Correct Preparation of Legumes/Pulses
Grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds have long been a staple part of the human diet. For maximum benefit of legumes/pulses such as chickpeas, lentils, mung beans and other beans, preparation should include a soaking or sprouting step.
Benefits of Eating Legumes
Legumes are rich in protein.
Legumes are nutrient-dense foods, rich in phosphorous, zinc, thiamine, niacin, selenium, magnesium, riboflavin, vitamin E, fibre, calcium, Vitamin B6, potassium and more.
Legumes are rich in iron. Chickpeas and lentils offer more than double the quantity of iron than you would find in an equal weight of cooked chicken(1), with soya beans following closely behind.
Legumes are rich in folic acid. A 100g portion of cooked lentils, chickpeas or soya beans can provide about 90% of an adult's daily folic acid needs(1) (2).
Legumes and grains provide carbohydrates to fuel the body providing energy.
Legumes are a source of soluble and insoluble fibre.
To understand why we do not have full access to the nutritional content of legumes/pulses when we do not soak or sprout them, we have to be aware that legumes, are, in essence, all seeds, meaning that they all can develop into new plants. Some plants use animals to help spread their seeds far away so that new plants do not have to compete with the parent plant for nutrients, water, and sunshine. When an animal consumes seeds, built-in anti-nutrients, such as phytic acid, tannins, lectins, saponins, and enzyme inhibitors, prevent the seed from being digested so that it can pass through the animal's digestive system and germinate for the generation of a new plant. Preventing digestion is, therefore, part of a plant's survival and reproductive strategy.
Some animals have digestive enzymes such as phytase which are capable of breaking down the anti-nutrients. Humans, unfortunately, are not one of those animals. When we consume seed-products that do not go through proper preparation, anti-nutrients attach themselves to vitamins and minerals, such as zinc, iron, calcium and phosphorous, inhibiting their absorption. These anti-nutrients can even bind to vitamins and minerals from the other components of a meal. Furthermore, if incorrectly prepared, oligosaccharides found in legumes can cause flatulence which can lead to discomfort, especially for our little babies and toddlers.
So how do we unlock the rich value from seed-products and eliminate discomfort? The answer lies in soaking and subsequent sprouting (also known as germination) of seed-products. These processes will reduce anti-nutrients and oligosaccharides to make nutrients more bio-available and much easier to digest.
Our forefathers, from many of the world's cultures, knew and understood the value of proper preparation of seed-products. The Bible speaks of Ezekiel bread, which is a bread that contains soaked, sprouted and fermented grains and legumes. The yogic diet in the Indian culture speaks about soaking and sprouting legumes, nuts and seeds. The Japanese and Chinese culture has an abundance of recipes that include sprouted or fermented legumes such as mung sprouts, tempeh, and miso. Soaking and sprouting may be the missing steps for many vegans or vegetarians who suffer from nutrition and digestion related problems.
Phytic acid is said to be good for your body in reasonable doses, therefore it is not necessary to completely strip it from your diet, only to reduce it to acceptable quantities. Some legumes, such as grahm dahl, or pumpkin seeds, just don't taste as good after this process, and some legumes such as red speckled (sugar) beans, don't sprout easily, and so we can be selective about what we sprout or soak. But if robust health is what you are after, then sprouting some legumes regularly, can definitely enhance your nutritional profile, especially as vegans or vegetarians.
Sprouting is the process of germinating seed products. If you cannot get to sprouting, soaking, at least takes it some of the way to better digestion and better nutrition.
Boiling will also contribute to reducing anti-nutrients in these products. Other cooking methods may not be as effective as boiling in reducing anti-nutrients in these products.
Benefits of Sprouting
Reduces anti-nutrients such as phytic acid, lectins, protease inhibitors and tannins which grab nutrients or inhibit the digestion of proteins and other nutrients.
Reduction in anti-nutrients makes it easier for the body to absorb protein as well as vital nutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium. This helps to prevent deficiencies, especially in those who depend on legumes for these vitamins and minerals, such as vegans and vegetarians. Phosphorous, calcium, and magnesium all contribute to teeth and bone health. Zinc contributes to the immune system and skin health. Iron is needed for blood production. Sprouting is, therefore, a good investment in sound health.
Sprouting reduces the carbohydrates (oligosaccharides) that cause gas and bloating thereby eradicating the discomfort often associated with the consumption of legumes.
Sprouting significantly increases Vitamin C concentration.
Sprouting reduces cooking time. Sprouts soften faster than the un-sprouted versions. Many can be consumed lightly-cooked or even raw. (Note that certain seed-products, such as kidney beans, are dangerous when consumed raw, they must, therefore, be cooked thoroughly before consuming.)
How to Sprout chickpeas, mung beans or lentils?
Stage 1 - Soak: Rinse the legumes and then soak in water until legumes have stopped expanding. This should take between 6 to 12 hours, depending on ambient temperature, with warmer temperatures producing shorter soak times. If soaking for longer than 8 hours, replace water, or add salt to water to prevent bacterial growth.
Stage 2 - Rinse, Drain and Refrigerate: When the seed products have hydrated sufficiently (you will notice that they will stop swelling), the water is then drained out. The legumes can now be rinsed and placed in the refrigerator until small tails appear on the legumes. These white tails are a sign of sprouting. During this stage, your sprouting container can be covered but should not be sealed air-tight, as some circulation is required to provide fresh air to the growing sprouts. Your sprouts are now ready to use.
How long does it take? Sprouting can occur in as little as 12 to 24 hours as is the case for lentils, peas, mung beans, and chickpeas; and as much as several days as is the case with many varieties of beans. The rate at which seed germination occurs depends upon many factors. Some of these factors are usually out of our control, such as they type of seed being germinated, how the parent plants were grown, the age at which the seeds were harvested, and the storage conditions thereafter. For these or other reasons, some seed products are difficult to sprout.
Other factors that influence the success of and rate of germination are:
Amount of light - darker environments promote sprouting. An easy way to achieve a dark environment is to use an opaque container (such as an aluminium pot or casserole dish) to soak and sprout in. However, sprouting will occur in a transparent container too, just perhaps at a slower rate, and you can easily get away with sprouting in a glass jar or glass container if this is what is convenient for you.
Temperature and humidity of environment - sprouting occurs faster in warmer, more humid environments. For these reasons, you will find that the duration of sprouting will change, depending on the location and the season you are in. However, take note that spoiling will also occur faster in warmer, more humid environments. If you find that your sprouts are spoiling. This is why we opt to sprout under refrigeration.
Size and type of seed-product - larger seed-products tend to take longer to sprout. For example, red-speckled beans tend to take much longer to sprout than lentils.
Temperature of the water used. Warmer water will speed up germination. However, if the water is too hot, it may kill the sprouts altogether.
How often you rinse. Greater frequency of rinsing will increase the rate of germination.
When it can go wrong: It is critical to ensure that sprouts are germinated in an environment that is not contaminated with dangerous bacteria from raw meat or raw egg sources. Dangerous bacteria will thrive in the conditions that sprouts are germinated in. Cooking or blanching your sprouts can be a step to take to make extra certain they are safe for consumption by little children. If sprouts appear slimy, throw them out as this is an indication that they have gone bad.
How to prevent spoiling: Seed products that are soaked or sprouted over a short duration are usually not at risk of spoiling, but those seed products such as beans, that need to be sprouted over a long periods can spoil easily.
Five strategies to avoid spoilage:
Soak with salted water.
For large seed products such as beans or chickpeas, remove damaged or defective seeds as you spot them, to prevent bad seeds from spoiling the entire batch.
Completely drain old water before each rinse in stage 1.
After the soak, place the seed products in the fridge to sprout.
Always employ strict kitchen hygiene standards, especially if meat or eggs are used in your kitchen.
Storage: Drain sprouts well and store in the fridge till you are ready to use. How long they keep will depend on the conditions under which they were made.
Written by Natasha Subbiah
1. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, USDA Food Composition Databases, USDA, 2018, https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/ (accessed 27 April 2019)
2 Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS), Recommended Intake Guidelines, HSIS, 2017, https://www.hsis.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Recommended-Intake-Guidelines.pdf (accessed on 07 July 2019)
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