What are Bean Sprouts?

Plus how to grow them yourself and cook with them.

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January 24, 2022
Fresh mung bean sprouts and mung bean seeds in a bowl, Organic vegetables and food ingredients in Asian food


Fresh mung bean sprouts and mung bean seeds in a bowl, Organic vegetables and food ingredients in Asian food

Photo by: Nungning20/Getty Images

Nungning20/Getty Images

By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen

Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.

Bean sprouts are ubiquitous in East Asian and Southeast Asian cooking. Finding bean sprouts and keeping them fresh or growing your own so you can have them whenever you want them is what you’re going to learn here. Growing your own is like having a little farm in your pantry—how fun is that?

Korean spicy mung bean sprouts salad (Kongnamul Muchim), Korean Food Side Dish


Korean spicy mung bean sprouts salad (Kongnamul Muchim), Korean Food Side Dish

Photo by: Nungning20/Getty Images

Nungning20/Getty Images

What are Bean Sprouts?

Bean sprouts are the tender, crisp root that grows out of a bean. Because they're mostly made out of water, they're crunchy are are often eaten raw or just lightly cooked. Sprouts can be made from just about any bean, but here are two common types of sprouts.

Mung bean sprouts have thin, crisp white stalks with round yellow, green or beige heads. They're often used in Asian and Southeast Asian cooking in dishes like Japanese ramen, Chinese stir fries, Pad Thai and Vietnamese Pho. You can find them in large and small bags at Asian markets.

Alfalfa sprouts are fine, wispy little threads that are sold in plastic containers that look a little bit like berry containers. They are commonly used as salad and sandwich toppers.

Bean sprouts are not to be confused with micro greens, which are sprouts that grown from seeds, not beans.

Bean Sprouts on glass bowl, White background


Bean Sprouts on glass bowl, White background

Photo by: Arun Roisri/Getty Images

Arun Roisri/Getty Images

How to Shop for Bean Sprouts

Fresh bean sprouts are typically sold in the produce section of supermarkets, although canned versions are also available. Beware that bean sprouts have a very short shelf life, so be sure to always check the sell-by date, sniff the sprouts for an off scent and avoid sprouts that look wet or slimy.

How to Store Bean Sprouts

Store bean sprouts in the ventilated container they came in, keeping them dry. They will last in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. We recomend buying them and washing them thoroughly right before you want to use them.

How to Grow Mung Bean Sprouts at Home

The absolute freshest bean sprouts are the sprouts you grow at home. Depending on where you live, they may be the only bean sprouts you have access to not all grocery stores stock such a perishable vegetable. The process is quite simple and there are simple kits you can buy or make, and there are lots of videos out there that show all of the steps.

Basically, you soak the beans overnight, drain them, wash them well with clear water and place them in a container with holes in a dark room. Repeat the washing and draining every day for 5 to 7 days. At the end of the process, you'll have sprouts. It’s important to use them quickly, as they can spoil in a few days. You have to think ahead so you’re starting the sprouts a week before you need them.

Substitutes for Bean Sprouts

Naturally, you might think that canned bean sprouts are a good substitute for fresh bean sprouts. Alas, they tend to lack flavor and crunch. There are a few better alternatives that will bring freshness to your recipe, if not the perfect texture.

Enoki mushrooms are the same size and shape as bean sprouts, and even though they don’t have the crunch, they do bring some natural umami.

If your recipe calls for the sprouts to be lightly cooked in a stir fry, like chow mien or pad Thai, thin celery matchsticks are a good choice.

The only canned product we recommend is bamboo shoots, very thinly cut to resemble the size of bean sprouts.

Recipes for Mung Bean Sprouts

Photo by: Bobbi Lin

Bobbi Lin

Everything is fresh and crunchy, and the dressing is packed with flavor. It’s a perfect showcase for fresh bean sprouts.

Classic 100, pad thai

Classic 100, pad thai

Photo by: Caitlin Ochs

Caitlin Ochs

Prepping everything ahead of time is key when making this Pad Thai. Once all the prep is finished, the dish comes together really quickly, making it perfect for a weeknight dinner.



Making ramen broth from scratch is time consuming but worth it, especially since most of the work is hands-off. Bean sprouts are added to the ramen at the end for crunch.


The perfect topper for fat and juicy meatball sandwiches? Crunchy bean sprouts, naturally.

Food Network Kitchen’s Chicken Chow Mein, as seen on Food Network.


Food Network Kitchen’s Chicken Chow Mein, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet

Renee Comet

Literally translated from Chinese, Chow Mein means stir-fried noodles. In this case, the noodles are cooked, then fried and used to top chicken and veggies. Serve the whole dish with rice.

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