Safe sprouts
Q. Do sprouted grains, beans, and lentils need to be cooked before I eat them?

A. Sprouts have long been synonymous with healthy eating, and for good reason. These tasty, crunchy shoots of vegetable, legume, and grain seeds provide a low-calorie, low-fat source of important nutrients, such as phytochemicals, fiber, and vitamins A, C, and D. Sprouts can be produced from a number of beans and legumes, such as mung beans, lentils, garbanzos, and soybeans. They are excellent tossed in stir-fries, salads, soups, and casseroles. Wheat sprouts taste great in baked goods, salads, and casseroles.

Still, many concerns persist regarding food safety and raw sprout consumption. Raw sprouts were linked with more than half of the food-illness outbreaks in California between 1996 and 1998. The FDA suggests that people who wish to lower their risk of food-borne illness should not eat raw sprouts. Those at higher risk for contracting such illness include children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.

  • To make your sprout cuisine as safe as possible, follow this checklist.
  • Look for the ISGA-certified grower’s seal, which ensures that the grower follows the recommendations of the International Sprout Growers Association.
  • Refrigerate sprouts.
  • Make sure that the sprouts are fresh and without discoloration, sliminess, or odor.
  • Rinse sprouts in clean water.
  • Handle sprouts with clean hands and utensils.

If you’re at high risk for food-borne illness, you can cook sprouts before eating them, but be aware that you may lose some vitamins. To preserve as many vitamins as possible during cooking, do not chop sprouts or cook in large amounts of water. Instead, cover the pot while cooking to prevent steam loss, and save liquids from cooking for use in other recipes.

This Ask the Expert was written by Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian and freelance writer in Southern California.