Updated 25 July 2023
Published 2 December 2015
Scientists and health enthusiasts have raved about the nutritional benefits of sprouts for years. It has been said that sprouts will fight diseases because of the phytochemicals they contain. Organic compounds, called saponins, found in Alfalfa sprouts work to lower cholesterol and stimulate the immune system. Sprouts across the board are overflowing with vital vitamins and enzymes that aid the body in various ways.
The benefits go on and on, yet there still remains a minor stigma about eating raw fresh sprouts even though the benefits far outweigh the risks. Many fear the presence of food-borne illnesses in sprouts. If the proper steps are taken while growing or preparing sprouts for consumption, the risk of exposure is greatly reduced to near nonexistence.
Are Sprouts and Seeds Tested?
The most important precaution is having the knowledge of where your seeds or already-grown sprouts have originated from and if the seeds have been tested. Proper microbial testing must be done to ensure the seed’s and, therefore, the plant’s purity from pathogens. The organic sprouting seed we carry at True Leaf Market is all microbial tested for germination rate and pathogens as indicated on the packaging. If you are buying already-grown sprouts, be sure to check the packaging for verification of pathogen testing, such as the International Sprout Growers Association mark.
How to Treat and Clean Sprouting Seeds
Gathering treatment information from The University of California, the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the International Sprout Growers Association, we have provided safety precautions when growing sprouts to minimize the risk of contracting food-borne illnesses. For the greatest success, follow these measures.
- Purchase Pathogen-tested Seed - It is important to sprout seeds that are free of pathogens that may lead to food-borne illness.
Clean Seeds - Because seeds can still have contact with various surfaces during the packaging stages, it is common for seeds to pick up bacteria or fungi along the way. This isn't anything serious, just common dust. We recommend cleaning seeds before sprouting to avoid problems like mold growth. Treat seed in a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide (available at most drug stores) or vinegar in water. Small seed volumes used for home sprouting can easily be contained in a small mesh strainer and immersed directly into the peroxide solution. Swirl the strainer at one-minute intervals to achieve uniform treatment. Always discard the peroxide or vinegar solution after each seed batch, as its effectiveness will rapidly decline.
Seeds can also be cleaned by soaking in a 10 percent bleach solution (0.6% sodium hypochlorite) for 15 minutes. This method is the most effective at disinfecting the outside of seeds while preserving their germination rates, as found in this 2023 study published by Foods. It is also made available by the National Library of Medicine National Center for Biotechnology Information.
- Remove Debris - Rinse the seed in running tap water for 1 minute. In addition, we recommend that you place the rinsed seed in a container with enough tap water to cover the seed plus one inch. Then carefully skim off all floating seeds, seed coat fragments, and other debris and dispose of them. Although skimming can be a tedious process, research has tied most contamination to these materials.
- Use Clean Containers - Sprout the seed in clean, sanitized containers, well away from areas of food preparation, pets, and high household traffic. To sanitize sprouting containers: Follow the directions on the bleach container for sanitizing kitchen surfaces (use plain, not scented laundry bleach). Use 3/4 cup of bleach per gallon of water (3 tablespoons per quart) and soak the container for at least 5 minutes. Then rinse with clean water.
If you are buying already-grown sprouts, be sure to check for cleanliness and a fresh smell. If the smell is musty, DO NOT consume. Rinse thoroughly under running tap water. Some like to treat sprouts with vinegar between rinses, which helps clean the sprouts. Store sprouts in a sanitized container in the refrigerator to ensure longevity.
From my own experience, I’ve come to find growing and eating raw sprouts as both nutritionally beneficial and a fun hobby. I’ve sprouted Alfalfa, Broccoli, Clover, Radish, Lentils, and Peas. I’ve been incorporating sprouts into my own cooking, incorporating sprouts into soups, and using sprouts as a garnish for salads or casseroles. I have followed the suggested steps for safe consumption and have never had a problem, nor do I worry about one arising. Just as one must wear a helmet to safely reap the health benefits of riding a bicycle, one must take minor safety precautions to reap the plethora of benefits of consuming raw sprouts.