From bread and granola to pretzels and pizza crusts, sprouted foods are taking root.
“Sprouting has always been on the outside track of food trends because people have had to do it themselves,” says Wes Crain, vice president of Novato, Calif.-based Navitas Naturals, which produces three organic sprouted-seed products. But newer technology makes it possible—and lucrative—for manufacturers to do the work for consumers. “Technology always starts out of the garage, and people do it in their own ways. But then it moves out and gets adopted by big players,” says Greg Leidich, general manager at Two Moms in the Raw, a Boulder, Colo.-based manufacturer of raw granolas that feature sprouted grains, seeds and nuts.
“I’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of sprouted products available in stores,” says Shaya Mercer, a holistic health counselor and nutritional-therapy practitioner in Boulder, Colo. Beyond longtime favorites like Food For Life’s Ezekiel 4:9 line of breads and tortillas, sprouted grains are turning up in cereals and granola, veggie burgers, pizzas, pretzels, crackers, tofu and even protein powders. Pre-sprouted quinoa, lentils and mung beans are available conveniently packaged and ready for use. “New manufacturers are coming in,” Leidich says, “as well as old manufacturers looking to bring a sprouted aspect to their line.” In a nod to the growing interest, one naturals superstore even displays “I Sprout” tags on bulk bins to identify products that consumers can turn into sprouts at home.
“But sprouted foods and sprouts are not the same thing,” Mercer says. “Sprouts are microplants—like alfalfa or bean sprouts—the baby plant that sprouts out of the seed. Sprouted foods are nuts, seeds, grains and beans soaked for a specific amount of time” until a root tip begins to emerge. They are somewhere between a seed and a plant.
Nutritional benefits of sprouted foods
Crain believes the nutritional benefits of sprouted foods, including greater bioavailability of nutrients and better digestibility, are “real and significant. That’s why their popularity is increasing.”
Dormant seeds have a naturally occurring substance called phytic acid, Mercer explains. “It binds the minerals so the seed won’t spontaneously grow into a new plant, which makes [dormant seeds] harder for the stomach to break down. Unsprouted seeds take more digestive effort, and we absorb fewer minerals from them.” Soaking releases the phytates so the nutrients become more accessible. It also softens the grain, making it more digestible. And soaking helps break proteins down into amino acids, and fats into essential fatty acids. “It makes everything more available,” Mercer says.
Even after sprouting, some beans are inherently easier to digest. “Mung beans and adzuki beans tend to be more digestible and gentler on the system than fibrous garbanzo or kidney beans,” Mercer says.
Because they are softened, you can eat sprouted grains and beans without cooking, making them popular with the raw-food set. They’re also in demand for those with digestive difficulties.
“A lot of people on a gluten-free diet can assimilate and have sprouted grain,” says Karen Leffler, national sales director for Spokane, Wash.-based A.C. LaRocco Pizzas, which manufactures three pizzas with crusts made from organic sprouted whole-wheat berries. “Sprouting reduces certain proteins as the seed turns into a plant,” Mercer explains, while cautioning that sprouted foods don’t work for all gluten sensitivities.
Sprouted foods are also diabetic friendly. Mercer says that’s because starch, when metabolized, is quickly converted to sugar, raising blood-sugar levels. “Sprouting reduces the amount of starch.” Plus, she says, “The increased digestibility and availability of vitamins and minerals in sprouted products takes pressure off the pancreas,” which is responsible for producing not only insulin but also additional enzymes needed to break down seeds that aren’t soaked.
Despite sprouted foods’ myriad health benefits, consumers may still worry that they can cause more harm than good. In the late 1990s, and again this year, raw sprouts were associated with foodborne illness, a problem that can arise if producers are not meticulous about cleanliness. “I don’t think in the sprouted world it’s any different than in the processed world,” Leidich says. “Food safety is paramount.”
The surging popularity of sprouted foods is evident. “Conventional groceries and natural groceries are all buying sprouted-seed products. It is a pretty hot niche right now,” Crain says.
Some consumers may think sprouted foods are too, well, weird. “The approach is to let the product stand on its own in terms of taste,” says Greg Leidich, general manager at sprouted-granola manufacturer Two Moms in the Raw. “If they taste it, nine times out of 10 we’ve got a customer.”
Three varieties of pizza have ultrathin crusts, made from organic sprouted whole-wheat berries. Low in sodium, cholesterol and fat.
Tofu from sprouted soybeans is available in several varieties—plain, baked, smoked and in smaller “snack” sizes.
Sproutein Perfect Protein Superfood hemp protein powder is made from eight different types of freeze-dried sprouts. Freeze-drying locks in the nutrients at the peak of freshness and extends shelf life to a year or more, says company co-owner Mark Malinsky.
These convenient, resealable pouches of sprouted quinoa, mung beans and green lentils can be cooked, or rehydrated to use as raw sprouts.
Two Moms in the Raw
Five flavors of raw granola contain sprouted grains, nuts and seeds like millet, buckwheat, pepitas and pecans, plus dehydrated fruits like apples, blueberries, cranberries and goji berries.
Unique Pretzel Bakery
Sprouted 100% Whole Grain Splits are pretzels made from sprouted whole-grain flour.