Growing Alfalfa Sprouts

I love to grow things at home- it’s really nice to have fresh food (almost) on-demand. It’s not even farm-to-table, it’s kitchen counter to table! In particular, I like to grow alfalfa sprouts. They are crisp and refreshing. The seeds can be purchased in bulk on-line. I have also previously written a post about sprouting mung beans. I purchased a sprouter from Williams and Sonoma for $10 (it is no longer available, but a similar one can be purchased on Amazon). Instructions for growing alfalfa sprouts are below:

Growing Alfalfa Sprouts

  1. Put 1 tablespoon (1 teaspoon also works fine) of alfalfa sprouts in each tier of the sprouter.


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  2. Stack the tiers on top of the water collection tray.

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  3. Pour enough water into the top tier to fill it three-quarters of the way.


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  4. Keep the sprouter on the kitchen counter of the sunlight.
  5. Every 12 hours, empty the water out of the water collection tray and repeat Step 3.
  6. When the alfalfa sprouts have grown to your liking, either simply start eating immediately or store the sprouts in the refrigerator. To store the sprouts, first empty the water out of the collection tray, then replace the collection tray and put the lid on the top tier. Then put the sprouter in the refrigerator to store for later use. 

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Pesticides in Food

It is always a challenge to keep pests off crops. However, as pests (both plants and animals… probably bacteria and fungi, too) evolve and become resistant to pesticides, oftentimes more toxic pesticides need to be brought into use.

Unfortunately, many pesticides are toxic chemicals, and can be a problem for natural wildlife surrounding farms as well as the farm workers who are exposed to heavy amounts of pesticides (see PANNA‘s webpage on pesticide drift). Approaches such as such Integrated Pest Management can be utilized in an effort to be control pests in a more environmentally-friendly and less toxic way.

A recent paper was just published looking at organophosphate residue (a type of pesticide) in food. Organophosphates, such as parathion and malathion, have cholinergic effects on the nervous system (they activate the parasympathetic nervous system- the one that is responsible for “resting and digesting”). They act on the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (which breaks down acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter used by the parasympathetic nervous system to send messages), inhibiting its action, so too much acetylcholine accumulates. Organophosphates are thus nerve agents. They are a common cause of poisonings, and the antidote pralidoxime (which regenerates acetylcholinesterase) must be given to prevent paralysis of respiratory muscles, along with atropine (a competitive inhibitor of acetylcholine).

A recent article on this study stated the following:

For the past three decades, overall use of OPs [organophosphates] has declined. But recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data shows them to be among the top insecticides used on crops that include apples, peaches, and blueberries. According to the latest data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 33 million pounds of OPs were used in the U.S. in 2007.

Treated crops include broccoli, cantaloupe, grapes, green beans, lettuce, nectarine, oranges, pears, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, mangoes, and onions. So if you’re eating conventionally grown produce grown in the U.S., it’s more than likely that you’re eating some that was treated with OPs. Washing and/or peeling will remove some residue, but not necessarily all of it.

According to the article, the study showed that:

Curl and colleagues analyzed participants’ urine samples for evidence of OPs, then they compared these results from a subset of 720 people to the USDA’s measurements of pesticide residues on the fruit and vegetables the participants reported eating. They found that people who ate conventionally grown produce had high concentrations of OP metabolites in their urine, while people who reported eating organic produce had significantly lower levels. In fact, those who ate the least organic produce had as much as twice the pesticide levels as those who ate organic the most frequently.

To summarize, many conventionally grown fruits and vegetables contain organophosphate residues. But research is still being conducted on the possible negative effects of consuming produce with organophosphate residue.

Thus, as a consumer, we may wonder about the amount of pesticides in our food, and how to avoid them. Organic farming does not permit the use of synthetic pesticides, though “natural” pesticides can be used. But organic produce can be expensive or difficult to find.

The Environmental Working Group has a “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce“. Here, they list the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen”, which are lists of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residue, respectively. Apples, strawberries, and grapes are currently at the top of the list as having the most pesticide residue detected, while avocados, sweet corn, and pineapples have the least amount of pesticide residue found. In general, skimming through their lists, it appears that fruits and vegetables with the thinnest, most delicate skins have the most pesticide residue, while those with thicker skins have the least residue.

For a more detailed list of pesticides found on food, one can search the database of “What’s on my food?“.

[Disclosure: I have been paid by PANNA in the past (small sums) for some work I did for another group]

Sprouting Mung Beans

Mung beans are these green beans that can be sprouted until a small root emerges, or until they become long white stalks- those are what we know as bean sprouts on Asian dishes such as Pad Thai.

Sprouting mung beans is easy. Mung beans are pretty healthy and easy to prepare. Below are instructions!

Sprouting Mung Beans, Step-by-Step

  1. Place dry mung beans (however many you want) in a clean pot and fill with water, enough to comfortably cover all the beans.

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  2. Let beans sit in water overnight.
  3. Drain water. Beans should be much bigger now. I put my beans on a steamer insert (it has holes on the bottom for drainage). I poured some water on the beans, then put the steamer insert on top of my pot.

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  4. Rinse the beans once a day for about another 1-2 days. Roots should start to pop out.

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  5. I find the beans a little bitter if eaten on their own, so I steam the beans.
  6. Step 4 can be repeated until beans grow to be long and white (though mine turned out to be a mix of green, white, and dark red. I thought they were bitter, so I’d probably steam them, too.)