There is written evidence that Chinese physicians knew about sprouts and were prescribing them for the healing of many disorders over 5,000 years ago. Shen-Nung, Emperor of China, in 1282 BC wrote about his mung beans and how successful he was at growing them. Modern China, considered backward and underdeveloped by the rest of the world, exports grain even though it has less fertile farm land and doesn't use chemical fertilizers and very little modern farm machinery. It also feeds nearly one billion citizens. This would be impossible for a “modern” agriculture system.
Thank Goodness for Their History
Their secret is sprouts. The earliest recorded mention of the extraordinary food value of germinated seeds is in a book by the Emperor of China in about 2939 BC. It wasn't a new idea even then. Most Chinese families home-grow sprouts, which gives every person in the household a steady supply of high-energy, low-cost food. No costly transportation. No processing and packaging. They couldn't do what they do if they were burdened with our more highly developed food production system. Americans of Oriental descent have always included sprouts in their diets as a staple.
In the Book of Daniel in the Bible, we read of sprouting. Even with their extensive history, it was many centuries before the West became aware of the nutritional values of these extraordinary plants.
From 1772 to 1775, Captain James Cook had been beset by sickness among his sailors and was looking for answers. It was determined that scurvy (deficiency of vitamin C) was the cause. On two- and three-year voyages, many of them died; most were too sick to do the work necessary to keep a ship going. So Captain Cook, beginning in 1772, had his sailors eat limes, lemons, and a variety of sprouts, all with abundant vitamin C. He also added fresh fruits and vegetables as he could and an ongoing plan for growing and eating sprouts was worked out. It was a breakthrough in the health of seagoing mariners and solved the greatest problem facing Captain Cook.
Dr. Clive M. Mckay, Professor of Nutrition at Cornell University wrote an article during World War II that stirred up a lot of interest. The first statement in his article is as follows: "Wanted! A vegetable that will grow in any climate, will rival meat in nutritive value, will mature in 3 to 5 days, may be planted any day of the year, will require neither soil nor sunshine, will rival tomatoes in Vitamin C, will be free of waste in preparation and can be cooked with little fuel and as quickly as a ... chop."
He was talking about sprouts. The amazing properties of sprouted soybeans had been the subject of considerable research by a team of nutritionists led by Dr. McKay. Other researchers took up the pursuit at the Universities of Pennsylvania and Minnesota, Yale, and McGill. What they found was that sprouts keep the B-complex vitamins that are in the original seed. What was more surprising, they found that there was a big jump in vitamin A and an incredible amount of vitamin C above and beyond what was in the unsprouted seeds. While some protein is lost in the sprouting process, starches are converted to simple sugars, which make sprouts easily digested.
Until Dr. McKay's article and the publication of information about the other research did people in the United States become interested in sprouts and sprouting. Even then, it didn't catch on with most people.
The Up Rising of Sprouting
However, in the seventies, when health consciousness became a mainstream concern, sprouts began to come into their own, along with tofu. Bean sprouts were the genre of choice, and the US Department of Agriculture supported the trend by pointing out that one cup of bean sprouts contains only 26 calories. They are low in salicylate, the Agriculture Department pointed out, a naturally-occurring chemical in plants that cause digestive problems in some people.
Today, China and India are the main producers of mung beans, and the United States is one of the largest customers. This means that bean sprouts are easily obtainable in this country in supermarkets.
Of course, even better, you can grow your own. Recipes that call for silver sprouts mean mung bean sprouts with their ends removed. This is a chore that servants performed in Chinese households. Today, sprouts have come into their own in the United States. One measure of the size of the sprout-growing and consuming populace in this country is the number of sites devoted to the topic and the many producers and retailers of beans for sprouting.
By TTS Cofounder Botanical Chef Omid Jaffari