From Scratch: Sprouted Grains and Legumes

July 28, 2011

sprouted mung bean
Sprouted mung beans (photo by Sarah Shatz)

What are sprouted grains and legumes?

There is no official definition of sprouted grains and legumes and many producers use different techniques, but the basic process involves germinating whole grains or legumes with just the right amount of moisture and warmth, until they begin to come to life, and then drying them before shipping them to market. At first glance, sprouted grains look just like other grains, but on closer inspection, you may notice sprouted grains, such as germinated brown rice, are slightly lighter in color and swollen in size. When it comes to the sprouted legumes (such as mung beans and lentils), you’ll notice that the bean casing has begun to split open (see photo, above).

How does sprouting happen?

Grains and legumes are the seeds of certain plants. Like all seeds, they contain the potential of a whole new plant, patiently waiting its turn in the sun. All seeds rely on certain built-in growth inhibitors to keep them from germinating until temperature and moisture conditions are just right. Once sprouting starts, enzyme activity destroys these growth inhibitors and transforms the seed’s long-term storage starch into simpler molecules that are easily digested by the growing plant embryo. 
Just as the baby plant finds these enzyme-activated molecules easier to digest, so too may some people.

Health benefits:

Proponents of sprouted grains claim that grains and legumes that have just begun sprouting -- those that straddle the line between a seed and a new plant -- offer all the goodness of whole grains and legumes, while being more readily digested. What’s more, the sprouting process not only increases nutrients, but is also said to be less allergenic to those with grain protein sensitivities (sprouted grains, in particular).

Recent studies have documented a wide range of health benefits for sprouted grains and legumes. Here are just a few: 

  • Easier to digest: sprouting breaks down the starches into simple sugars so your body can digest them like a vegetable
  • Lower glycemic index than un-sprouted grains and legumes
  • Increased vitamins B and C, and carotene
  • Increased enzymes
  • Shorter cooking time
  • Can be prepared by soaking for individuals following a raw food diet
  • Reduced anti-nutrients: sprouting neutralizes enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid, a substance present in the bran of all grains which inhibits absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc.

Some of our favorite sprouted grains and legumes:

Germinated brown rice

This rice has a nutty flavor and is slightly sweeter than regular brown rice. It also has a softer chew -- somewhere between that of white and regular brown rice. Cooking time is about 1/3 of regular brown rice.

Sprouted green lentils

Captured at the moment between life as a bean and a leafy green, these crunchy, fresh-tasting rounds cook quickly, in as little as 15 minutes. Or, you can slowly simmer them in a thick soup or stew, as you would ordinary lentils. As a raw food, simply rehydrate them by soaking in hot water for about 45 minutes.

Sprouted mung beans

These tiny seeds have a delicate flavor suited to a variety of dishes. Add them to boiling water and cook for as little as 5 minutes. Or, try them as a raw food by soaking in hot water for about 45 minutes.

Sprouted quinoa

From breakfast to dinner, sprouted quinoa can be used in a host of recipes –- cereals, salads, wraps, stuffings, soups, and stews. Substitute it for bulgur, rice, couscous, barley or millet. This quinoa cooks in as little as 15 minutes. Or, try them as a raw food by soaking in hot water for 30 minutes.

Some recipes to try with sprouted grains and legumes:

10-12-12-12 (Sprouted) Lentil Soup
Spicy Black Bean and Quinoa Salad
Bisi Bela

4 Comments Add a Comment
  • Stringio

    greg.ttibo says: Definitely no danger of contamination. Because I had to deal with the cultivation of beans on this basis and used to test the <a href="http://www.aquar-system.com/catalog/grain-moisture-measurement-in-flow/">grain moisture meter in-line</a>. In the humidity and shows the level of pollution.

    5 months ago Reply to this »
  • Missing_avatar

    serene says: I read today that raw bean sprouts should be avoided due to the danger of contamination. Does this also apply to 'sprouted beans'?

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Maddy-macau-robuchon

    Maddy is the senior editor of Whole Foods Market Cooking.

    Maddy, Editor says: Hi serene, this would be a great question to ask on Foodpickle, which can be found at the top of this page.

    over 2 years ago
  • Wholefoodsmarket

    Whole Foods Market says: Since the sprouted beans and grains referred to in this post are de-hydrated after sprouting, there is no worry of the contamination that's become a concern in some fresh bean sprouts.

    over 2 years ago

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