Shoots & Sprouts (A Revolution in My Salad Bowl)

Selling shoots & sprouts at Strathcona Market, Edmonton, AB.

Selling shoots & sprouts at Strathcona Market, Edmonton, AB.

My relationship with salad will never be the same. That’s my favourite one-liner for the early morning market goers at the Edmonton Strathcona Farmer’s Market every Saturday. Popping up from behind the Sunrise Gardens stall, I unabashedly share my ‘born-again-sprouts’ story with a steady stream of people whose eyes are transfixed on green (yes, it’s not gone extinct!) and stop to marvel at the miniature explosion of stems and leaves looking like tiny pumping fists:

sprouts! sprouts! sprouts! sprouts! sprouts!

It must have been when I was a kid that I developed a false distaste for sprouts. Was it the alfalfa sprouts? Was it an authority complex I developed when my parents made me sit at the dinner table until I finished them, and even our cocker spaniel wouldn’t take them off my rebellious hands? Or was it because our small-town grocery just didn’t carry them? Because the Canada Food Guide didn’t draw a picture of the spindly micro-greens beside the green championed broccoli and lettuce? Because I never actually tried sprouts in first place?

Who knows.

All I can say (without a trace of melodrama here, folks) is that salad before sprouts was no kind of salad at all.

Sprouts just make sense. They have a wicked quick growing period – less than seven days and they’re up and at ‘em and packed with some seriously intense vitamins and nutrients. One serving, in fact, has four times more protein than lettuce, and two times more than spinach. Alfalfa sprouts have more protein value (18.8%) than milk (3.3%)! Yup, sprouts are super living foods that transfer their ‘youth’ (a plant’s highest nutritional value is as a sprout) to the lucky consumer.

Sprouts contain 2 times as much protein as spinach.

Sprouts contain 2 times as much protein as spinach.

Traditional Chinese medicine has been prescribing sprouts for curing different disorders for over 5000 years. In the late 1770s, Captain James Cook ordered sprouts for all his scurvy-scared sailors (they contain loads of Vitamin C). Western medicine, slower to take note, is also beginning to recognize the sassy sprout for its anti-cancer, anti-aging and anti-arthritic properties. Also – sprouts can be grown in the home, year round, requiring little more than some window light and water. Walla! What more?!

Oh, yes. Contrary to my youthful assumptions, sprouts are delicious. Salad dressing? What for? Mix together a wee medley of sweet pea sprouts, sunflower sprouts, broccoli and the pink stemmed spicy radish sprout and you’ve enough flavor to forgo the oils altogether.

So why were my parents always haranguing on me to finish the broccoli (alienated on my otherwise empty plate) when a serving of broccoli sprouts carries 20 – 50 times the amount of nutrients and minerals?! Global food politics, what else? Sprouts didn’t equal big business in the West during 1980s and 90s. While Asian nations had been sprout savvy for centuries, the West didn’t sit up and take note (large-scale) until after a ‘sprout-scuffle’ that took place in the state of Maryland. It all stemmed in 1997 from “ground breaking” research that showed cancer-fighting minerals in broccoli sprouts. The research team at John Hopkins University, reveling in their so-called-discovery, filed to receive a patent for broccoli sprout production and formed a corporation that held “rights” over the sale of seeds. Within a few years, the Brassica Protection Products (BPP) had forced many (of the very few) sprout producers into paying huge bucks for ‘licenses.’ Those who refused? BPP sued five non-licensed (and small-scale) sprout growers in 2000.

The sprout growers fought back in court and posed the following question:

“Can a plant (broccoli sprouts), long well known in nature and cultivated and eaten by humans for decades, be patented merely on the basis of recent realization that the plant has always had some heretofore unknown but naturally occurring beneficial feature?”

Even though the judge eventually determined that, no, BPP’s patent on the broccoli sprouts didn’t stand – the small-scale sprouties were still saddled with legal debts – an outcome similar to most David-sized farmers who are bold enough to take on their own corporate Goliaths.

Radish shoots contain 18% Vitamin C

Radish shoots contain 18% Vitamin C

Okay. I’m done spouting off my sprout fascination and related nutrient-packed facts. Sprouts. You can eat ‘em straight up, serve ‘em on bagels and sandwiches, stir fry ‘em, even blend and juice ‘em.

So I’ve recently learned from my wonderful new friend and local farmer, Dawn, who runs Sunrise Gardens with so much love and commitment, and has been developing a niche for growing organic sprouts for several years now on her farm in Onoway, Alberta. Dawn sells her sprouts and produce every Saturday at the Strathcona Farmer’s Market to a steady flow of long-time and first-time customers, and speaks passionately about the big value of the tiny sprout.

Next Saturday: come and see for yourself. Salad will never be the same again.

Learn more about eating and growing sprouts from this delightful information site: The Sprout People

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