By Erin Marissa Russell
Sprouts are no longer just a fad of the salad bar. Lots of different plants are grown as sprouts and enjoyed both raw and cooked for their flavor and the health benefits these tiny plants can provide. Sprouts tend to have the same nutrients as the standard-sized version of the food, but they provide the nutrients in higher concentrations. You can get instructions for growing your own sprouts in our article 5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Own Sprouts.
In this list, we’ve profiled some of the best plants to grow if you want your own fresh supply of sprouts. Keep reading to learn more about each kind.
Alfalfa Sprouts (Medicago sativa)
Alfalfa sprouts have been one of the most commonly available types of sprouts on the market for decades, so they’re the first variety many people think of when sprouts come to mind. They’re high in nutrients such as fiber, iron, protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A and C. Alfalfa produces densely tangled masses of stringy white stalks topped with vivid green leaves. Alfalfa sprouts are prized for their crunchy and fresh, mild taste, and they’re commonly used in salads or sandwiches.
Alfalfa plants, if allowed to grow instead of being harvested, eventually stretch to reach heights of three feet tall. Alfalfa blossoms with small clustered spires of purple flowers. It usually takes three to seven days for alfalfa seeds to sprout and grow into edible sprouts, though some varieties can take as long as two weeks or as short a time as two days to reach harvestable size.
Beet Sprouts (Beta vulgaris)
Beet sprouts are special because of their color. These little sprouts have vibrant green leaves that contrast with their stems, which can be anywhere on the spectrum from hot pink to burgundy. Their flavor is earthy and sweet, much like full-sized beets. It takes anywhere from 11 to 21 days to grow beet sprouts from seeds until they reach an edible size.
Broccoli Sprouts (Brassica oleracea var. italica)
Broccoli sprouts have been studied a lot recently because they contain a compound called glucoraphanin that researchers believe may be linked to cancer resistance. While one would need to eat two pounds of fully grown broccoli each day to get enough glucoraphanin to see benefits, sprouts offer a much more concentrated version of the compound, so people would only need 3.5 to 4 ounces of broccoli sprouts each day to get the desired effect. Because of their link to cancer resistance [https://www.gardeningchannel.com/broccoli-sprouts-20-times-more-cancer-protective-compounds-than-full-sized-broccoli/] and their great flavor, broccoli sprouts are the most popular sprouts for American consumers.
Broccoli sprouts have thin stalks (similar in size and shape to alfalfa sprouts) paired with pale green leaves, and their flavor is fresh and just a bit spicy, with a crunchy texture. Because they are so small and delicate, broccoli sprouts should be enjoyed raw. They’re most often included in salads or as a topping for sandwiches. Broccoli sprouts are high in antioxidants as well as folic acid, fiber, and vitamins A, C, and K. It takes about five days to grow broccoli from seed to an edible size of sprouts.
Fenugreek Sprouts (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
Although they’re not one of the most well known types of sprouts, fenugreek sprouts are delicious and have their own unique flavor. The taste of fenugreek sprouts is bitter, so these sprouts are often used in a mix of different varieties and are rarely eaten on their own. You can find these sprouts at well-stocked salad bars or specialty stores with a wide selection of sprouts, or take four to six days to grow your own sprouts from fenugreek seeds.
Green Pea Sprouts (Pisum sativum)
Green pea sprouts are quite popular for their mild, sweet flavor, which some people compare to that of snow peas. Pea sprouts are larger and more substantial than broccoli or alfalfa sprouts, so they add a pleasing crunch to salads and sandwiches when they’re included. They take the same amount of time to grow as Mung bean sprouts, and the two flavors complement one another well, so green pea sprouts and Mung bean sprouts are often grown together.
Lentil Sprouts (Lens culinaris)
You can sprout store-bought dried lentils for a fresh snack that’s high in protein and low in calories—just be sure to start out with whole lentils, as you can’t grow sprouts from the split lentils you’ll find on many store shelves. Lentils are more colorful than many varieties of sprouts, as they can be grown from green lentils, red lentils, pink lentils, or even black or gold lentils. Their flavor is nuttier than many other sprouts, and they have an excellent crunchy texture that works well in salads, soups, or anywhere you’d use other types of sprouts. Lentil sprouts are especially high in the nutrients copper, iron, manganese, thiamine, and vitamin C.
Mung Bean Sprouts (Vigna radiata)
You can grow tasty sprouts from any kind of bean you’d like, but the most common ones you’ll encounter are by far Mung bean sprouts. In fact, Mung bean sprouts are one of the most frequently eaten varieties of sprouts across the globe. Sprouted beans are chock-full of folate, protein, iron, calcium, fiber, and vitamin C as well as antioxidants.
Mung bean sprouts tend to measure between two and four inches long, with thick, pale stalks that provide plenty of crisp texture. The sprouting leaf end of Mung bean sprouts is tapered in shape and yellow in color. It takes between three and four days to grow Mung beans to an edible size, and most people who sprout Mung beans start out with bagged dried beans purchased from the grocery store. Because of their stockier size, mung beans can be enjoyed in cooked dishes as well as raw. You’ll often find them in Asian dishes such as stir fries and fried rice.
Mustard Sprouts (Brassica juncea)
Much like mustard greens themselves, sprouts grown from mustard green seeds have an earthy, spicy flavor that’s somewhat similar to the taste of horseradish. These sprouts work well in sprout blends to add a bit of spice, or for spice lovers, they can feature on their own. Mustard sprouts are valued for containing a good amount of the nutrients calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc.
Mustard sprouts are ready to harvest once they’ve been growing for three to six days, but you can grow them for longer if you like. The flavor of mustard sprouts continues to develop the more the sprouts mature, so you may choose to let them keep growing as an experiment, tasting them every so often, until you’ve learned exactly when to harvest your mustard sprouts to get the flavor you like the best. For the strongest, spiciest flavor, harvest your mustard sprouts once their leaves have opened and become tinged with violet.
Radish Sprouts (Raphanus sativus)
Radish sprouts come in just as many diverse varieties as radishes themselves, of course. These sprouts are unique in that they’re sometimes served lightly cooked as well as being consumed raw. You’ll find radish sprouts in salads, used as a garnish, or worked into sushi dishes. It takes three to six days to grow a batch of radish sprouts from seeds.
Radish provides a hefty dose of folate, manganese, and vitamin B and C, and they also promote healthy liver and gallbladder function. Consuming radish sprouts can help the body remove bilirubin (which is associated with poor liver health or bile duct problems), making them great for people who have jaundice and other liver problems. Radish sprouts are also credited with helping to prevent gallstones and the side effects of menopause when consumed regularly.
Red Clover Sprouts (Trifolium pratense)
In their appearance as well as their flavor, red clover sprouts are very close to the more common alfalfa sprout. Like alfalfa sprouts, the shape of red clover sprouts is tall and thin, with a white stem and pale green sprouted leaves. Their delicate size and texture makes them best served raw, so the mild taste and crisp texture can be appreciated. You’ll often find red clover sprouts put to use in salads or sandwiches.
Red clover sprouts provide lots of calcium, iron, protein, and vitamins A and C. It takes five to six days to grow red clover sprouts from seed until they reach a harvestable size.
Spelt Sprouts (Triticum spelta)
Unlike many sprouts that come from vegetables or legumes, spelt sprouts are grown from the seeds of the spelt grain. As a result, these sprouts are chewier in texture than many other varieties. Their mild, sweet taste is also unique. For these reasons, you’ll find spelt sprouts used in more unique ways than simply the standard salads and soups. Spelt sprouts get added to granola and other breakfast cereals, baked into pastries or cookies, and even added to bread recipes (particularly raw or sprouted breads). It only takes two or three days to turn spelt seeds into edible sprouts.
Sunflower Sprouts (Helianthus)
Sunflower sprouts to be larger and thicker than other types of sprouts, giving them a more substantial presence in the dishes you add them to and making their texture crunchier and crisper. This makes sense, however—because sunflowers themselves are so large compared to other flowers, of course their sprouts are larger as well. Because they’re larger, sunflower sprouts take slightly longer to grow than other varieties, although they still don’t take too long. You can have a batch of sunflower sprouts ready to harvest in 12 to 14 days.
Wheatgrass Sprouts (Triticum aestivum)
The little bed of wheatgrass you see near the juicer in smoothie shops is actually a bed of sprouts, even though we don’t usually think about wheatgrass sprouts the way we do sprouted alfalfa, broccoli, or sunflowers. Wheatgrass is most commonly used as an addition to smoothies or juiced as a shot. Wheatgrass [https://www.gardeningchannel.com/health-benefits-of-wheatgrass/] provides lots of amino acids, chlorophyll, calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and E. It takes about two weeks to grow a crop of wheatgrass sprouts.
Although sprouts are commonly eaten raw, readers should be aware that the Food and Drug Administration advises that people instead consume them cooked. Cooking sprouts thoroughly reduces the likelihood that people who eat them will get sick. Although sprouts are extremely healthy foods, because of the warmth and humidity in which they are grown, it’s hard to avoid also growing bacteria that can make people ill, like salmonella, listeria, or E. coli. To make things as safe as possible, make sure to clean the container where your plants are growing well, hydrate your plants with filtered or bottled water, and rinse the sprouts well and often (but avoid excess or standing water around your sprouts).