All mature, dry seeds are nearly or entirely devoid of vitamin C. This is also the case for many types of grain (wheat, rice, maize, etc) and legumes (peas and beans), as well as for flours made from them. With germination, however, vitamin C synthesis begins almost immediately. During World War I, in the absence of fresh fruits and vegetables, germinated pulses were recommended in Dutch army rations as a source of vitamin C (Carpenter, 1986). Germinated pulses are common in the diets of people in certain parts of India and have also been used in child welfare centres as an inexpensive source of vitamin C (Bhagvat & Rao 1942). Sprouted pulses were also used in India and by the Russians during World War II.
Bhagvat & Rao (1942) carried out a study to see what effect germination, and cooking and drying, have on the vitamin C content of certain pulses and cereals. The seeds were soaked for 12 hours in tap-water, spread out between 2 layers of cloth, kept moist by sprinkling a bit of water, and kept at room temperature (21°-25°C) in diffused daylight. Very little vitamin C was found after merely soaking the seeds in water from 4 to 12 hours. However, pulses and cereals rapidly synthesized vitamin C immediately after the initiation of germination. The maximum amount of vitamin C was synthesized within 48 hours, after which it remained constant for 4 days. Germinated pulses were a better source of the vitamin than germinated cereals e.g. germinated soya beans contained 10.8 mg/100 g dried material, germinated pulses contained between 30-50 mg/100 g dried material, and germinated wheat 8.8 mg/100 g dried material. At higher temperatures germination took place more rapidly than at lower temperatures, but the amount of synthesized vitamin C was less.
In the Ajmer famine of 1940, in which germinated Bengal gram had been distributed on a wide scale, it was observed that the people often threw away the shoot before eating the pulse. A considerable amount of vitamin C is lost if the sprouts are thrown away since the vitamin is apparently formed in the cotyledon and then transformed to the rapidly growing sprout. In India germinated pulses are sometimes consumed raw, but they are also commonly cooked. In order to minimize vitamin C loss, Bhagvat & Ras (1942) state that it was advisable not to prolong cooking beyond half an hour and to cook the germinated pulses in a slightly acid medium. The study also looked into the losses in respect of drying germinated pulses, which was between 11 to 26% of the vitamin content. Furthermore, it showed a progressive loss of the vitamin up to 80% when dried samples were kept at 37°C for approximately 50 days. These investigations have shown that the use of dried germinated pulses as an anti-scorbutic cannot be recommended because the loss of vitamin C during storage is too rapid. However, the authors state that the ease with which ordinary dry pulses can be germinated regularly renders unnecessary their previous germination and drying for storage. Germinating pulses and beans are potential sources of vitamin C in rations for refugee communities with poor vitamin C status. Many species of pulses produce significant quantities of vitamin C up to 5 days following germination although subsequent cooking caused marked loss of ascorbate (Riddoch et al., 1998).
It is important to note that dietary vitamin C in natural products has a distinct advantage over synthetic vitamin C, e.g. in tablet form, since food sources also provide a number of other important micronutrients, bioflavonoids, carotenoids, and pectin.