trendy pea shoots (post to follow). NB Salad Challengers - could old seed be used if it's certified organic?

Q.Help! I have too many sprouts, how do I stop them growing and/or going off before I can eat them all? (via @GillyInAriege)

A. There's quite a few solutions, depending on why you have too many:
  • You could try harvesting them a day earlier than you have been doing, so they won't have grown so much
  • You can keep them in the fridge for up to 2 days when they're ready (though Gilly doesn't have a fridge, so other ideas are welcome!)
  • If you're growing too many for your needs, cut down on the amount you're putting into the jar at the beginning - I know it's tempting to add a bit more for luck!
  • If you're going away, or know there'll be a period time you won't be eating so many (e.g. Christmas celebrations), stop sprouting seeds 3-5 days before this happens
  • Use your seed sprouts up in other ways e.g. sprouted chickpea hummus or as an addition to sandwiches and soups
  • Other ideas and recipes anyone?
Q. Why don't my mung beans look like the beansprouts I can buy?

A. Shop bought beansprouts are sprouted in the dark and under pressure. Any suitable seeds can be sprouted in the dark e.g. in the airing cupboard - you'll get a paler, more elongated sprout. Give it a try! For more authentic looking beansprouts, Joy Larkcom suggests sprouting seeds in a sided container, covering them with a cloth and placing a 1lb weight on top. The container can then be placed in a dark place or foil wrapped around it to exclude light.

Q. Why do my [chickpea] sprouts taste like cardboard? (via @esculentetc)

A. They could be too dry or too old. Try using the method outlined above and/or harvesting a little earlier. The same solution applies if your sprouts taste bitter - they should taste fresh and sweet

OK folks, it's now over to you - leave your seed sprouting experiences, questions, hints, tips etc. in the comments below, or join us for #saladchat over on Twitter...


  1. lots of useful info, thank you! For anyone who lives near Corsham, Green Ginger stocks the green lidded sprouters shown and they are very reasonably priced and very easy to use.

  2. Lu - thanks - I think this might be the longest post I've ever written!

    AND it's the first time I've produced a table (the 6 photos at the top of the post) using HTML :)

  3. VP, I have to admit I came over because of the title--a witty and informative book I thoroughly enjoyed! But what a great, informative post. I've never tried growing my own sprouts, but it does sound interesting and worth trying. Last year, we had a health scare in the U.S. when people were getting food poisoning from sprouts. It turned out a major producer of them had some contamination issues in their production area. I always like eating food I've grown myself--I know no one else has handled it!

  4. Rose - it's a much better title than the one I had sitting here for a few days before I changed it! It's a great book isn't it?

    I thought the issue about beanshoot contamination would get raised and I'm pleased you've said exactly what I was going to suggest :)

    By growing your own and keeping all equipment clean and doing the regular rinsing I've outlined in my post, you can eat your own fresh, tasty sproutings with a clear conscience.

  5. I've just learned from @mrbrownthumb that Blogger has enabled nested replies to comments, so I'm trying it out :)

    It means I've changed the way my comment form is presented (to below the post instead of full page), which is the only comment option allowing this facility. Here's hoping the change works and we can have more meaningful conversations!

    1. I'm just trying this 'reply' out ... I tried it on my blog but got nowhere.

    2. Yours looks fine - apart from the extra characters in your name :/

      Let's see if this embeds after your comment in reply to you Diana...

    3. if I'd known that asterisks turn to expletive deleted, I would have avoided it, but it's my handle now ;~)

    4. On the help forums I read, threaded comments don't work with Google Chrome (not my issue because it does work here) and problems if you have dared to tweak the template! I'll keep trying.

    5. I'm using Google Chrome too - I see my reply to you doesn't indent so our conversation is in one line.

      It'll be interesting to see whether someone commenting after us returns the identation back to the starting point or whether it carries on in the same line as us.

  6. I've enabled embedded comments, whined at the forums, will see what happens. The indenting - someone said it is not truly threaded comments, but a simpler two tier system. WYSIWYG

    still testing, not using Reply this time. Should revert to the left margin ...?

    1. As you can see it's gone back to the left. Thanks for helping out with the testing :)

      As you say - they've got a long way to go to get this one right yet...

  7. Much interesting food for thought there VP. Off to search for a new salad sprouter as old one has long since disappeared. You have certainly trained Skimble well.

  8. Sprouts have never appealed to me, but I would like to report that yesterday I bought lettuce and radish seeds. It will be another month before the weather is warm enough to plant, but I am looking forward to the 52 Week Salad Challenge.

    And yesterday, friends and I went to this great Greek and Italian place to eat, and I had a grilled salmon salad - Lettuces, onions, sweet pepper, and tomatoes topped with a piece of grilled salmon. I am proud of myself for resisting all those pastas and pizzas!

    And I agree with Elephant's Eye about the asterisks - If I had known ahead of time what would happen... oh well, too late now.

    Have a great day!
    Mississippi, USA

  9. Have you tried poppy and sesame? Poppy need light to sprout and pours oil into the water. Quite tasty. Sesame need heat and tastes very weird at some points, at times bitter and at times garlicky, sometimes lovely.

  10. Hi, just 'found'' your blog, and started following :)
    I love the idea of growing your own salads year round, I think it will lead to many new combinations...

  11. Fab - more people joining the challenge :)

    Welcome to my blog Pat and Mir! I like your recommendations, Pat - I must add them to my list of things to try this year :)


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