Grains are one of the most commonly consumed food groups in modern diets, but the differences between the multitude of grain types are still widely misunderstood. One grain type that has gained popularity in recent years is sprouted grains.
What are sprouted grains? Throughout history, many whole grains have grown accidentally, though this occurrence has been largely removed from many modern grain processing techniques. However, there are notable benefits of sprouted grains that many individuals are just beginning to grasp. While many people are still unfamiliar with sprouted grain products, they are a grain group that can provide incredible health benefits when consumed.
To help you understand the ins and outs of sprouted grains, we have created an introductory guide to what sprouted grains are, the benefits of sprouted whole grain and how to sprout grains.
An Introduction to Sprouted Grains
To understand what sprouted grains are, it is first necessary to understand what a grain is at its most basic level. Grains are the seeds of certain plants that have been cultivated and harvested for food and are largely derived from cereal grasses.
A whole grain is comprised of three main elements: the bran, germ and endosperm, all of which are essential to creating a new plant. The bran is the tough, exterior layer of the grain kernel that protects the seed until it is ready to begin the growth cycle and imparts fiber, trace minerals and B vitamins. The germ of the grain kernel is the part of the grain that is capable of sprouting a new plant. The germ is found inside the seed and helps to provide nourishment. The germ contains vitamins, proteins, minerals, antioxidants and oils. The final portion of the grain kernel is the endosperm, which is also found on the interior of the grain kernel. The endosperm is the starchy portion of the grain that is comprised of carbohydrates and proteins. Since the germ is the plant embryo, it will feed on the starchy endosperm when it grows. Processed grains remove the bran and germ portions of the grain.
Until the grain is ready to grow, it relies on its internal growth inhibitors to keep it from germinating. The seed will be able to detect when the temperature and moisture conditions have reached ideal levels for germination. Once the environment has reached the ideal temperature and moisture conditions, the grain will begin to sprout. Once the grain begins sprouting, the enzyme activity will wipe out the growth inhibitors. In addition to this stage, the grain will transform the endosperm (its starch storage) into simpler molecules. The reason for this transformation is that the simpler molecules are easier to digest for a plant embryo that is growing.
The rise in the consumption of sprouted grains is reliant on the theory that this transformation of the carbohydrates into their more easily digestible form applies to more than just plant embryos. Many people believe that sprouted grains at this stage of the growth process are also much more easily digestible by human beings, because they are in between being a seed and a new plant. This means that they offer all of the benefits and nutrients of a whole grain, while being much more digestible for the human body. In addition to being more digestible, grains that have undergone the sprouting process have an increased amount of vitamins and minerals, potentially making sprouted grains a largely untapped nutrient-dense superfood.
Finding the Right Balance for Sprouted Grains
While sprouted grains can be an extremely beneficial aspect of a modern diet, finding the right point in the sprouting process can be tricky. To make the ideal sprouted grain, one must find the right amount of time, moisture and temperature necessary to begin the germination process. If the new sprout is left growing too long, it will start to change into a grass stalk. This grass stalk will not have the digestibility of the sprouted grain, since human beings cannot properly digest grasses.
Also, finding the right balance of moisture is also extremely vital. If the seed if given too much moisture, the grain will drown and the seed will split open from the swelling, due to an overabundance of water (rather than from the emergence of a healthy seedling, which is what you want.) In some cases, the sprout may emerge, but if the source of moisture is not lessened and removed, the sprout can begin to ferment and, in some cases, rot. To address these potential pitfalls, it is essential that grains are sprouted under carefully controlled conditions that monitor the moisture and warmth to provide an ideal environment. Once the sprouted grains are at their enzymatic peaks, they are ready to be consumed.
The Two Approaches to Using Sprouted Grains
Companies that manufacture sprouted grain products often use one of two approaches once the grains have sprouted: the wet approach or the dry approach. Below is an overview of both approaches.
- The Wet Approach: Some companies manufacturing sprouted grains mash the wet, sprouting grains until it becomes a thickened purée texture. Once it is in its purée form, it can be used to make muffins, tortillas, bread and a variety of other products. In many cases, these products are labeled as “flourless” and are sold frozen.
- The Dry Approach: Once the grains have sprouted, some companies will dry it to make sure that it does not move beyond its enzymatic peak. Once dried, the sprouted grain can be stored until it is ready to be milled into sprouted grain flour or cooked as a part of a dish. Sprouted grain flour can be used to manufacture a variety of different products.
The Benefits of Sprouted Grains
There are many proponents of sprouted grains due to their many nutritional benefits. One benefit of sprouted grains is that due to the growing process, they are naturally low in carbohydrates. In addition, they are also lower on the glycemic index than a typical whole grain, which means that they do not cause blood sugar levels to rise as much. Sprouted grains also have an increased level of many of the key nutrients found in whole grains, such a vitamin C, B vitamins, folate, fiber and essential amino acids.
This type of grain has also been shown to be less allergenic to individuals suffering from grain protein sensitivities. While these are a few overarching health benefits of sprouted grains, additional benefits exist depending on the type of grain that is sprouted. For example, sprouted brown rice has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk and combat diabetes, while sprouted buckwheat has been shown to protect the body against fatty liver disease.
How to Make Sprouted Grains
You can make sprouted grains using any whole grain, but be sure that the grain you are using is indeed a whole grain that has both the bran and germ intact. The grain cannot be altered in any way to successfully make sprouted grains. Below is a step-by-step process to make your own sprouted grains at home.
What You Will Need:
To get started, you will need ½ cup of any whole grain (Amaranth, Barley, Buckwheat, Bulgur, Corn, Einkorn, Farro/Emmer, Fonio, Freekeh, Kamut Khorasan Grain, Kañiwa, Millet, Oats, Quinoa, Rice, Rye, Spelt, Teff, Triticale, Wheat, Wild Rice), a strainer or colander, a measuring cup, a bowl for soaking, a 1-quart jar, cheesecloth and a metal screw band.
- To begin, rinse and drain the grain of your choice by placing the grain in the strainer or colander, rinsing, and draining.
- Next, you will need to place the grains into a bowl and cover them with water. The water should cover the grains by several inches. Allow the grains to soak in the water for at least twelve hours.
- Once the grains have soaked for at least twelve hours, rinse and drain them in the strainer or colander.
- After the grains have been drained, place them into a 1-quart jar.
- Next, you will need to cover the jar with a double layer of cheesecloth. Secure the cheesecloth using a metal band screw or with a rubber band (depending on what you have on hand). You can also use a sprouting lid or screen on top of the jar instead of the cheesecloth.
- Once the jar is adequately covered and secure, turn it upside down and at an angle so that any excess water will be drained and air will be able to circulate within the jar. To catch the excess water, place the inverted jar in a bowl. The jar should not be in direct sunlight. The ideal room temperature for the jar to be in is between 68 and 75°F.
- Every twelve hours or so, pour water into the jar and move it around the jar until it has rinsed all of the grains. Then, pour off the excess water and invert the jar once again.
- Within one to five days, the grains should begin to sprout. Depending on when you like the sprouted grains best, they are ready after they have sprouted or when they are longer, about ¼ inch.
- Once the sprouted grains are done, rinse and drain them and then store them in the refrigerator for up to a week. If they begin to emit a smell or appear slimy, they need to be discarded.
When consuming sprouted grains, be mindful that harmful bacterias can also develop in these conditions, including Listeria, E. Coli and Salmonella. To prevent this, make sure the grains are sprouted in extremely clean conditions. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that sprouted grains are cooked thoroughly before being consumed to prevent illness.