SPROUTED INNOVATION: Germinated grains and seeds.

Paco Alvarez Ron
Published in
8 min readMay 21, 2021


Food Alchemist Reflections #5. The new molecular-chef: enzymes.

Figure 1: No sugar added kombucha made from germinated corn.

In a world that has been built by words and words that have been created by humans, where does nature take the lead? It is time for a change, re-think what has been already established by our words, and create a new paradigm that includes us as part of nature. How? Through Food. Food is our common treasure, the best indicator of our planet’s health. These words represent an out-loud thought from The Food Alchemist Lab that endeavors to take you on a trip around general and specific food topics → proposing solutions, destroying myths, and waking up your interest through impactful recipes. Because your curiosity is our trigger and, once you’ve shot us, nothing will stop us from bringing a better food system, the one that listens to nature’s voice.


Chefs and scientists: Creativity and novelty

Are the concepts of creativity and novelty the same for chefs as they are for scientists? People might say, “no, a scientist researches the roots of knowledge (how and why we eat), while a chef innovates on the external layer of knowledge (what and when we eat).” However, they both share the same purpose, and one would not be the same without the other,, because the unique difference between them is the path they take to arrive at results.

Knowledge creation needs different approaches to get better results. There are different ways of thinking that believe in this multi-, inter- or trans-disciplinary approach when working in spaces of interaction among different disciplines with the same purpose. Science and cooking are among the best examples of this and nowadays we can identify spaces in which the line between them is almost totally diluted. There are restaurants such as Alchemist, Noma 2.0, El Celler de Can Roca, or Mugaritz where people from different backgrounds interact to develop new dishes, concepts, or gastronomic experiences.

Those restaurants are recognized as some of the best in the world by different gastronomic lists or guides and they are not only admired by other chefs or foodies: artists, scientists, anthropologists, and other professionals all look to them as a source of inspiration. And this is not only happening in restaurants. This diluted line is also in some “science” spaces, for example the research center Azti Tecnalia (Bilbao, Spain) or our Food Alchemist Lab (Bologna, Italy). These are spaces where science is totally influenced by cooking as much as by other disciplines, and where our job is to no longer think as scientists nor as cooks. Because if we are able to work in the internal and the external layers of knowledge, we will generate more successful results.

Life is not made of straight lines, so we should not generate and develop ideas in that way. Germinated seeds are the birth of life and are a perfect analogy of this iteration between different backgrounds. Life is catabolism and anabolism, destroy and break down to create and grow.

When seeds or grains begin to germinate, their enzymatic engineering starts to work, changing all their properties to support plant growth. Biology thinks about how a grain evolves, philosophy thinks about the concept of germination, architects think about vegetable structures to replicate them in constructions, cooks think about flavor change during germination, nutritionists think about nutrient change and how it affects digestion, and agro-engineers think about how to improve crops depending on the conditions in which they grow. And I could continue mentioning examples, but it will be boring for everybody.

Anyway, food in general attracts different disciplines. We are what we eat, and everybody eats. I’m in love with germinated seeds because I was researching (scientifically and culinarily) for almost two years in this amazing field in order to understand what they are and how they can be used in order to develop innovative products. I really believe in them as a “hub” from where disciplines can iterate. So, I will try to fill you up what I know and get you inspired. Sometimes we get confused about what germinated seeds and grains are, so we will see what the community says.

What are germinated seeds and grains according to the community?

There was no clear definition of what a sprouted grain was, and even today the ideal criteria to define this type of product is neither clear nor well-regulated (Oldways Whole Grains Council, n.d.). In fact, it is quite common among some commercial brands and within scientific literature itself to use some terms incorrectly such as: microgreens, shoots, babygreens, cress, wheatcress, etc. There are different organizations that define germinated or sprouted grains:

  • According to the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC), sprouted grains are those malted or germinated grains that contain all the original bran, germ, and endosperm, as long as the sprout has not exceeded the length of the grain and its nutritional value has not decreased.
  • In turn, the Oldways Whole Grains Council launched a project to explore which standards and definitions were used by the most important companies in the sprouted grain sector. According to the working group formed, four criteria were established to determine that a grain had germinated. These were: the presence of the visible sprout, the increase in the alpha-amylase enzyme, the increase in the amino acid GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), and the breakdown of phytates.
  • On the other hand, the term “sprouts,” according to Regulation (EC) 208/2013, is the product obtained from the germination of the seed and its development in water or other means, harvested before the development of the leaves and that it is intended to be consumed in its entirety, including the seed.

Sprouted grains have big organoleptic, nutritional, and technological potential due to, mainly, their enzymatic activity. Gastronomy and the food industry are starting to use them as innovative raw materials to develop snacks, flours, beverages, breads, plant-based foods, etc. We’ve explained what they are, now we will know more about why they became trendy.


Germinated seeds and grains are natural sources of enzymes. There are different haute cuisine restaurants that are currently working with enzymes extracted from nature. In this case, our proposal is to use new natural sources of enzymes such as koji (discussed in the last Food Alchemist Reflections), leaves, animal intestines, fruit concentrates, and, of course, germinated seeds.

Germination is a process in which the seed or grain starts to break down all its barriers to grow, just like when a soccer team breaks its defense to attack. One of these defenses is antinutrients, which humans cannot digest properly, they reduce the absorption of some other ingredients. This is why we should soak legumes and throw out the water in which they soaked. When grains and seeds are soaked, their enzymatic engineering starts to work breaking down antinutrients, lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates. These changes modify the nutritional, organoleptic, and technological properties of the germinated seeds and grains.

Consequently, the increase in the content of sugars and smaller carbohydrates contributes a sweeter flavor to the sprouts. The concentration of proteins and lipids in the sprouts is somewhat controversial, in any case, the digestibility and biological value of the proteins is higher (Ghavidel & Prakash, 2007) and the content of some essential fatty acids is also higher (Kim et al., 2012). These changes improve the nutritional characteristics while still naturally increasing sweetness. Yummy!

Figure 2: No added sugar snack made from germinated corn kombucha waste.
Figure 2: No added sugar corn mexican tortilla made from germinated corn kombucha waste.

At the technological level, these changes also modify the properties of the products. For example, gluten peptides related to celiac disease have been shown to be reduced by about 47% during germination (Boukid, Prandi, Buhler, & Sforza, 2017). That means it will be easier for our guts to digest, and it represents a challenge for gastronomic or food industry food developments. Hence, our interest in these products…

The Food Alchemist Lab has been utilizing this scientific knowledge for almost two years in product applications. Last month, we published our second scientific paper entitled “Development of a no added sugar kombucha based on germinated corn,” in which we studied the potentiality of gluten-free seeds or grains to develop new trendy beverages, such as kombucha, without adding sugars (REF). However, my colleague José is going to apply this knowledge in another way taking advantage of the increased sweetness of sprouted seeds and grains.

Note: If you would like to read the original paper, you can contact me on LinkedIn (Francisco Álvarez Ron), and I’ll send it to you.


Sweet baby

In this Food Alchemist Video, my colleague José de la Rosa will prepare a recipe that gathers this knowledge and connects with the last Medium post. Germinated seeds are the sweet babies of seeds and grains. The perfect ingredient to add to a dessert, increasing sweetness, functionality, complexity, and innovation. José will prepare a dessert made of peaches with a granola based on germinated grains: Our sweet baby.


Álvarez Ron, F., de la Rosa Morón, J., Hernández, I., (2021). Development of a no added sugar kombucha beverage based on germinated corn. International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijgfs.2021.100355.

European Commission. (2013, March). Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 208/2013 of 11 March 2013 on traceability requirements for sprouts and seeds intended for the production of sproutsText with EEA relevance. Official Journal of the European Union.

Ghavidel, R. A., & Prakash, J. (2007). The impact of germination and dehulling on nutrients, antinutrients, in vitro iron and calcium bioavailability and in vitro starch and protein digestibility of some legume seeds. LWT — Food Science and Technology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lwt.2006.08.002

Kim, H. Y., Hwang, I. G., Kim, T. M., Woo, K. S., Park, D. S., Kim, J. H., … Jeong, H. S. (2012). Chemical and functional components in different parts of rough rice (Oryza sativa L.) before and after germination. Food Chemistry. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2012.02.138

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Paco Alvarez Ron

Food R&D at Food Alchemist Lab of Future Food Institute. Nutritionist&Dietitian — Gastronomic Scientist. Improving lifestyles through healthy food innovation.