Savor: Shoots and Sprouts

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Nutritional Benefits of Shoots and Sprouts

By Meghan Boucher
Small in size and delicate in shape, shoots (young, green offspring of certain plant varieties) and sprouts (germinated seeds or beans) can enliven dishes in a big way with crunch, flavor and texture. Among the most popular sprouts are those of mung beans, wheat, radish, alfalfa and broccoli. Common shoots include bamboo and pea vines. Nutrients in shoots and sprouts vary by plant and maturity. Juvenile bamboo shoots contain more vitamins and minerals but less fiber than older shoots. Bean sprouts are more energy dense than seed sprouts and provide more protein.

Although research is extremely limited on the health benefits of sprouts and shoots, there have been recent studies on broccoli sprouts and the anticarcinogenic and antioxidant compound sulforaphane, of which there is up to 100 times more in the sprouts than in mature broccoli. In animal trials, sulforaphane inhibited the growth of breast cancer stem cells and prostate tumors and reduced cardiac cell death and oxidative damage. In addition, one small clinical trial found total serum cholesterol and LDL were lowered by eating bamboo shoots, while some animal studies suggest bamboo shoot oil may lower total serum cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL. Buckwheat sprouts and broccoli sprouts also lowered total hepatic serum cholesterol levels in hamsters.

Cooking with Shoots and Sprouts

By Amy Reuter, MS, RD, CD
Light as a feather and only a few inches in length, shoots and sprouts may appear to be nothing more than culinary fluff, but these versatile food sprigs add flavor, texture and visual appeal when tossed in a salad, layered in a sandwich, blended with fruit or vegetable juices, stirred into a soup or stir-fried with other vegetables. Steam pea shoots with olive oil and garlic until just wilted for a colorful bed for plating salmon filets. Use broccoli shoots as a pizza topping to boost color, flavor and nutrition. Try briefly stir-frying mung bean sprouts for a nutty, slightly sweet side dish or crunchy stuffing for egg rolls.

Asian stores and farmers markets generally have the largest selection of shoots and sprouts, but many supermarkets carry some varieties as well. Look for plump, crisp shoots and sprouts and avoid those that are stringy, slimy, limp or discolored. While more commonly sold in pre-measured bags, bulk sprouts are considered by some to be crisper and fresher smelling. If possible, use them the same day as picked or purchased. Otherwise, shoots and sprouts can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. Shortly before use, rinse shoots and sprouts gently in cool water.

For consumers with compromised immune systems or at-risk populations, use processed sprouts instead.

Shoots and Sprouts in Foodservice

By Gina M. Guiducci, MS, RD, LDN
While raw sprouts are commonly served in salad and deli bars and as a garnish—adding texture, taste and nutrition to sandwiches and salads with their fun-to-eat and eye appealing shapes—they also are considered a high-risk food due to their susceptibility to pathogen and microbial growth. In 2010, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued of a number of recalls for raw sprouts linked to Salmonella and E.Coli, many foodservice operations eliminated sprouts from hospital, school, retail and catering settings.

Rinsing raw sprouts does not remove dangerous bacteria and cooking sprouts thoroughly may reduce the risk of contamination. However, there are obstacles to safe procurement, storage, handling, holding and service of raw sprouts in volume, and guidance from regulatory agencies indicates the health and economic risks of raw sprouts far outweigh any nutritional benefit, particularly in serving at-risk populations, including children, the elderly, pregnant women and persons with weakened immune systems.

But this doesn’t have to mean striking sprouts off the menu. According to FDA, thorough cooking can kill harmful bacteria, making sprouts a safe option for consumers who are not high-risk. Fresh bean, clover and alfalfa sprouts typically are offered in five-pound quantities. Fresh shoots may be harder to find through distributors but are becoming trendier and may be available at local markets.

In addition, processed and treated sprouts, such as canned mung beans (also known as “bean sprouts”) and bamboo shoots, hold up better to food processing and are utilized most frequently in salad bars and in Asian influenced menu and concept design. These items are typically available in #10 cans. Frozen bean sprouts are also sometimes available through food service distributors in 21⁄2-pound or larger packages.

Food & Nutrition Magazine
Food & Nutrition Magazine publishes articles on food and diet trends, highlights of nutrition research and resources, updates on public health issues and policy initiatives related to nutrition, and explorations of the cultural and social factors that shape Americans’ diets and health.