For as long as I’ve been interested in healthy eating, I’ve tried to eat as many plants from the Brassica family as often as I can. This family of green vegetables includes staples like white, red and savoy cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale, and more exotic food like kohlrabi, bok choy, mizuna and romanesco. Together, these plants are some of the healthiest food around–low in calories, high in fiber, high in minerals and vitamins.
But aside from their great nutritional value, one of the main reasons I try to eat brassicas every day is that there’s some strong evidence they may reduce the risk of cancer. Vegetables in this family contain a number of phytochemicals (natural plant compounds) that have shown limited but promising results in clinical studies.
One of the most potent phytochemicals in brassicas is called sulforaphane. It’s formed naturally when the plant is damaged, including when the plant is chewed as food. Sulforaphane helps protects the plant’s tissue. Because plants are at their most vulnerable and need the most protection when they’re very small, the youngest brassica plants have the highest concentrations of sulforaphane. And the very youngest forms are the freshly-sprouted seeds.
The easiest and tastiest brassica seeds to sprout are broccoli seeds. A single one-ounce serving of broccoli sprouts contains more sulforaphane than a pound of mature broccoli. The best part is, once you’ve bought a supply of dry broccoli seeds, you can very easily grow the sprouts yourself in your kitchen with nothing more than a glass jar!
If you’ve ever sprouted seeds before, this process will be very familiar to you. If you haven’t—fear not! It’s really very simple.
The first thing to do is ensure you buy organic broccoli seeds for sprouting. Most commercial broccoli seeds are treated with herbicides and fungicides that you definitely don’t want to eat. Make absolutely sure to only use organic seed. If you can’t find it, consider buying sprouts from a store instead of growing them at home.
Once you’ve got your organic seeds, measure out two tablespoons into a large wide-mouthed jar (a mason jar is perfect). Don’t be tempted to use more than two tablespoons on your first try; when they sprout, they take up a lot more room!
You also need something to cover the top of the jar that will let water and air through but keep your seeds inside. I use cheese cloth cut to size, but you could use any food-safe fabric or material. Cut out a circle larger than the mouth of your jar, and use a heavy rubber band to secure the cloth around the mouth of the jar. If you use a heavier fabric, you might find that it takes a long time to drain water from the jar through the material—you can just poke a couple of small holes in the fabric close to one edge of the jar, then pour out water from the other edge. The holes will let air through and the water will drain much faster. The idea is to have a fabric cover you can leave on the jar for the whole growing process that will let enough water and air through for your sprouts to grow happily.
Once the jar with the seeds inside is covered with your material, fill the jar half full of water, then tip it out. Repeat this step a few times to rinse the seeds of any dust or dirt. Then fill the jar with enough water to cover the seeds and leave them to soak for 12 hours. This soaking period lets the seeds know that it’s time to sprout.
After 12 hours, tip out the water and rinse the seeds again. Let the water drain out of the jar fairly thoroughly. If it seems to be taking a long time, you can leave the jar propped up somewhere like a clean dish rack so the water drains out by itself. From now on, rinse out the jar around twice a day and leave it to dry in this way. After each rinse, the seeds will naturally retain the right amount of water they need to grow. You may have to adjust the frequency of the rinses based on how hot or cold your kitchen is. Use your judgment—if the seeds are looking a little parched, give them an extra rinse, and if they seem fairly wet when it’s watering time, ease back on the rinse schedule a little bit. If you trust your instincts, you’ll get it right. Between rinses, set the jar where it gets a little indirect light but not the full force of the sun.
A day or two after the first soak, you should be able to see your seeds beginning to sprout. At some point after this happens, you may notice fine white fuzz covering the seeds. Don’t panic! This isn’t mould; it’s the tiny root hairs of the seeds reaching out to find more water. Try increasing the rinses a little. If the sprouts grow together into a dense clump, open up the lid and gently break it apart with clean hands.
After between four and six days, your sprouts should be ready to harvest. They will be long and slender with tiny bright green leaves, and there will be lots of empty seed cases at the bottom of the jar. Open up your jar and dump everything inside into a big bowl of clean, cold water. Scoop off the empty seed cases (they’re not good to eat and get damp and soggy in the fridge), then drain the water into a strainer and you should be left with a beautiful pile of fresh sprouts. Dry them off with paper towels or in a salad spinner and you’re ready to go!
Broccoli sprouts are incredibly versatile. You can sprinkle them over salads, put them in sandwiches or wraps, add to soups—virtually anything you can think of! When I have too many sprouts to keep in the fridge, I freeze the extras then add them to smoothies later on.
This may sound like a lot of work, but once you get into the rhythm of things it only takes a couple of minutes each day and the sprouts are very healthy. I’ve even started a rolling schedule of jars so I get fresh sprouts three times a week!
Photo credit: Julie Gibbons