Sprouting into the New Year
With the New Year come new resolutions, and in my continued resolve to keep chowing down grains in an increasingly gluten-free world, I’ve learned about another avenue keeping my dreams possible. The re-emerging trend of sprouting grains provides a more nutritive and digestible option for a population with myriad grain sensitivities. One pass through any natural retailer shows that items on shelves and fridges now tout sprouted ingredient claims in increasing numbers. In fact, SPINS’ Product Library coding expansion for ‘Sprouted’ claims was recently released as it stays on top of growing industry trends, meaning that many others are catching on.
What is it about grains that has complicated our relationship so much recently? For starters, wheat has been especially vilified for a few good reasons: gluten, lectin and phytates. The gluten protein is a huge problem for the 1% or so of the population diagnosed with Celiac disease, and for another 10-50% of the population who may have some degree of gluten sensitivity. Lectin, another protein present in wheat, has been found to be pretty tough to digest and often triggers an inflammatory response in the gut. Rounding out this trio are phytates; anti-nutrients present in many grains and seeds, which bind to essential dietary minerals and block the body from absorbing them. So it would seem that even whole grains – chock full of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals – don’t necessarily seem like the healthiest choice. What’s a grain-lover to do?
Sprouting, an ancient practice, has re-emerged as a simple solution to our anti-nutrient problems. This traditional practice of soaking and germinating grains, nuts, and seeds, increases the digestibility of these foods. By tricking a seed into thinking that the time is right to grow, soaking begins the process of nutrient release by disabling anti-nutrients (like phytates) so that the seed can sprout. As the sprout develops over the course of a few days, enzymes are activated that break down the starchy reserves and leave the resultant molecules more easily digested by the plant and you. Sprouting not only increases the bio-availability of nutrients, but actually decreases the presence of gluten, lectin & phytates in grains, making it a viable option for those with more mild sensitivities.
Despite these benefits, sprouting has not previously gained widespread traction in the retail industry. This was in part due to the difficulty of controlling the conditions to sprout food in a safe and efficient manner, but recently there’s been an uptick in manufacturers taking on the challenge. As my team at SPINS researched the sprouted trend, my colleague, Kora, shared a special sampling of sprouted treats with the office, courtesy of Chicagoland based Manna Organics. Huddled around her desk, slathering a variety of nut butters on slabs of carrot raisin bread, I realized I had never actually eaten sprouted foods before. A far cry from my basic soaked grains, germinated foods were completely new ground. Satiating in small quantities with a subtle sweetness reminiscent of molasses in depth & complexity; this was an altogether new face of healthful grains for me. In speaking with Manna Organic’s Owner & CEO, Markus Schramm, I learned even more about the manufacturer perspective.
Part of the challenge in wider adoption of sprouted product manufacture has been the care required in making the goods. Unlike most commercial bakeries that complete an entire industrial batch of bread in as little as 27 minutes, Schramm says his sprouted breads require a full four days. Such a labor-intensive process that is subject to variable weather and humidity yields unique batches with every harvest, much like a farmer and his crop yield. Despite these difficulties, Schramm insists that the integrity of the resulting product is worth it. Like my colleagues, customers find that the host of nutrients, easier digestion, and supreme hand-crafted flavor are worth the extra four days that make this bread a “powerhouse to sustain life.”
For all of these benefits, it is little surprise that sprouting has been around for millennia, even being recommended by ancient Chinese doctors to treat a host of digestive ailments. Perhaps in the new millennium, as the gluten-free boom continues, adopting this ancient practice and hot new trend could be the key to keeping grains around for me and many others for millennia to come.