Bean sprouts are a hugely popular culinary vegetable that are popular in East and Southeast Asia as an addition to a range of dishes.
Known for their crunchy stems and ability to absorb ambient flavors, bean sprouts can add a new dimension of texture to any dish!
But if you’re trying out a new recipe and you’re out of bean sprouts at home, with none at the store, then there are a few great alternatives that you can use too.
What are the best bean sprout substitutes? The best bean sprout substitutes are soybean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, sunflower sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, and more. These provide the same great texture without adding an overpowering flavor.
Read below to learn more about bean sprouts, their uses and characteristics, and how to substitute them in food!
What Are Bean Sprouts?
Bean sprouts are exactly what they sound like — any form of various sprouted beans, but most famously from mung beans!
Mung bean sprouts are popular all around the world and are extremely easy to grow.
To grow your own mung bean sprouts, you only need to soak dry beans, drain them, and then store them away in a cool and dark place until they sprout – this can take anywhere from 2-5 days.
That’s right, all it takes to grow a couple of pounds of bean sprouts is half a cup of dry beans, some water, and just a couple of days!
So when you hear about bean sprouts in food, it is highly likely that mung beans are involved. After all, it’s the most famous type of bean sprout consumed in countries like Korea, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, and more!
Why Substitute Bean Sprouts?
Bean sprouts are usually substituted due to lack of availability. Although fairly easy to grow, it can be quite cumbersome to sprout the beans and then maintain their freshness since they are prone to quickly wilting and going bad!
Some people may also opt to use flash-frozen bean sprouts — usually the go-to method in regions where they are scarce — but they won’t provide the same crunchy texture and may become mushy, especially if they aren’t stored well.
Another reason why one would want to substitute bean sprouts is due to health risks.
Bean sprouts are grown in a dark and humid environment – the same environment that primes bacteria to grow.
Since this vegetable is highly susceptible to heat and a lot of its nutrition (like vitamin C) is water-soluble, people tend to not thoroughly cook it to maintain its benefits.
As per the FDA and CDC, compromised sprouts can be contaminated with bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli.
The risk of consuming contaminated sprouts is low, especially if you cook them properly, but the threat was once serious enough to force major retailers to stop selling fresh sprouts during multiple outbreaks.
Does this make sprouted vegetables dangerous? Not really, not as long as you cook them as indicated and follow best practices when growing them at home — more on this below!
Bean Sprout Characteristics
Here are some of the main characteristics that you need to look out for in bean sprout substitutes.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about bean sprouts is that they have almost no apparent flavor apart from a clean and mild vegetal taste. This characteristic is extremely important as it is what makes bean sprouts so versatile!
Bean sprouts can be mixed with just about any ingredient without adding any inherent flavor, but they will soak up all the flavors in the dish and add a satiable crunch to them!
When looking for substitutes, try to go with mild-tasting vegetables or other sprouted beans.
If you don’t want to use sprouts then you may also opt for bok choy, crunchy lettuce, or cabbage to get more or less the same crunch without any additional flavor.
Bean sprouts are primarily used to add bulk, crunch, and provide an addicting mouthfeel when mixed in recipes.
Most bean sprouts will provide the same level of crunch due to the hypocotyls, or stems, that grow from the beans — which means that you can use virtually any type of sprouted bean for the same great texture!
For non-sprout substitutes, we recommend going with crunchy leafy vegetables that can mix well in a range of recipes without getting soggy when steamed, fried, microwaved, or baked.
If you only want to use the sprouts to add bulk to your recipes then we suggest using canned beans or other similar substitutes for the same effect.
Bean sprouts have a home in every major food category — whether you enjoy salads, spring rolls, noodle dishes, savory gravy recipes, or just crunchy garnishes, bean sprouts can be used in just about any food!
Luckily, this characteristic isn’t unique to mung beans. Most bean sprouts offer the same versatility and you can get more or less the same benefits by using various substitutes.
Best Bean Sprout Substitutes
Now that we know all about (mung) bean sprouts, and why you might need to substitute them, here are our best bean sprout substitutes!
1. Soybean Sprouts
Soybean sprouts can be thought of as the distant cousin of mung beans. They provide the same great crunch and can add bulk to any recipe, but they do have a slightly more pronounced flavor than regular bean sprouts.
These can also be a bit chewier, but you can easily fix this by cooking the beans for a bit longer, which will also ensure that the sprouts turn out tender and free of bacteria.
Use soybean sprouts in salads for the best results or add them to a stir fry to give your food an addicting crunch!
2. Homemade Bean Sprouts
Don’t have bean sprouts at home? Then why not grow them in advance!
While we know that growing your own bean sprouts isn’t exactly a substitute, it is still a great alternative to buying canned or frozen sprouts.
Growing bean sprouts is easy. All you need to do is soak the beans until they come out of dormancy and then put them in a cloth, cover the top and store them in a cool and dry place for up to 3 days – voila! Instant homemade, fresh, and crunchy mung bean sprouts!
3. Alfalfa Sprouts
Alfalfa sprouts share all of the advantages and, unfortunately, some of the disadvantages of bean sprouts.
This substitute will provide you with the same crunchy texture as mung bean sprouts, albeit with a mild nutty and sweet flavor, so you can fluidly use alfalfa sprouts as an easy substitute for regular bean sprouts in every recipe!
But be careful, as these sprouts are prone to go bad within a few days and can also get contaminated, especially if they aren’t handled or cooked properly.
If you want something that retains the same crunchy texture as bean sprouts but adds more flavor, then you have to try enoki!
Enoki is a mushroom species that looks almost identical to bean sprouts. It has a similar elongated “tail” and sprouted “head.”
The main difference between this edible mushroom and sprouted beans is that enoki has a mild peppery flavor and can’t handle heat, which is why it’s best to use in sandwiches or salads for an incredibly crunchy and flavorful addition.
5. Sunflower Sprouts
Sunflower sprouts are an excellent substitute for bean sprouts and can also be seen as an improvement over the bland flavor of mung beans.
These sprouts taste just like sunflower seeds and provide a lot of healthy nutrition. These are a great way to add texture and crunchiness to virtually every recipe that calls for regular mung bean sprouts.
We recommend using sunflower sprouts as a light garnish or as a flavorful addition to salads and stews. Avoid using too much of this ingredient or it may overpower the rest of the vegetables in the recipe!
Cabbage makes for a great substitute for two reasons: 1) it is easily available virtually anywhere, and 2) it offers an extremely satisfying crunch.
The best way to get the most out of cabbage is to shred it — we recommend giving this a try. Shredding the cabbage will help give it volume and will also make it easier for you to use it in spring rolls, soups, salads, and much more!
7. Bamboo Shoots
Even though bamboo shoots are a completely different species, they make for a close substitute for bean sprouts due to their amazing texture.
Bamboo shoots are very popular in Asian cuisine and can be found either fresh or canned around the world.
We recommend using the fresh variety to retain its crunchy texture and mild flavor, but we use these when we can’t find any.
Just like bean sprouts, bamboo shoots can meld with any ingredient and, if you slice them thinly, they will mimic the texture and volume of bean sprouts.
Unlike sprouts, bamboo shoots can take the heat and can be sautéed, steamed, baked, cooked, and even pickled!
8. Canned Bean Sprouts
Looking to add bulk, texture, and flavor to your recipe? Then why not try canned bean sprouts instead of regular bean sprouts!
Canned bean sprouts are an extremely convenient last-resort option that you should keep in mind when in an emergency. Sure, they might not be as crunchy or have the same neutral flavor, but they can add bulk and volume to any recipe!
Use canned bean sprouts in salads, gravies, or other dishes with meats and vegetables. Just remember to wash them beforehand and follow all the instructions on the back of the packaging.
Here is a good canned bean sprout product that you can use for any basic bean sprout recipe!
9. Bok Choy
Want to make Chinese or Thai food for dinner, but you’re out of bean sprouts? Then look no further than bok choy!
Bok choy, also known as “Chinese cabbage,” is the next best thing to the crunchiness and mild flavor of bean sprouts.
This vegetable is easy to find and can be used in the same way as sprouts.
You can sauté, boil, steam, cook, and even bake them with ease. To mimic the consistency and volume of bean sprouts, we recommend chopping the bok choy and then sautéing it.
Keep in mind that both bok choy and bean sprouts share the same cooking time, so don’t overcook it!
10. Shredded Iceberg Lettuce
We love shredded iceberg lettuce because it adds a mouth-watering layer of flavor and texture to salads and sandwiches, and can also be used as a garnish over food.
It has a distinct crunch and can easily meld with just about any ingredient without overpowering it. This means that you can finely shred the lettuce and use it just like bean sprouts in a wide variety of recipes!
The only downside to using iceberg lettuce is that it doesn’t handle heat well, which is why it’s best to use this ingredient raw. Make sure that you remove any wilted layers to avoid adding a bitter flavor to your recipes, too.
11. Shredded Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts belong to the Brassica family and are closely related to cabbage.
While they aren’t exactly like bean sprouts, they do offer better nutrition, are flavorful, and can add a whole lot of crunchy and chewy texture to any recipe.
Brussels sprouts can be eaten raw or cooked in many ways. Whether you steam, sauté, bake or fry them, they will easily withstand the heat due to their density, but can also be easily overcooked – which will turn them mushy and unappealing.
For the best experience, we recommend shredding Brussels sprouts and sautéing them to get the same textures as bean sprouts.
They are mildly sweet and nutty which makes them an excellent choice for salads, stir fry, and other delicious recipes, especially when they are finely shredded!
12. Radish Sprouts
Radish sprouts have a mild peppery flavor that can be tamed by cooking them in multiple ways.
They also offer a very crispy and succulent texture that mimics the characteristics of bean sprouts.
They are usually cooked in the same way as bean sprouts, but should be used in moderation due to their slightly more pronounced flavor.
We recommend using them as a garnish for a tasty and attractive finish!
13. Green Pea Sprouts
Want to add a delightfully light and mildly sweet flavor along with the same crunch as bean sprouts?
Then try using fresh green pea sprouts! These are guaranteed to uplift any noodle, spring roll, salad, or savory recipe.
The best thing about using green pea sprouts is that they maintain most of their original flavor — this means that you can enjoy them like regular peas, but with an added crunch!
Bean sprouts are a versatile food that can also be grown at home — but due to the risk of contamination and their low-shelf life, you might be better off using other healthier alternatives.
Now that you know all about the substitutes for bean sprouts, here are some related questions.
Can you use shredded carrots as a substitute for bean sprouts?
Yes and no. Shredded carrots may offer the same crunchy texture, but will only be a viable substitute in selected dishes due to their noticeable flavor.
If your goal is to add crunch to simple salads, noodle dishes, or Chinese recipes, then you may easily use shredded carrots – but avoid using them in recipes that specifically call for a crunchy but bland vegetable, like bean sprouts.
Can you sprout any type of bean?
Yes. You can sprout any type of bean, legume, seed, or nut! Sprouting is a very easy process and requires minimal effort and care. Just soak the beans in water and set them aside in a cool and dark place with a damp cloth until they sprout.
Please note that while you can sprout multiple foods, you should avoid consuming them to prevent health risks, especially if you don’t have enough experience.