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Foods

Sprouts

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

People may still joke about sprouts as typifying "health" foods, but over the past decade these crisp tendrils have become a common sight at salad bars and in the produce sections of supermarkets. Their culinary appeal--long appreciated in Asian countries--lies in the refined crunchiness they add to dishes, backed up by a fresh, delicate flavor that can be enjoyed whether the sprouts are cooked or eaten raw. At the same time, sprouts continue to be touted as a wonder food that contains concentrated sources of essential nutrients. Do they live up to their reputation?

Probably the most familiar sprouts are those of alfalfa and mung bean seeds, but many food plants--ranging from lentil and soybean to watercress, radish, sunflower, and mustard--have seeds that, when moistened, will germinate to yield edible shoots. This growth from seed to sprout is accompanied by changes in nutritional value. Most of the carbohydrate and fat in the seed is utilized for growth. And although there is a dramatic increase in nutrients over the amount in the seeds, this does not make sprouts an outstanding source of nutrients compared to other vegetables. Sprouts provide some B vitamins and iron, but their overall mineral content is modest. And while some sprouts do contain exceptional amounts of beta-carotene--sprouted oats, for example--others have very little.

But if sprouts aren't nutritional superstars, they, nevertheless, are a filling, low-calorie food (due to their high water content) that will provide a wholesome and delicious component to your diet. Because they are young--just a few days from the seed stage--sprouts always taste tender and sweet. They have another distinctive feature: You can grow them yourself at any time of the year.

Varieties

Each kind of sprout has its own shape, taste, and texture. Here are some of the more common types you're likely to find at supermarkets or greengrocers:

Adzuki bean: These very sweet lentil-shaped beans form fine, grasslike sprouts, with a nutty taste and texture. Add them to stir-fries or eat them raw.

Alfalfa: These threadlike white sprouts, with tiny green tops and a mild, nutty flavor, are a favorite in salads and sandwiches. They are often shipped in the containers in which they have been grown, and then are packaged in plastic bags or boxes by distributors.

Clover: An alfalfa sprout look-alike, most clover sprouts are produced from red clover; these tiny seeds resemble poppy seeds.

Daikon radish: Often marketed as kaiware, these upright sprouts have silky stems, leafy tops, and a peppery-hot taste. They add tang to salads, sandwiches, and cooked dishes.

Mung bean: This is the classic bean sprout most people are familiar with. These thick white sprouts are a staple in Asian dishes and are excellent in stir-fries, soups, and salads.

Soybean: Larger and more strongly flavored than mung bean sprouts, and a rich source of protein, soy bean sprouts are used in salads and casseroles. Soybean sprouts contain small amounts of toxins that can be harmful, if eaten often and/or in large quantities. To prevent complications, cook sprouts for at least five minutes. If you consume them infrequently, there's no need to cook them.

Sunflower: These are mildly flavored, like alfalfas, but much crunchier.

Availability

Since sprouts grow indoors hydroponically--that is, in water--they are available year-round.

Shopping

The best way to get ultrafresh sprouts is to grow your own. It's not difficult, however, to tell whether those you find in your market are in prime condition. Sprouts are sold loose (sometimes immersed in water), in plastic bags, or in clear plastic boxes (often containing the pad of absorbent material on which the seeds were sprouted). In each case, you can clearly see and evaluate the quality of the sprouts. They should be moist and crisp, and should look and smell clean; watch out for sliminess, discoloration, mold, or a sour smell. The shorter the sprout, the younger it is, and thus the more tender it will be.

Mung bean sprouts may have their split seed cases still attached; these will wash away when you rinse the sprouts. If you buy mung bean sprouts from an open, water-filled container (as they are displayed in many Asian markets), be sure that a serving implement is provided and that the sprouts are not scooped out by hand.

Storage

Refrigerate sprouts in the container or loosely packed in plastic bags; tightly packed sprouts will be crushed and begin to decay quickly. Do not wash them before storing; plan to keep bagged sprouts for no more than three days. Boxed sprouts will stay for four to five days; snip the sprouts as needed, leaving the tangle of roots in the box. Check your stored sprouts frequently and be sure to remove any that have become slimy or discolored.

Preparation

Sprouts sealed in plastic bags or boxes are sold clean and need no additional washing. Those that are available in bulk, however, may need to be rinsed before using. Any that seem slightly wilted can be revived by a 10-minute soaking in ice water; pat them dry with paper towels before using. Rinse mung bean sprouts in a bowl of water, stirring them gently with your hand, and discard the seed casings, which will float to the top.

Slender leafy sprouts, such as alfalfa and radish sprouts, are tastiest when eaten raw, but sturdy mung bean sprouts and soybean sprouts are also delicious stir-fried for two to three minutes. The finer sprouts can be used in stir-fries, but should not be added until the last 30 seconds of cooking time. The brief heating will help to preserve their crispness.

Nutrition Chart

Mung Bean Sprouts/1 cup

31
Total fat (g)
0.2
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
1.9
3
Carbohydrate (g)
6
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
6

Radish Sprouts/1 cup

16
Total fat (g)
1
Saturated fat (g)
0.3
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.4
Dietary fiber (g)
1
2
Carbohydrate (g)
1
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
2

Soybean Sprouts/1 cup

85
Total fat (g)
4.7
Saturated fat (g)
0.7
Monounsaturated fat (g)
1.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
2.7
Dietary fiber (g)
0.8
9
Carbohydrate (g)
7
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
10
Folate (mcg)
120
Manganese (mg)
0.5


Date Published: 04/21/2005
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