Eat your sprouts
A new food trend is literally sprouting up in grocery aisles: sprouted grains and bread, rice, muffins and other products made from them.
Popular in the ‘70s for their nutritional value, sprouted grains are edging again into the mainstream. To find out just what sprouted grains are and what the health benefits of eating them may be, registered dietician Kelly Toups, Whole Grains Council program manager, offers some answers.
Q: Why are sprouted grains trending with people now?
A: One of the biggest food trends the past few years has been towards more nutritious and minimally processed meals, which makes sprouted grains an attractive choice to consumers. Natural ingredients and minimally processed food was named a top (number 5) food trend on the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Culinary Forecast. Additionally, health and wellness is going mainstream as a key food trend. Consumers are demanding higher-quality food experiences.
Q: How do they taste?
A: In addition to their role as a health food, sprouted grains are also gaining popularity for their pleasant taste. As master baker Peter Reinhart described at our recent whole grains conference, the sprouting process preconditions the grain to give up its full flavor, meaning that sprouted grains are often sweeter and much lighter tasting than their non-sprouted counterparts.
Q: How are they different from whole grains?
A: Sprouted grains are whole grains that have been soaked and left to germinate. A sprouted grain has begun to grow into a new plant — but just barely. When the new sprout is still shorter than the length of the original grain, the process is stopped. At this point, it’s still considered a grain; as it grows further, it becomes a cereal grass stalk — something humans can’t easily digest.
Q: What are the health benefits of sprouted grains?
A: First of all, all sprouted grains are whole grains, meaning they contain all parts of the original kernel (bran, germ, endosperm). When grains are refined, they lose about 25 percent of their protein and are greatly reduced in at least 17 key nutrients. For this reason, whole grains are healthier, providing more protein and fiber, and many important vitamins and minerals.
Consumption of whole grains (sprouted or not) is associated with high diet quality and nutrient intake. A large study found that those eating the most whole grains had significantly higher amounts of fiber, energy and polyunsaturated fats, as well as all micronutrients (except vitamin B-12 and sodium). Additionally, a high consumption of whole grains (sprouted or not) is associated with a decreased risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, inflammation and many other conditions. A groundbreaking study this year also linked whole grain consumption to increased longevity.
Q: Are sprouted grains new or something we are rediscovering?
A: Some research suggests that sprouting was an “ancient and popular practice” in Asia (particularly in India and China), where grains were often roasted or fermented after they were sprouted. Sprouted grains were also thought to be cooked into porridges or curries, or eaten raw. In Africa and Europe, grains have traditionally only been sprouted in the context of beer brewing.
Grains have always sprouted — but usually accidentally, from being stored in conditions that are too wet or too dry. Because this kind of sprouting ends the stable shelf life of the grain, the sprouting of grains has for most of history been seen as a bad thing (unless they’re planted, sprouted grains in storage will simply go on to rot). Now that we know the science and health advantages of sprouting grains and we have studied the best way to control the sprouting process and then stop it at the optimum time, we are getting all the best of sprouting with none of the historic downside.
Q: Are we seeing more sprouted grains products on store shelves?
A: As large companies such as Ardent Mills and Bay State Milling branch out into sprouted grains, the availability of sprouted grains is gradually increasing. Right now, we have over 200 sprouted grain products approved to use the Whole Grains Stamp. As an increased supply brings costs down, we expect to see sprouted grain products continue to grow in the future.