People often get confused between microgreens and sprouts. Both are tiny versions of adult plants with incredible nutritious value. Although, the two are far from alike.
Until a few years ago, sprouts were all the rage. However, with the introduction of microgreens, all the attention has shifted to them.
The growing health consciousness in society has led to microgreens becoming exceedingly popular. They have become a favorite among chefs as well as nutritionists as a health food staple.
Sprouts and microgreens have multiple differences. The circumstances in which they are grown, their harvesting method, and their uses; all differ from each other.
Read on the following content to find out more about microgreens and sprouts.
Table of Contents
What Are They?
First, we need to understand what microgreens and sprouts are.
1. What Are Microgreens?
Microgreens are essentially baby plants. They are high in nutrition, as compared to their adult versions. The seedlings of most vegetables, grains, or herbs can be consumed shortly after they germinate.
Microgreens are the greens of these seeds, cultivated in a growing medium and harvested within two weeks of planting. This is how long the seeds take to develop their first set of true leaves.
Do not confuse baby greens with microgreens. Baby greens are adolescent greens. Commonly found microgreens are kale, beets, red cabbage, and broccoli microgreens.
Microgreens were made popular via cooking shows and restaurants. They can now be found in almost all grocery stores. They have been labeled as superfoods. Moreover, they add great flavor and color to dishes.
Almost any herb, grain, vegetable, or legume can be grown as a microgreen. They are generally richer in beta carotene and vitamin C than sprouts. They need to be cut off just above the soil at a few inches tall.
Before cutting, ensure that they have cotyledons or one set of true leaves, depending upon the variety of microgreens.
2. What Are Sprouts?
Sprouts are nothing but seedlings that germinate and transform into young plants. They are grown in hydroponic systems, meaning they only use water. Sprouts can be harvested when they are just a few days old.
As opposed to microgreens, all parts of the sprout are eaten; the shoot, the root, and the leaves. For decades, sprouts have been commonly available at grocery stores ad supermarkets. Commonly found products are alfalfa sprouts and mung bean sprouts.
Sprouts were lauded for their nutrients and included in raw diets for a long time before microgreens stole the show. They are said to have anti-diabetic properties and help in regulating blood sugar.
Both sprouts and microgreens are grown in different mediums. Let us explore them.
Growing Medium For Microgreens
The basic requirements for growing microgreens are a sunny spot, a spray bottle, a growing container, and organic seeds. If you do not receive enough sun exposure in your area, use a grow light.
Microgreens can thrive in soil-based mediums as well as soil-less ones. Soil-less mediums can vary from perlite and vermiculite or coir mixes to pre-formed growing mats already cut to size.
1. Containers for Microgreens
You will require a shallow vessel for growing microgreens. If you’re feeling experimental, try using a pyrex pie pan, a plastic clamshell, a casserole dish, or any shallow dish or tray.
However, if you plan on growing microgreens intensively, invest in specially-designed trays. For beginners, it is recommended to use a container with drainage holes. If you are watering your greens with a spray bottle, the drainage holes are not a compulsion.
2. Microgreen Seeds
There is a wide range of seeds available for growing microgreens. Always look for organic seeds. It is important because these plants are consumed at a very young age and likely along with some seed husk.
It has been observed that microgreens usually taste like the mature version of the plant their seed would grow up to be. Some commonly used seeds are cilantro, arugula, fenugreek, buckwheat, peas, radishes, and broccoli seeds.
Growing Medium For Sprouts
Sprouting can be tricky compared to cultivating microgreens. However, they germinate much faster. You can grow two to three rotations of sprouts in the time that one microgreen rotation takes. The basic requirements are just a container and some seeds.
1. Containers For Sprouts
Sprouts are most commonly grown in glass jars or specialized containers. The container should be washed once or twice during a day and should allow easy soaking.
There are different kinds of screens designed to be explicitly used for growing sprouts in mason jars. Certain types of sprouts can also be grown in special bags that can be hung over the sink for draining.
2. Sprout Seeds
Almost any legume, nut, or seed can be sprouted. Chickpeas, alfalfa, kale, onions, clover, and mung beans are just a few examples.
Even though all seeds can sprout, you should avoid some because they either don’t sprout well or are not good for you. Mucilaginous seeds such as flaxseed and chia seed can be tricky to sprout.
Kidney beans should also not be sprouted for eating raw, as they contain toxins that may lead to vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea in some people. Quinoa sprouts can cause an allergic reaction.
While you can use any seed for sprouting, it is recommended to use sprouting specific seeds as they are free of E. coli and Salmonella. These seeds are free of any pathogens or harmful bacteria.
While you can grow microgreens as well as sprouts at home, there is a difference in the process.
1. Growing Microgreens
Let us walk through the steps that need to be followed for growing microgreens at home.
Step 1: Pour Oil Into A Shallow Tray
To grow microgreens at home, get a shallow seeding tray with a maximum depth of 2 inches. Alternatively, you could get a shallow pot with a drainage hole.
Use light potting soil, like the ones recommended for seed starting, to fill the tray or pot up to the top. The soil should be one to two inches deep.
If you can’t find microgreen trays and decide to use household items such as egg cartons or take-out containers, drill holes into them for adequate drainage.
Step 2: Plant The Seeds
Once the tray is ready, moisten the soil with the help of a spray bottle. Sprinkle seeds over the soil in an even manner. They should be close, without touching each other or getting layered or piled. Sift a thin layer of soil on top to cover the seeds. Use your spray bottle once again to moisten the surface of the soil.
Step 3: Provide Adequate Water and Light
Place the trays in a south-facing or west-facing window. Ensure the temperature of the room is between 60°F to 70°F at all times. Keep the soil by spraying some water every day. The best time for misting is in the morning. Make sure that the soil does not dry out.
Step 4: Additional Light And Water
In three to five days, you will notice the greens poking through the surface of the soil. Here on, you need to ensure that these microgreens get 12 to 14 hours of light every day.
This should not be difficult during summers in the United States. However, for colder regions and darker times of the year, consider investing in a grow light.
Don’t forget to keep the soil moist at the roots. At the same time, be careful not to saturate the leaves.
Step 5: Harvesting
You can spin and prep your greens when the seedlings attain a height of one to two inches tall. Rinse well and dry them with the help of paper towels or a salad spinner.
Now that we know how to grow microgreens, let us also understand how to go about growing sprouts.
Step 1: Soak The Seeds
In general, you should be using three parts water to one part seeds. However, the difference in seeds may lead to a difference in the quantities of water soaked up. The number of seeds you soak will depend upon the seed, the container size, and the results that you’d like.
Place the seeds in a clean mason jar and cover them with cool water. Stir well to ensure all the seeds are wet. It is not important to cover this jar.
If you do want to cover the jar, use either a sprouter lid or a piece of naturally breathable fabric, such as muslin or cheesecloth. Depending upon the seed you’ve used, set it aside and let it soak for the required amount of time.
Step 2: Drain And Rinse The Sprouts
After the soaking time is over, the sprouts need to be drained. For those using sprouting lids, simply tip the jar over the sink and let the water escape.
If you used a cloth to cover the top, remove the fabric and the rubber band used to secure it. Place a fine-mesh sieve over the jar and tip it over a sink to drain out.
Then, rinse the jar by adding fresh and cool water, swirling it around, and throwing it out of the jar. Shake out as much water as you possibly can.
Draining sprouts is an important step. After that, set the jar in any spot, with or without sunlight. However, the jar should be able to breathe, so avoid storing it inside cabinets. You could leave them on your kitchen counter.
Step 3: Rinse, Drain, and Repeat
You need to visit your sprouts twice a day to repeat the rinsing and draining process. Rinse them with cool, fresh water and drain the excess.
You might start observing baby sprouts within a couple of days. They can be harvested at any stage but are generally consumed once they are half to two inches long. You can continue rinsing and draining till you get your desired length.
Step 4: Harvesting
Before harvesting, give your sprouts one final rinse and drain. After that, remove the jar’s lid and dump the sprouts on a clean and absorbent kitchen towel. Spread them and let them air dry for half to one hour.
Harvesting : Microgreens vs. Sprouts
Once you’ve properly grown your sprouts and microgreens, it’s time for harvesting.
1. Harvesting Microgreens
Your plants should be ready for harvesting within two to three weeks of planting, depending upon the type of seeds you’ve used. The telltale sign of microgreens prepared to be harvested are their first set of true leaves. It means that the leaves look like actual plant leaves. They are called cotyledons.
To harvest, do not pull your microgreens out of the soil. You’ll end up disturbing the plant roots. Instead, grab a pair of sharp scissors and snip the microgreens just above the soil line.
If you do not want to harvest your entire microgreen tray at once, you can snip them in batches. Harvest a few rows or patches at a time. Make sure that you leave enough space for the leftover microgreens to lean while growing.
2. Harvesting Sprouts
Sprouts are ready for harvesting when their hulls or seed covers drop or float while rinsing. Grain sprouts are expected to attain the length of the grain itself. Mung bean sprouts grow up to about two inches tall while other sprouts grow up to one inch tall.
One final time, rinse the seeds with fresh water and remove any leftover seed hulls. While some seed covers are edible, others may be too tough.
As your sprouts begin to germinate, move them to a bright spot. They should receive indirect sunlight for a day to allow the cotyledons to green up with chlorophyll and carotene.
It takes sprouts about four to six days to get ready for harvesting. After that, rinse them well and dry them using a paper towel or a salad spinner.
Storing: Microgreens vs. Sprouts
It is essential to store any edible product at the right temperature it requires so that it stays edible for the longest period. Different substances need different temperature ranges to remain fresh and not get rotten up.
When it comes to extremely healthy foods such as both microgreens and sprouts, you would want to store them in conditions that best let them be fresh and retain their goodness.
1. How To Store Microgreens?
Growing microgreens is becoming a widespread practice among many folks. However, you will not be getting a fresh supply of those healthy plants every single day. This is why one needs to learn how to store them in the right way.
One can try a staggered planting schedule wherein the harvesting time or period will be extended, and you can harvest a small number of microgreens per day.
However, at any point, one can miss one day, or one can have way too many microgreens, which again brings us to the point where we need to learn how to store microgreens.
Microgreens are incredibly healthy and nutritious. They offer 4-5 times the minerals and vitamins that a mature plant would provide, allowing them to be healthy and taste amazing.
Storing fresh microgreens
The best place to keep your microgreens is undoubtedly in the fridge. Keeping the microgreens cool is the best way to prevent mold growth on them.
Mold can grow very quickly on your microgreens. Not only can it affect the taste, but it can also carry diseases among with it that can get into your body when you eat them.
After harvesting microgreens, you will have to remember to remove any moisture from them. Moisture causes sogginess, mold and removes the crispy texture of the plants.
The best way to remove moisture is by keeping the microgreens in between two paper towels. Dab the paper towels together in a gentle manner. Since microgreens can be pretty delicate, ensure you are not very harsh with them. If you put too much pressure, you can squish them or break them.
If you like to wash the microgreens before you store them, you can use cool water. Avoid hot and cold water as that can damage them and lessen nutritional content.
Although air circulation is good for the plant to grow without any mold, it is not the best way to store them. The movement of air within the microgreens can cause them to dry out too soon. You can keep a slightly damp paper towel in the storage bag and keep the bag open. It still needs to be in the fridge during storage.
Take time while harvesting your microgreens. They shouldn’t be at room temperature for too long a period. To ensure they are fresh, keep your microgreens in their container up to the very end. It will make sure that you get to taste them fresh every time.
2. How To Store Sprouts?
You can store sprouts in the fridge, but remember to avoid keeping them crowded. Sprouts are breathing and alive. If you keep sprouts in an air-tight sealed container, the sprouts cannot breathe. They start to break down and ultimately die due to anaerobic conditions.
Do not place sprouts in the fridge when they are wet. This causes an anaerobic condition again and reduces their shelf-life. You can remove the water using a paper towel after washing them. Do not place sprouts under high airflow. Too much airflow can lead to the drying of the sprouts.
You can place the sprouts in a bowl covered with a plastic food wrap with holes poked into it with a toothpick. It might take you a while to figure out how many holes to make on the wrap. There need to be enough holes to let sprouts breathe. The sprouts should not dry out, and the condensation should be let out.
There are also bags made just for sprouts to let them have enough air.
Which Is Healthier: Microgreens vs. Sprouts?
Certain differences exist between sprouts and microgreens, although they look pretty similar in appearance. Microgreens, in general, contain a higher fiber level when compared to sprouts. Microgreens are much more nutritious and healthy when you compare them to sprouts.
This does not mean that sprouts are not healthy enough. In fact, sprouts contain a lot of enzymes, much more than those present in many raw fruits and vegetables. The body uses the enzymes in sprouts for bodily functions.
However, there is one health risk when it comes to sprouts. It is that sprouting can cause food poisoning to the person. Although microgreens are pretty expensive, they are way healthier than sprouts. Microgreens can also be used in many more ways when compared to sprouts.
Microgreens are filled with nutrients such as iron, potassium, zinc, copper, and magnesium. Microgreens also contain many antioxidants. The nutrients in microgreens are concentrated, so you are consuming a lot of nutrients even by having a small quantity.
Microgreens can help when someone suffers from heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and certain cancers as well. There is a lot more info and articles on the internet about the beneficial uses and nutrients in microgreens, including broccoli microgreens and microgreen seeds.
This article has shown you all about what microgreens and sprouts are. Although they look similar, they are very different from each other, not just in price but also the nutrient levels. Microgreens and sprouts can be included in your diet every day.
However, microgreens are more versatile and can be eaten in many foods and ways. Both sprouts and microgreens are worth adding to your diet. It is even better if you grow them at home, as you will receive fresh produce every time. Microgreens can also be given to a child.
Also, you don’t have to spend money every time you buy these from the market. It is especially useful for people who cannot eat too much quantity of food at once, as it is enough if you eat a small quantity of microgreens or sprouts.
They are nutrient-dense foods and also easy to carry if you are traveling. It is vital not to skip your daily vegetables, but there are various nutrients stored in the seed and microgreens.
James Fields is the founder of Gardener to Farmer. His passion for gardening goes back to his childhood days when he would visit his grandfather during the holidays and help him with the plants in the backyard. This has now translated to creating a dependable resource for gardening.