Like lots of people, I stopped eating sprouts several years ago. Even though they are healthy and tasty, I had read about too many contamination scares.
But now I'm eating sprouts in my salads again. The difference is that I only eat BroccoSprouts.
These great tasting sprouts of broccoli have a lot going for them. Broccoli is well known for being one of the healthiest vegetables, but I am not crazy about how it tastes either raw or cooked.
It's one of the few things that I agree on with my distant cousin. "I do not like broccoli," George H.W. Bush once said. "And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli."
I hope that cousin George the First reads this, because BroccoSprouts have all the health benefits of broccoli without its awful taste. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University in 1992 discovered sulforaphane, which helps us mobilize our natural cancer-fighting resources and reduces risk of developing cancer. The sulforaphane is much more highly concentrated in BroccoSprouts than in broccoli itself.
"Three-day-old broccoli sprouts consistently contain 20 to 50 times the amount of chemoprotective compounds found in mature broccoli heads," says Paul Talalay, M.D., J.J. Abel Distinguished Service Professor of Pharmacology at Johns Hopkins. It "may offer a simple, dietary means of chemically reducing cancer risk."
Since then, scientists have found many other benefits of sulforaphane. One of the most intriguing is this BBC News article about how it may "undo diabetes damage." The full-text of this highly technical article in the October 2008 issue of Diabetes is online.
But a decade ago the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued its first warning about the safety of eating raw sprouts. As soon as I read that I stopped eating any sprouts until now.
The contamination usually involves the status of the seeds which are being sprouted. For example, use of improperly composed manure or fertilizers during seed production appears to be a likely source of bacterial contamination, according to one of the best food resources, George Mateljan's World's Healthiest Foods. Once seeds have become contaminated, he says, sprouting can make things worse, since the moisture and heat involved with sprouting can also be conducive to bacterial growth.
Alfalfa sprouts have another problem that people with diabetes in particular need to consider. "This seed has higher than usual amounts of an amino acid called canavanine," according to George Mateljan. "Some research studies have associated canavanine with worsening of inflammatory conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus. Individuals with chronic inflammatory conditions, including autoimmune conditions, may want to avoid alfalfa sprouts for this reason."
But "BroccoSprouts have never had any cases of contamination," Account Manager John Hall writes me. "Growers of BroccoSprouts are required to operate a hold and release program for 100 percent of the sprouts. Every batch of BroccoSprouts is tested for any contaminants and will not be shipped to stores until the tests come back negative."
Unlike other sprouts, we don't need to wash BroccoSprouts, another account manager, Jim Licko, tells me. They are all grown hydroponically in large drums. No dirt is involved. Every single batch is not only washed twice but is also tested. This is unlike other sprouts, which are only sampled.
On average BroccoSprouts will last from seven to 10 days after we open the package, Mr. Hall tells me. "However, they do need to be refrigerated, and the cold chain is essential to how long they will last. If they are in an effective cooler at the store, and a customer immediately takes them home and puts them in the refrigerator, that increases the life of the sprouts. They can last up to two to three weeks in the refrigerator, depending on temperature and keeping them cool."
Fifteen licensed growers produce BroccoSpouts, which are becoming more and more available. I found them in my local Whole Foods stores, and you can find stores that carry them in the site's online store locator.
But the regular supermarkets I checked seem to have only broccoli sprouts. They aren't the same thing.