Bean sprouts have been cultivated in Asia for thousands of years and were bought to New Zealand with the first Asian immigrants in Gold Rush days.
Sprouts were made popular with the ‘hippie’ movement in the USA in the 1970s, and have been available commercially in New Zealand since 1981.
Sprouts start as dry beans and seeds. They are sprouted by soaking in water, then draining, and then allowing to grow. Once wet, they draw on their stored nutrients and begin to grow. Being young, most sprouts are sweet and tender and provide interesting textures, being crunchy rather than fibrous like older plants. Many different sprouts are available and they are often sold in combination packs.
A. Alfalfa and alfalfa sprout mixtures
Alfalfa is by far the most popular sprout in New Zealand. They have a fresh crisp taste and are often combined with other flavours such as radish and onion. Yellowish alfalfa doesn't mean that it is old, just that the leaves have not been exposed to enough light and the green chlorophyll has not yet developed. If the leaves are green, they've probably been under a fluorescent light for more than two days. Alfalfa sprouts are almost always used raw.
B. Snow pea shoots
These have the characteristic taste of snow peas and have long white shoots 5-7 cm long. They are used raw in salads and sandwiches and should be crisp and firm with no signs of browning.
C. Adzuki sprouts (aduki sprouts)
They are small and reddish-brown with short white shoots and no leaves. They have a nutty taste and can be eaten raw or cooked. Use them like nuts in salads.
D. Baby mung sprouts
These are mung bean shoots with only a small white root and they still have an olive green coat on the bean. They are eaten raw or cooked.
E. Mung bean sprouts (Chinese mung beans)
They have a long 3-5 cm shoot and the coat on the mung bean is a very pale green-yellow. They can be used cooked or raw. They are often used in stir fries.
F. Lentil sprouts
They are small, flat and blue-grey or light brown coloured seeds with a short shoot. They are crunchy and have a nutty taste. They can be used cooked or raw.
G. Blue pea sprouts
They are blue-green peas with a short white sprout. The peas are crunchy with a strong, but tasty, pea flavour.
H. Chick pea sprouts
These are a large white pea with a creamy nutty flavour. They are used in Mediterranean dishes and are the base for hummus.
These look very similar to alfalfa, but have a stronger flavour. They are sometimes sold in mixes with other sprouts, such as red cabbage sprouts.
These have a very distinctive hot and peppery radish flavour. They are often sold mixed with other sprouts, and may be either red or green.
Peas (usually Maple or Cowpeas) are sprouted in the dark and placed in a lighted room or greenhouse to 'green up' overnight. The process takes 6-7 days. The long shoots are harvested leaving the shell and the roots of the pea behind. Use raw in salads, sandwiches and as a garnish.
What to look for
Look for fresh, crisp sprouts that are free from moisture. Avoid any with brown or grey discolouration on the shoots, or punnets of sprouts with watery yellow marks on the foam in the bottom of the punnet.
Refrigerate in a well vented plastic container or bag. Sprouted beans and seeds are nearly always packaged in a special snap-top plastic container. Keep it closed in the refrigerator so the sprouts don't dry out. Correctly stored the sprouts will last for:
- Alfalfa (and alfalfa mixtures), peas, snow peas: 10-14 days.
- Adzuki, baby mung, lentils, chick peas: 7-10 days.
- Chinese mung bean sprouts: 5-7 days.
The major nutrients in sprouted beans and seeds are the B group vitamins, especially thiamin, and some contain small amounts of minerals including iron and potassium. Some, such as alfalfa, broccoli and snow pea shoots, have a high water content and therefore a lower nutrient and energy (kilojoule) content. While others, such as adzuki, chick pea and mung bean, contain more dry matter and carbohydrate and consequently more nutrients and energy (kilojoules). Sprouts provide a range of phytonutrients varying depending on the type of sprout, for example, glucosinolates are found in broccoli sprouts and saponins in alfalfa sprouts, however, phenolic compounds appear to be commonly contained, especially flavonoids.
How to prepare
No preparation is needed. If necessary, rinse in water and drain. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Ways to eat
Bean sprouts are often used in Oriental cooking, salads and sandwiches. Also use as edible garnishes. Usually served raw in salads and sandwiches.
Add to stir fries.
Well managed stock rotation is essential. Display with herbs or salad vegetables on refrigerated shelving. Offer a selection of types. Use the QR code on labels.
Store at 2-5°C with a relative humidity of 90-95%. Some bean mixes are packed inside a plastic bag inside the plastic punnet. This bag is made from breathable polyethylene that slows down growth by reducing the respiration rate. As a result shelf life increases by a few days.
Purchase sprouts with the New Zealand GAP logo.
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