Bean sprouts are the tender edible shoots of germinated beans. Most people are familiar with mung bean sprouts in particular, but a wide assortment of seeds, nuts, grains, and beans can be sprouted. Their slightly crunchy texture and sweet flavor makes them a popular addition to an assortment of dishes. Because sprouts have become a common ingredient, many grocery stores carry them, and they can also be prepared at home.
Mung bean sprouts originate in Asia, where they have been made and used for thousands of years. Cultural diffusion led to the appearance of sprouts in other places and in other cuisines, and intrepid cooks began sprouting all sorts of things to add to their food. In most cases, they can be used raw or lightly cooked, and they should be used as quickly as possible. If they are going to be cooked, they can be frozen for up to three months.
To sprout beans, soak them in water and then place them in a warm dark place to stimulate germination. The sprouts should be regularly rinsed as they grow, and within a few days, small edible shoots should have begun to appear. These shoots must always washed before use, and they are typically used while they are still short. Longer sprouts tend to get more woody and bitter. Exposing the sprouts to sunlight will cause them to start photosynthesizing, which will make them pale green.
Many things can be sprouted. Alfalfa seeds, radishes, adzuki beans, lentils, peas, garbanzos, grains, sunflower seeds, quinoa, and an assortment of other seeds and grains are all sprouted for a variety of uses. Each type of sprout has a slightly different flavor, and some sprouts are allowed to grow into larger “baby greens.” Sunflower seeds make a popular baby green. Sprouts are high in vitamin A and low in calories. Depending on the plant, the sprouts may have additional nutritional benefits.
When selecting bean sprouts in the grocery store, look for plump, crisp specimens which are not slimy, limp, or stringy. Use them within two days, and make sure to rinse them before use. Sprouts are a common source of bacterial contamination, so get into the habit of rinsing any type of sprouts before eating them.