Soybean sprouts (kongnamul) are one of the most commonly used ingredients in Korean cuisine. I think almost every Korean family makes cooked and seasoned soybean sprouts (kongnamulmuchim), and soybean sprout soup (kongnamulguk) at least once a week. It’s that popular.
You can sprout your own kongnamul at home, and they are tastier and nuttier than the ones you buy in the store.
1 cup of dried soybeans will make 1½ pounds of sprouts. When the beans are sprouted, more vitamins and minerals are created, making them even more healthy than the original beans. And homegrown kongnamul have wonderful, long roots, unlike kongnamul sold in grocery stores.
You can use the whole sprouts in your cooking or snip the roots off with fingers. But don’t throw them away: you can make another beautiful side dish with them. Some Koreans think that the roots have more vitamins and minerals than the stems. Soybeans used for sprouting (called kongnamul kong in Korean) are smaller than usual soybeans, so be sure to choose the right one! Regular soybeans won’t sprout easily; they’re used to make things like doenjang (fermented soybean paste), tofu, and soy milk.
Early one morning, when I was in elementary school visiting my grandmother, I saw how she sprouted her soybeans. She kept her kongnamul in the room where she slept, behind her head, so she could always look after it. Traditional Korean heating systems have heated floors, so the floor is always the warmest. I saw her pulling back a black cloth from an earthenware bowl on top of a basin, and then using a gourd to scoop water from the basin to the bowl.
Traditionally Koreans used to sprout the beans in an earthenware bowl with holes in the bottom for the water to drain out, called a siru. This was kept above a basin of water with 2 wooden sticks, and my grandmother would use a gourd to bring the water from the basin back over the sprouts. Then a black cloth was put over top to keep it all dark.
I remember the finished product was a huge amount of kongnamul, grown very crowded together. The color of the beans were a beautiful yellow.
I found growing kongnamul is very easy: all you need are soybeans for sprouting, water, and a little effort! I place my kongnamul planter right next to my kitchen sink, so I can water it as many times as possible. It’s really fun watching these beans grow and seeing the large quantity of kongnamul sprout from such small amount beans.
- 1 cup of soybeans for sprouting (6½ ounces: 180 grams)
- Rinse the soybeans in cold water and soak for 24 hours.
- Pick out dead beans or broken beans and put the cleaned soybeans into a planter that has small holes in the bottom.
- Pour water over the planter, little by little, till the beans are wet evenly. The water will drop out the holes in the bottom but the beans will be wet.
- Cover the planter with a black cloth to keep the light out. If too much light gets in, the beans will turn green instead of a nice yellow color.
- Repeat watering every 3 or 4 hours for 4 to 6 days until the beans grow about 4 inches.
- Rinse the sprouts a couple of times and drain. Drain and store them in the refrigerator.