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A Bit About Germination
Germination, which means “to sprout or bud”, in plants is the process by which a seed becomes a seedling by putting down roots and sending up shoots.  Seeds come in different sizes, shapes and colors, but generally have the same internal parts.  When a seed begins to germinate, its seed coat splits as it sends out a single root (called a radicle) and its shoot (called a hypocotyl), which is what is eaten when we have sprouts.

Sprouting Seed booklet for preschool from Enchanted Learning
Germination summary for school-aged kids (grades k-3)
Germination basics for school-aged kids (grades 3-6)

Eating Sprouts
According to Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats (which I reviewed on my book blog), we can give credit for sprouts as a food source to the Chinese who “carried Mung beans on their ocean-going ships, sprouted them throughout their voyages and consumed them in sufficient quantities to prevent scurvy.”    Even so, (as the book also mentions) sprouts have been fairly universal—numerous European and Middle Eastern food have included sprouted grains and the book suggests that prior to modern agriculture, most grains were likely consumed “in partially germinated form.”  Sprouting advocates suggest that germination changes the composition of grains and seeds, increasing the availability of certain nutrients and changing the protein availability in the food, to one that they claim is more beneficial to our digestive system. Regardless of the scientific veracity (or lack thereof) of these claims, sprouts are tasty and nutritious, easy to grow and a great project for kids.

*Note:  There has been some concerns raised over the past few decades about sprouts as a source of foodborne illness due to Salmonella and some pathogenic varieties of E. coli.  It is important to be aware that seeds may be contaminated (but at low enough levels to not be detected in food inspections) and the conditions for sprouting are perfect for the proliferation of bacteria, leading to enough bacteria to cause illness.  It has been advised by the FDA that people with weakened immune systems, children and the elderly should not eat RAW sprouts.*

Cleaning Seeds
If you are concerned about possible contamination and sprouting at home, the publication Growing Seed Sprouts at Home, from UC Davis’s Agriculture Dept, recommends treating (certified) seed by placing small amounts in a strainer and then putting the strainer into in a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide heated at 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) for 5 minutes (swirling the strainer every minute to ensure uniformity) and then rinsing for 1 minute in running tap water.  They also suggest putting the seeds into a container with enough water to cover the seeds over an inch and skimming off any floating seeds, seed coats, and other debris, which research suggests is the source of most contamination.  Seeds should be sprouted in clean, sanitized containers in areas away from household traffic and pets.

Seeds Recommended for Sprouting
Mung bean, alfalfa, soybeans, lentils, barley, buckwheat, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, chia, chickpeas/garbanzo beans, cress, fenugreek, millet, un-hulled oats, peas, radish, rye, sesame, sunflower, triticale, wheat, rice (a sprouting guide for these seeds is offered from University of Nebraska-Lincon’s Growing Sprouts publication)

(Nourishing Traditions also suggests that kidney, lima and black beans can be sprouted (rinse 3-4 times a day for about 3 days, harvestable when sprout is 1/4 in), cooked and eaten, as well as almonds (rinse 3 times a day, for 3 days with “sprout” about 1/8 in), pumpkin and melon (rinse 3 times a day, ready in about 3 days with ¼ in sprout), onion and poppy seeds (rinse several times a day, ready in 3-4 days at 1-2 inches long)

How to Sprout
from the University of Nebraska pub

You will need a wide-mouthed quart jar and about ¼ cup of seed (or less, depending on the type of seed).  For the lid, you can use a fine wire mesh or cheese cloth with a rubber band or screw-top ring.  Cover seeds with twice as much water (in volume) to seed and soak overnight (8-12 hours) before draining and rinsing.  Prop the jar at an angle to drain excess waterwith the seeds evenly spread along the side in a cool dark place (68-70 degrees F).  Rinse sprouts and re-position jar 2-4 times a day until ready to eat (generally 2-5 days).  Sprouts can be kept refrigerated for up to 2 weeks or longer by steam blanching for 3 minutes, cooled in ice water and freezing.

A Project
For young children—Compare and contrast the growth of two or three types of sprouts.  Do smaller seeds or larger seeds sprout faster?  Do different types of sprouts sprout differently?  After sprouting, consider planting one or two of the sprouts and watching it grow.

For older children—Sprout the same type of seeds in differing conditions.  Optimal sprouting location and technique are given in the above instructions.  Make hypotheses about what will happen if you try sprouting in warmer or cooler conditions, or in light versus dark.  How does this change the amount of seeds that sprout?  How does this change growth?  How does it change flavor?

For all children–Keep a record of observations.  For younger children, encourage them to use a magnifying glass and draw pictures of their sprouts.  For older children, have them keep a record of all of their actions and measurements of any treatment to their sprouts—amount of water given, number and times of rinsings, temperature of locations, etc., in addition to the observations and measurements of growth.

Sprouted Hummus (and how to sprout chickpeas from the raw mom blog)
Soy bean Sprout Recipe (Vegan Kong Namul)
Sunflower Sprout Salad
Bean Sprout Stir-fry
Chocolate Chip and Zucchini Cookies with sprouted whole wheat