As we’ve written about before, there are many benefits to growing your own nutritious sprouts at home. But one thing we simply can’t stress enough, is the importance of starting with the best possible seeds.
It may be a cliché, but it really is true: ‘You only get out, what you put in.’ To talk you through some of the reasons why we spend so much time sourcing the best quality seeds at Sydney Sprouts, we recently caught up with Shane Lougheed from Bean Growers Australia in Kingaroy, Queensland. We’ve worked with Shane for almost eight years now and, as a full-time agronomist, he’s an expert in the principles and practice of soil management and field crop production. If anyone knows how to choose the right seeds for sprouting, it’s him!
SYDNEY SPROUTS: Thanks for your time, Shane. Can we start with a little background about Bean Growers Australia and what you guys actually do?
SHANE LOUGHEED: Bean Growers Australia is based in Kingaroy, Queensland, and has been around since 1964. We basically go out and source quality agricultural products from growers all over Australia. We then help to get these raw ingredients into market with companies like Sydney Sprouts, who we’ve worked with for many years. I’ve been here for almost eight years myself now and it’s a great company to work for, because we’re propelling businesses at both ends – we’re supporting Australian manufacturers and growers with ingredients that are good for you.
SYDNEY SPROUTS: What types of products do you focus on at Bean Growers Australia?
SHANE LOUGHEED: Our range is huge and, interestingly, our number one seller is actually popcorn – in fact, around two-thirds of all the popcorn in Australia comes through our facility here in Kingaroy! But our real speciality has always been beans and other pulses. That’s my area of expertise too. My family used to grow mung beans, so it’s been part of my life since I was a little kid.
SYDNEY SPROUTS: What do you provide to us here at Sydney Sprouts?
SHANE LOUGHEED: In terms of the seeds we provide to Sydney Sprouts, it’s really the very top tier. The products you receive are grown as beans especially for sprouting and curated right from the time we meet and contract the grower, all the way through until we deliver them to you in Sydney as seeds.
SYDNEY SPROUTS: So you have an ongoing relationship with the growers, keeping an eye on things the whole way?
SHANE LOUGHEED: That’s right. The growers we use are hand-picked by us, right from the beginning, and we then work really closely at every stage. It’s all about maximising the sprouting quality of every bean and seed we sell.
SYDNEY SPROUTS: When you talk about ‘sprouting quality’, what do you mean?
SHANE LOUGHEED: Number one, the beans have to be harvested at the right time. If they’re harvested too early, they’re not going to sprout properly as there will be too many hard seeds. But if they’re left for too long, the shells lose their integrity. Harvesting at just the right time increases the germination quality and the vigour of the seeds themselves which determines how well they’ll sprout. That’s really important, because when you grow a plant in soil, it’s usually using some of the soil as energy along with the sunlight to grow. But when we’re sprouting, all you’re using is water and the seeds themselves. They’re basically self-propelling which is why germination and vigour is vital.
SYDNEY SPROUTS: What’s the difference between your seeds and sprouting with the packet seeds you might get at the grocery or hardware store?
SHANE LOUGHEED: (laughs) That’s a bit like asking ‘what’s the difference between a little moped and a high performance sportscar?’ Packet seeds are really only intended to be used for cooking purposes. They can be mushy, have poor shell integrity and lots of other things wrong with them that you simply don’t have to worry about when you buy fit-for-purpose sprouting seeds. But, perhaps most importantly, packet seeds won’t have gone through any testing to see if they’ll actually be any good for sprouting or not. They’re not checked for gemination quality. They’re not checked for chemical residue. They’re not checked for microbial pathogens like e-coli, listeria and salmonella either. That’s another big issue.
SYDNEY SPROUTS: It’s really all about confidence, then?
SHANE LOUGHEED: Absolutely. When you’re buying packet seeds at the shops, you really don’t know much about the quality of what you’re buying. What level of care went into the packaging? Did they wear gloves? How clean were the surfaces? When you buy through someone like Sydney Sprouts, you can be confident everything has been done to eliminate nasties and maximise quality at every stage.
SYDNEY SPROUTS: On our labels, we talk about things like germination quality and seed purity. In fact, there’s actually a hand-written rating on every bag. What do these numbers actually mean?
SHANE LOUGHEED: We work very closely with our growers to curate the quality of the beans and seeds while they’re growing. But once they’re harvested, we then physically test them for germination and purity. There are several different types of seeds – oversoaked seeds, dead seeds and hard seeds – that we know will reduce the germination quality. Too many of these in a batch and you might find 20% of your seeds won’t sprout. No-one wants that, so if a batch of seeds doesn’t reach a certain quality level, we won’t send them. It’s that simple.
In terms of ‘purity’, that’s your guarantee that you won’t find any other seeds mixed in. For example, if you buy mung beans and open them up, mung bean seeds are all you’ll find. If you compare that with some of the packaged products you might find at the supermarket like lentils, often their labels will actually tell you to pick through them before you cook them as they may contain other products!
SYDNEY SPROUTS: Really? How does that happen?
SHANE LOUGHEED: It could be due to improper cleaning on product lines. But it could also be sourced from the fields themselves. If the grower was growing something else before on the same land, those seeds may have come back up again and contaminated the new crop.
SYDNEY SPROUTS: Can you explain what conventional growing means?
SHANE LOUGHEED: The type of agriculture we engage in is known as ‘conventional.’ While we certainly don’t apply any chemicals as part of our processes, for modern agriculture to work you really do need to use some chemicals during the growing stage. But it’s important to emphasise we make sure there’s zero chemical residue in the products you buy. That’s not just me saying that, it’s actually the law in Australia. We’re not going to sell anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves. Personally, I only buy from the companies we source to, because I know I can trust them – and that includes being chemical residue free. My own family eats our products every day.
Organic farmers also use chemicals as part of their processes.
Also, just as an aside, one thing a lot of people don’t realise is agricultural chemicals are actually very, very expensive. Growers only use them when absolutely necessary, as there’s simply no commercial benefit to go out and spend thousands of dollars to use them unnecessarily.
SYDNEY SPROUTS: This has been a fantastic chat Shane, so interesting. Do you have a final message before we wrap things up?
SHANE LOUGHEED: I’d really just reiterate there’s a whole bean and seed industry in Australia – and ‘sprouting’ is like the gleaming hood ornament. The products that go into sprouting really are the cream of the crop, whereas the stuff you find in grocery stores is really just a commodity at a much lower quality level. They may only be tiny, but always know that a lot of time, money and expense goes into making sure the beans and seeds you get from Sydney Sprouts are of the highest possible quality, every time.