I am seeing more products using sprouted grains and legumes. I am wondering what the benefits are and if I should be doing this at home?
Yes you are right! Sprouting (or at least soaking) is recommended for grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. These foods are the plant's seeds, when we buy them in their raw state they are dormant, the enzymes are 'sleeping' to prevent spontaneous sprouting.
These seeds have built-in enzyme inhibitors and anti-nutrients for two reasons:
1. To prevent the seed from sprouting in unfavourable conditions.
2. To allow the seed to remain intact when passing through an animals digestive system.
The first step in sprouting is to soak the seed for 12hrs. The presence of water signals the seed that it is now in a favourable condition to start growing - the enzymes now begin to 'wake-up' and become active. This process reduces the enzyme inhibitors and anti-nutrients as well as creating a more digestible food. The seed will also now have a reduced ability to inhibit mineral absorption (great news for our teeth and bones!).
To continue the sprouting process, the soaked seeds are then left to sit for 2-5 days (if you are trying to grow the seed into an actual sprout this will take longer and may require soil and sunlight).
During the 2-5 days the seeds need to be thoroughly rinsed 3-4x a day. I like to keep mine in a strainer resting in a larger bowl so I can easily just bring the strainer to the sink to rinse. To speed up the sprouting process you can place a clean tea towel on top of the strainer and then a bowl with water on top. This mimics how the seed would be under soil - darkness and weight on top.
Once you have your sprouts you can dehydrate and store in the freezer to maintain freshness, or you can freeze while still wet. Even cooked foods made with sprouted grains/legumes will be much more nutritious and easy to digest. Also, sprouting grains that contain gluten will decrease the gluten content.
You can even take this process once step further by culturing the sprouted nuts and seeds. Lou Corona (one of my favourite raw food educators!) is a big proponent for culturing nuts and seeds to increase digestibility even further as well as adding beneficial probiotics.
Here is a great video showing you how to make these cultured foods at home!
Shawna Barker BSc., RHN is a nutritionist, college instructor, and raw food educator.