How to Grow and Dry Sprouted Grains for Flour

The baker’s job is to bring out the full flavor potential trapped in the grain.” we have learnt bout how bakers do this using different fermentation and mixing methods in other books. In short, the flavor that is locked up in the grain is mostly made up of sugars that are found in the starch. Other flavors, like those made by yeast or bacteria, can be brought out of the grain through fermentation.

Twenty years ago, not many American cooks knew about tricks like using pre-ferments and enzymes to break down starches into simple sugars. These tricks seem to be general knowledge now, and the new generation of superbread books keeps adding to the list of things that are being found.

 But sprouted flour is new to the artisan bread trend; it’s not like anything that’s been seen before. I love this so much because it can do everything we want it to do with pre-ferments and longer fermentation times, and it can do all of that before the grain is even turned into flour!

brown wheat field under blue cloudy sky
Photo by LilacDragonfly on

Using sprouted flour is also good because it means using the whole kernel, which is the whole grain or seed. And by letting grains and seeds germinate, we actually make their health benefits even better, so we get the most out of the grain’s natural health benefits. 

Soaking a seed in water for a while turns it into a germ, which starts the process of creating a living creature that can grow. To help that process along, the seed’s nutritional value goes up.

 Sprouting also softens the bran, lowers the amount of phytic acid it has, makes it less bitter, and increases the availability of the grain’s nutrients. When those grains or seeds are turned into flour, bread tastes better, has more nutrients, and is easier to stomach, which lets the body use more of those nutrients.

Reports from several studies also say that some people who are normally sensitive to wheat can eat sprouted wheat without getting rashes or stomachaches. But this isn’t quite science yet, and it needs to be put through a lot of tests. Also, people with celiac disease or other conditions that make them very allergic to wheat should not use it.

How to Grow and Dry Grains for Flour

Before I get to the recipes, I’ll quickly go over how to sprout seeds and get them ready to be milled. If you’ve ever raised alfalfa or bean sprouts, you’ll know the first steps of this method right away:

  1. Use clean, cool water to rinse the seeds. Some seeds, like quinoa, have a bitter resin on them that needs to be rinsed twice or three times.
  2. Put fresh water over the seeds and leave them at room temperature for three to five hours.
  3. Remove the seeds from the water, rinse them, and remove them from the water again. It’s time for the seeds to sprout.
  4. Before going to bed, give the seeds one last rinse and let them drain in a strainer, a jar with a lid that has a screen on top, or any other container that lets the water run away.
  5. Once the next morning comes around (or longer if the room is cool), you should see the seed’s skin, or bran, start to break. This is the start of a sprout. If you count the nub, the seed is already a sprout, but the best time to move on to the drying step is when the nub splits into two thin shoots. The seeds are now vegetables and are easier to swallow.
  6. Put the sprouts on a screen or a pan with holes in it to dry. Set up a fan to blow air across the surface. You can also use a food dehydrator, but don’t put it in a gas oven—even the starting light can make it too hot, which will destroy the enzymes. Moving air is very important, even if it’s a little warmer than room temperature. As the seeds dry out, the shoots will turn back into seeds. The seeds will be as dry as they were before you wet them in about 12 hours. They can now be ground into flour. It’s really that easy.
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Even though sprouted flour is clearly healthier, craft bakers are right to be worried about whether the enzyme activity and release of natural sugars during sprouting affect the gluten quality of the wheat. Would the dough stay together while it rose, and would it have enough starch to fill the loaf’s body?

There are already ways to use sprouted grain pulp (also called sprouted mash) to make popular, tasty, and financially successful bread, which I’ll talk about later in the book. But those breads generally have a lot of important wheat gluten in them.

 Peggy Sutton and Joe Lindley both found that their sprouted whole wheat flour works well without extra gluten if they carefully choose where their grains come from and choose high-quality, high-protein wheat. (However, some business bakeries do add a little vital wheat gluten to their sprouted flour doughs to make sure the loaves always rise and turn out the same size.)

Soaking and sprouting the seeds can also make the dough work better because it sets off natural enzyme activity. 

Some of the enzymes stay active in the dough and keep releasing sugars from the starches while the dough ferments. This feeds the yeast and bacteria and speeds up the fermentation process. 

So, a dough made with regular flour that hasn’t been sprouted might need many hours of slow fermentation or a pre-ferment to release all of its flavor. But with sprouted flour, the same thing can be done much more quickly. The first rise only takes about 1½ hours, and the final rise after shaping only takes another 1 to 1½ hours. I believe the taste is equal to or even better than bread made with long-rising doughs. 

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Where can I get flour made from sprouted grains?

Sprouting grain flours from names like Arrowhead Mills and One Degree can be found on baking shelves across the country. They usually come in small bags. See the Resources section for more information on how to buy these flours straight from millers by mail.

Will sponge pre-ferments make bread made with sprouted flour taste better? 

Pre-ferments are used to prepare flour by fermenting it slowly and for a long time. This brings out more flavor from the grains and makes the dough more acidic. This already-stale dough is mixed in with the final dough to make it taste better and age it. Some people choose to let the brewing process go on overnight to add more flavor. 

Sprouting releases flavor into the flour, so bread made with sprouted flour will taste pretty much the same with or without pre-ferments or cold fermentation. Pre-ferments and cold fermentation overnight aren’t necessary, but they won’t hurt the beer either. Sourdough starts made with wild yeast are the only exception. 

These are basically just another type of dough that has already been fermented. A sourdough starter does more than just raise the dough. It also adds certain acidic and tangy flavors that are made by bacteria fermenting the dough. That’s why you need to use a sourdough starter when making wheat flour sourdough bread. It gives the bread more flavor. To learn more about starters, read How Sourdough Starters Work.

Can I bake some of these breads in a Dutch oven even though the recipe doesn’t say to?

Yes, You can always use it, especially for bread made with wet, high-hydration doughs. I like to bake in a dome (a clay pot) instead of a Dutch oven. Spelt Whole Wheat Bread, Spelt Pain au Levain, Whole-Milled Lean Dough French Bread, and High-Extraction Pain au Levain are the recipes in this book that work best with that way of baking.

What do old grains mean?

It’s not clear what “old grain” really means because all grains are old or come from old lines. But the term has come to mean heirloom types of plants or grains that haven’t been crossed-bred or hybridized on purpose. This includes einkorn, emmer, spelt, and Kamut (also known as Khorasan wheat) when it comes to wheat. You might also hear other grains, like buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, millet, sorghum, and even rice, corn, barley, and oats—called “ancient grains.” Some of these aren’t even grains!

Are old grains free of gluten? If they are, what does that mean for making bread?

Many so-called “old grains” don’t contain gluten (only wheat, rye, and barley do), so the word “ancient grain” is often used to mean “gluten-free.” This isn’t really accurate, though. Wheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff,combined with wild rice are all gluten-free and can be eaten together. They weaken the gluten structure of wheat-based doughs because they don’t have any gluten in them. So, unless you’re making a gluten-free product on purpose, I think you should only use 20% gluten-free flour instead of wheat flour in a recipe. See Gluten-Free Breads for more information on how to bake without gluten.

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Is it possible to use a different kind of ancient grain flour?

Most of the time, yes. Other companies, like To Your Health Sprouted Flour Co., sell different sprouted flours that you can use to make your own mixes. Joe Lindley has made a five-grain ancient grain blend. As long as you stick to the same proportions, you can mix and match or make changes.

In these recipes, can I use whole-grain flour instead of sprouted wheat?

In theory, you could use regular flour instead of sprouted flour, but they don’t work the same way. In subsequent articles, we will cover what you need to know about whole grain and whole-milled bread, you’ll notice that most of the recipes that use non-sprouted flour use pre-ferments or cold fermentation to bring out the full flavor of the grain. So, I don’t think you should use sprouted flour instead of regular flour in any of the recipes without also changing the sprouting process.

Are sprouted and regular flours ever okay to use together in some recipes?

That’s right, and some bakers already do it. But for this book, I’ve mostly kept the two kinds of flour separate and only use one or the other in each recipe. You can, however, add sprouted flour to a mix that hasn’t been sprouted. This book’s one goal is to give you the tools you need to make your own versions. Once you’ve tried the recipes here, you can use similar techniques to make an endless number of other versions.

Can I use sprouted flour to make a sourdough starter?

You can use sprouted flour to make a mother starting, but I don’t think you should. Because sprouted flour has so many enzymes, it tends to go bad too fast and turn into mush in just a few days. The yeast and other microbes are still alive, but the dough doesn’t have any gluten structure, so it needs to be fed twice more before it can be used. So, I suggest that you keep a standard mother starter that was made with whole wheat or bread flour and turn some of it into a sprouted starter right before you use it to make more sourdough starters.