Sprouted foods have emerged as a major trend over the last few years and based on the steadily growing range of sprouted grain products on supermarket shelves in Australia, this trend is here to stay. But the process isn’t a new one – in fact, its thought the history of sprouting goes back 5,000 years ago when they were used in China for medicinal purposes. So what exactly is a sprouted grain and does it boost the already impressive nutrient profile of a whole grain? Read on for a summary of the evidence…
What exactly is a sprouted grain?
There is currently no regulated definition for a sprouted grain, but it’s commonly agreed that its a whole grain that has been soaked in water and which has started the germination process. Put simply, it has ‘sprouted’ a new shoot and is in the transition phase between a seed and a new plant.
How do sprouted grains differ nutritionally to regular grains?
While solid evidence around sprouted grains is still emerging, the process of sprouting grains may slightly boost their nutritional value.
The idea is, once they’ve started sprouting, the grain uses up some of its own starch as energy to grow, which then makes it easier for us to digest. Likewise, germination is said to boost the availability of vitamins and minerals, increase the grain’s antioxidant levels and reduce phytates – which can inhibit the absorption of minerals like zinc, calcium, and iron, meaning we can absorb more of the good stuff. But, given that there’s no standard definition for the process, it’s reasonable to assume that variation may exist between grains and final products (1,2,3).
Additionally, as sprouted grains need all parts of the grain intact to germinate, they are always a whole grain, as opposed to refined. This is important, as we know that whole grains are packed with health benefits, being richer in protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals than their refined counterparts. So whether or not sprouted grains have additional benefits, when you eat them you’ll reap the intrinsic benefits of whole grains – so it may be a win-win!
What does the research say?
A scan of the literature brings up a small pool of studies, few of which relate to humans. Early findings suggest sprouted grains may reduce risk and assist with the management of chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, fatty liver disease and depression. However, it’s unclear whether eating sprouted products offers any additional benefit beyond simply consuming more whole grains – supported by the evidence as reducing risk of chronic disease and improving diet quality (4).
Where can we find sprouted grains?
As well as being used in place of grains in home cooking or on café menus, sprouted grains are making their way into a range of commercially available foods. They’re still a niche product, but are growing in popularity in the USA, so it’s no surprise Australia is following suit. We’re seeing sprouted grains appear in cereals and granolas, breads, flours, bars, grain-based drinks, even corn chips!
Can I make them myself?
You can! And on the upside, it’s cheaper than buying pre-sprouted grains, but it can be time consuming and fiddly.
D.I.Y sprouted grains:
- Rinse grains and place in a jar
- Soak the grains in water for 12 to 24 hours. They will expand as they absorb water, so it’s important that all grains are completely submerged
- Use a sieve with small holes to drain the water completely from the jar, leaving the grains
- Rinse your grains twice a day and leave to drain on an angle
- Depending on the temperature, humidity and type of grain, sprouting should start to occur within three to seven days
- When you are happy with the level of sprouting, dry completely in a low oven or dehydrator and refrigerate for 3 days
Once prepared, they can be used in the same way that you would ordinarily use grains – such as sprouted brown rice in a stir fry, or sprouted quinoa in a salad.
Note: it’s important to be aware of food safety when it comes to sprouted grains. As they are prepared under moist, humid conditions, sprouted grains also offer an ideal condition for harmful bacteria to grow, so they can pose a risk for food poisoning. As such, the USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggest children, elderly people, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems should avoid eating sprouted grains.
Are they worth the extra effort/money?
Since the evidence is still emerging, it’s too early to confidently recommend sprouting your grains for the health benefits. But, given sprouted grains offer an interesting and tasty way to enjoy whole grains, there’s nothing to be lost from giving them and the interesting sprouted grain products on the market a go. Watch this space!
1. Chavan JK, Kadam SS, Beuchat LR. Nutritional improvement of cereals by sprouting. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 1989;28(5):401-37.
2. Jaenke R, Barzi F, McMahon E, Webster J, Brimecombe J. Consumer acceptance of reformulated food products: A systematic review and meta-analysis of salt-reduced foods. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2017;57(16):3357-72.
3. Mbithi S, Van Camp J, Rodriguez R, Huyghebaert A. Effects of sprouting on nutrient and antinutrient composition of kidney beans (Phaseolus vulgaris var. Rose coco). European Food Research and Technology. 2001;212(2):188-91.
4. Lorenz K. Cereal sprouts: composition, nutritive value, food applications. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 1980;13(4):353-85.