By TWS resident Nutritionist Quincey Cummings
Sprouts are among the most nutrient-dense foods available. Within each seed is stored an array of nutrients a plant needs to grow and thrive! In the classic how-to book Sailing the Farm, author and seafarer Kenneth Neumeyer wrote, "With just a little effort, you can make mountains of fresh, crispy salad greens, vegetable juices, and many other jumping-alive foods right on a boat in the middle of the sea."
Indeed, sprouting provides the cruising sailor a hidden bounty that can be stored in bulk for weeks to years. For long passages or cruising in remote destinations, sprouting is an invaluable source of powerful nutrients that keeps providing long after your other fresh provisions are gone. The process of sprouting also helps break down components of plants that "trap" nutrients, allowing the human body to absorb these nutrients during digestion better.
Seeds can lie dormant for many years if stored in a dry, cool, and dark environment, making them a perfect addition to your pantry and dry goods staples. Once germinated, seeds unlock their magic, and within a few days, you'll have the freshest produce around!
What can you sprout?
Technically, any living seed can be sprouted! Some of the most common and delicious sprouts include brassicas like broccoli and radish, leafy greens like alfalfa and clover, wheatgrass, chickpeas, lentils, mung beans, grains, nuts, and seeds like pumpkin and sunflower.
There are some exceptions to sprouting at home. Chia and flax seeds release a kind of mucilage (goo) when soaked, making them difficult for home sprouting (but excellent egg replacement in baking! Kidney beans should be avoided in their raw state due to a toxin that can cause severe digestive issues. If you sprout kidney beans, be sure to cook them afterward. Raw quinoa sprouts should also be avoided since they contain high amounts of saponins, which can cause allergic reactions in some people.
When possible, it's best to get your seeds from sprouting-specific suppliers online, locally, or from trusted farmers. This will ensure the freshest, most cared-for seeds that are free of pesticides and irradiation.
Different seeds require different soaking and sprouting times. Check out our FREE Sprouting Chart for more information, see below.
What happens during sprouting
Sprouting (or germination) happens when a living seed is exposed to water, light, and oxygen over time and begins the process of growing into a plant. Stored food and enzymes within the seed are activated, and "anti-nutrients" that protect the seed break down. After a few days, you will notice your seed begin to split, and a tiny sprout tail will emerge! Generally, the longer time spent sprouting, the more nutrients are made available for us when we eat our sprouts.
What nutrients do you get from sprouts?
Sprouting increases the bioavailability of stored nutrients in seeds and plants, meaning it allows our human digestive systems to absorb them better! Many plants have what's known as "anti-nutrients" like phytic acid, which literally bind and trap vitamins, minerals, or amino acids from easily being absorbed and used by the body. Sprouting helps increase available protein (amino acids), which the body needs for many functions, including mood support, hormone balance, immune function, and muscle strength. It has a significant impact on vitamin C, increasing by up to six times! As we all know, Vitamin C is critical for our immune health, but it's also essential for protecting and repairing skin and helps nurture the body during times of stress. B Complex vitamins are increased, including B-12, which play significant roles in energy, stress response, and digestion. Vitamin K, found in most plant foods, is essential for blood health and works with calcium to promote bone health. Essential minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc are also liberated and made more bioavailable.
How do you eat sprouts?
Sprouts add lots of flavor, crunch, and nutrients to almost any dish! Add sprouts to the top of salads, sandwiches, burgers, tacos, toasts, and savory grain bowls. Sprouted nuts, like almonds, can be blitzed with a bit of sea salt into highly nutritious nut butter. You can add sprouts to smoothies, like sprouted pumpkin seeds or microgreens. Sprouted lentils and almonds mixed with spices and olive oil make for a delicious, high-protein snack or side dish.
Methods for Sprouting on a Boat
You can use many methods for sprouting seeds, and some are more conducive to life on a moving sailboat. You may be most familiar with sprouting trays made from plastic, stainless steel, ceramic, or even clay terracotta pots. Other methods include inverted sprouting jars with mesh screen lids or sprouting bags made from hemp, muslin, or synthetic mesh.
You may find specific methods work best for you and your galley situation, but let's review some of the better sprouting equipment for the salty cruiser that are also made from earth-friendly materials.
Mason jars are relatively easy to come by, highly versatile, and made from robust glass sturdy enough for boat life. Depending on how much you want to sprout with each batch, you can use any size wide-mouth mason jar. The stainless steel mesh lid makes rinsing and draining easy and is resistant to rust (a constant battle when living in a salty environment). You will need to invert the jar after rinsing and place it at an angle in a bowl to allow proper drainage. This will require some balance and a secure place in your galley, and it may not be the best sprouting method for a while underway. The mason jar method is best in cooler climates but may not provide enough airflow for the sprouts in tropical heat, leading to spoiled sprouts.
A stainless steel tray is virtually indestructible to the hard-knocks of boat life and is also resistant to rust. The bottom of the tray is a mesh screen which allows drainage and reduces the chance of your sprouts becoming soggy and rotten. You can find some stackable kits, allowing you to grow layers of different kinds of sprouts. Some kits are just the tray alone, and you'll need to use a bowl or tall dinner plate placed underneath to collect drainage water. This method provides excellent airflow and water drainage and is best for growing tall, leafy sprouts like clover or brassicas.
If you have any sewing skills at all, the sprouting bag is straightforward to make yourself. The bag method is easy, inexpensive, and effective for sprouting legumes, grains, and nuts but trickier for smaller seeds and leafy sprouts. It provides a lot of airflow and drainage. Add your dry sprouting mix to the bag and rinse under fresh running water for a few seconds. Sinch the bag shut, and use a large bowl to submerge the bag and contents in freshwater for the suggested soak time. After each rinse, hang your bag over a sink (such as on a faucet) or in a shaded area in the cockpit. The sprouting bag is the best method for a boat underway since you can safely secure the bag, and there is little risk of causing damage if it suddenly flies off the counter from a big wave or heeling boat.
With any sporting method, thorough rinsing and proper drainage are keys to fresh, delicious sprouts.
Once your sprouts have grown to your desired size, it's time to harvest them! Give them a final rinse and drain, then lay them out onto a kitchen towel to dry for about 30 minutes. Store them in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to one week. You may find that adding a paper towel at the bottom helps to absorb excess moisture (the enemy of sprouts!)
The art of spouting is both fascinating and empowering! There is no magic quite like witnessing your very own food growing. It's an easy way to add nutrient-dense foods to your daily diet and can be an enjoyable, educational experience for kids. If sprouting fascinates you and you're curious to go deeper down the rabbit hole, Sprout People, based out of San Francisco, California, is a treasure trove of sprout knowledge!
Quincey is a holistic nutritionist and co-captain aboard her Kelly Peterson 46, Esprit. She spent much of her childhood in Southeast Asia and she's had the great fortune to travel to many countries. Her culinary tastes reflect a fusion of worldly cuisines. She holds a degree in Nutrition and Human Development and is a certified Nutritionist. She delights in sharing two of her greatest passions; sailing and great food! Her desire is to inspire other cruisers to nourish themselves every day with delicious meals they can create in small, moving spaces.
Together with her partner they liveaboard and cruise the Southern California coast and the Channel Islands, with plans to venture further south and into the Trade Winds.
You can find more delicious, cruising-friendly recipes on her Galley Blog www.FairwindsNutrition.me
Disclaimer - the links provided are not affiliate links, just examples of fantastic small companies to source your seeds and equipment from. Do you have a favorite seed source or method for sprouting? Let us know!