Microgreens vs Sprouts: What Are They?

In this article, we will explore the details of microgreens vs sprouts, shedding light on their unique characteristics and helping you understand which one might be the perfect addition to your next meal.

Microgreens and sprouts have gained immense popularity in the culinary world in recent years, with their vibrant colors, delicate textures, and concentrated flavors adding a delightful twist to various dishes. 

While they may seem similar at first glance, microgreens, and sprouts are actually two distinct forms of young plants that differ not only in appearance but also in cultivation methods and nutritional profiles. 

Find out more below!

What are Microgreens?

Microgreens are young, tender greens harvested just a few days after germination.

They are packed with intense flavors and vibrant colors, making them a popular choice among chefs and health enthusiasts alike. 

Microgreen sprouts in kids hands raw sprouts, microgreens, healthy eating concept. sprouting microgreens. seed germination at home. vegan and healthy eating concept. growing sprouts. organic foods

Despite their small size, microgreens offer a concentrated dose of nutrients, often containing higher levels of vitamins and minerals compared to their mature counterparts.

These tiny greens can be grown from various types of vegetable, herb, or leafy green seeds. 

Some common examples include broccoli, kale, arugula, radish, sunflower, basil, cilantro, and many more. The seeds are sown densely in trays or containers filled with soil or other growing mediums, such as homemade compost or growing mats.

Once the seeds have sprouted and developed their first set of leaves (cotyledons), they can be harvested as microgreens. They would be about 1-3 inches tall at this stage.

This typically happens within 1-3 weeks after planting, depending on the variety and desired maturity level. 

Microgreens are usually harvested by cutting them just above the soil level using scissors or a sharp knife.

What are Sprouts?

In other words, sprouts are germinated seeds that have just begun developing roots but haven’t yet formed leaves or stems.

Sprouting involves soaking seeds in water for several hours and then allowing them to germinate in a warm and humid environment until they develop young shoots.

Onion sprouts, healthy food concept on wooden background

Sprouting time can vary depending on the type of seed or legume you choose. Generally, sprouts require anywhere from 2 to 7 days before they reach an ideal stage for eating.

Sprouts are an excellent source of vitamins A, B, C, and E. They also contain carotenes, chlorophyll, flavonoids, and other phytonutrients. These nutrients work together to boost immunity, fight disease, and promote overall health.

In addition to their nutritional value, sprouts are also very versatile. They can be added to salads, sandwiches, soups, and stir-fries. They can also be juiced or blended into smoothies. Sprouts can even be used as a garnish or decoration on top of dishes.

Commonly used sprouts include mung bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli sprouts, and lentil sprouts.

Nutritional Profile of Microgreens vs Sprouts

In terms of nutrition, microgreens tend to be more nutrient-dense than sprouts for different reasons.

Research shows that microgreens can contain up to 40 times more vitamins and minerals than mature plants! They are particularly rich in vitamins C, K, E, beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A), folate, iron, potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants.

Sprouts also offer nutrients but generally have lower levels of certain ones compared to microgreens.

However, they excel at providing enzymes that aid digestion by breaking down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars for easier absorption. Sprouts like alfalfa or mung bean sprouts contain high amounts of fiber as well.

Why Microgreens are Nutrient Dense than Sprouts

1. Growing environment

Sprouts are typically grown without soil using only water, which results in quick germination but lower nutrient concentration compared to soil-grown crops like microgreens.

2. Growing Duration

Sprouts typically require only a few days of germination before they are harvested, whereas microgreens are allowed more time to develop fully. This extended growth period allows microgreens to accumulate a richer nutrient profile.

3. Exposure to Light

Microgreens are grown in natural or artificial light conditions that mimic sunlight, enabling them to photosynthesize effectively. As a result, they produce higher levels of vitamins such as vitamin C and beta-carotene than sprouts that typically grow in darkness during germination.

4. Root System Development

Microgreens possess well-developed root systems as they are grown in soil or other growing mediums. These roots allow them to access essential nutrients from the growing medium, resulting in increased nutrient uptake and, ultimately, higher vitamin content than sprouts lacking roots.

5. Leaf Formation

Unlike sprouts, which consist mainly of young shoots, microgreens have fully developed leaves at harvest time.

Leaves play a crucial role in photosynthesis by absorbing sunlight and converting it into energy-rich compounds like vitamins A, C, E, K, and folate (B9).

Since sprout growth is halted before leaf formation occurs significantly, their overall vitamin content remains relatively low.

spoonful of mustard sprouts

Flavor Profiles of Microgreens vs Sprouts

Here are the distinctive flavor characteristics of microgreens and sprouts.

Microgreens

  • Flavor: Microgreens boast a wide range of flavors, from mild and earthy to spicy and tangy. Varieties like broccoli microgreens have a slightly bitter taste with hints of cabbage or mustard, while pea shoots provide a sweet pea-like flavor. Radish microgreens are known for their peppery kick, while sunflower shoots offer a nutty undertone.
  • Texture: Microgreens have a tender and delicate texture with tiny stems and leaves that add a pleasant crunch to dishes. Their delicate texture allows for easy incorporation into salads, sandwiches, wraps, or as garnishes on various meals.
  • Intensity: Despite their small size, microgreens pack an intense flavor punch due to their high concentration of nutrients. While some may find them more potent than mature vegetables or herbs, this intensity contributes depth and complexity to dishes.

Sprouts

  • Flavor: Sprouts generally have milder flavors compared to microgreens. They possess subtle earthy notes with varying degrees of sweetness depending on the type of seed used for sprouting, such as alfalfa or mung beans.
  • Texture: Sprouts consist of young shoots without fully developed leaves or roots, making them softer in texture compared to microgreens.

Culinary Uses:

If you have no idea of how to utilize your microgreens or sprouts in recipes, here are some ideas to try:

Microgreens

  • Salad Enhancers: Microgreens make excellent additions to salads, adding bursts of flavor and visual appeal.
  • Garnishes: Top your favorite soups, sandwiches, or main dishes with microgreens for an extra touch of freshness.
  • Sandwich Fillings: Swap traditional lettuce for microgreen varieties like radish or arugula to add an exciting punch to your sandwich fillings.
  • Stir-Fry Boosters: Toss microgreens into stir-fries towards the end of cooking for a quick burst of color and flavor.

Sprouts

  • Sandwich Crunch: Add sprouts like alfalfa or clover to your sandwiches for added texture without overpowering the other ingredients.
  • Snack Time Delights: Enjoy sprouts as a healthy snack by themselves or mixed with other vegetables.
  • Light Soups and Stews: Sprinkle some fresh sprouts on top of light soups or stews just before serving for some crunch and extra nutrients.
  • Sandwich Spread: Mash sprouts with avocado or hummus to create a delicious spread for your sandwiches.

Safety Concerns of Microgreens vs Sprouts

Microgreens

When grown properly using good agricultural practices, microgreens have minimal safety concerns as they do not require soaking or warm conditions for growth as sprouts do. This reduces the risk of contamination by harmful bacteria such as Salmonella or E.coli.

Sprouts

Sprouting carries a higher risk of foodborne illnesses due to favorable conditions for bacterial growth during germination. The warm and moist environment required for sprout production can promote bacterial multiplication if proper sanitation practices aren’t followed meticulously.

tray of kale microgreens

How To Grow Microgreens Vs Sprouts

Here are the basics of growing microgreens versus sprouts to help you get started from the comfort of your home.

Microgreens

  1. Selecting Seeds

Choosing the right seeds is crucial for successful microgreen cultivation. Opt for organic seeds specifically labelled for microgreen production. Popular options include broccoli, kale, radish, sunflower, pea shoots, or basil.

2. Preparing Containers:

Use shallow trays or containers with drainage holes to prevent waterlogging. Sterilize the containers before use to avoid any potential disease or pest issues.

3. Soil Selection:

Select a high-quality sterile soil mix suitable for seed starting or opt for specialized microgreen growing mats made from coco coir or hemp fibers – both excellent alternatives that retain moisture while allowing sufficient air circulation.

4. Sowing Seeds:

Evenly spread the seeds over the prepared container without overcrowding them; aim for approximately 1-2 tablespoons per tray (depending on the variety). Gently press them into the soil surface without burying them too deep.

5. Watering and Light Conditions:

Water your microgreens gently using a mist sprayer until evenly moistened; be careful not to wash away the seeds. Place trays in a well-lit area near a south-facing window or under grow lights (if natural sunlight is insufficient), ensuring they receive at least 6-8 hours of indirect light each day.

6. Germination Phase:

Cover your trays with another flat tray or plastic wrap to create humidity and encourage faster germination rates (around 2-4 days). Once most seeds have sprouted above soil level, remove covers carefully to expose them to light fully.

7. Care and Maintenance:

Continue watering your microgreens daily, preferably using a spray bottle or misting nozzle to prevent overwatering. Also, ensure proper air circulation through open windows or fans.

8. Harvesting:

Microgreens are typically ready for harvest within 1-3 weeks after developing their first set of true leaves while still being small and tender.

Sprouts

1.Add half a cup of your desired seeds in a large bowl. Pick and discard any debris, including stones and wrinkled or broken seeds.

2. Rinse them well (about three times) in a lot of water while rubbing them gently between your hands until the water is clear.

3. Once clean, soak them in boiled and cooled water or dechlorinated water for about 9-12 hours. Lightly cover the bowl with a mess basket to allow the free flow of air to prevent an odor from forming.

4. Discard the water, rinse with clean water a few times, and drain through a colander.From this point, there are two methods you can use to sprout your seeds:

Method 1
  • Transfer your seeds into a jar or container with a lid, then cover them partially. Keep in a dark corner away from direct sunlight. Repeat this process each morning until your sprouts form.
Method 2
  • The second method involves rinsing the seeds and draining any excess water with a clean cotton or muslin cloth. Simply place the cloth over a bowl and pour in your drained seeds.
  • Hold all corners of the cloth, roll tightly, and make a knot to bundle your seeds together. Place in a container and cover partially. Store in a warm place away from direct sunlight.
  • Depending on the weather, some seeds may begin to sprout after 3-4 hours.
  • After about 7 hours, sprinkle some water, allow it to drain, and bundle them again for another 12 hours. You should be able to see the sprouts beginning to form through the cloth.
  • Sprinkling the water allows the seeds to stay moist but not dripping, which can cause your sprouts to rot.
  • Sprouted seeds can be stored in a glass container in the fridge for 3-4 days, but eating them while fresh is always good.

While seeds sprouted within 24 hours can be eaten raw, some, like beans, take longer, which increases the risk of carrying microorganisms. For such, it’s always good to stir fry or steam them before consumption.

The Difference Between Microgreens and Sprouts

 

Microgreens

Sprouts

Growing medium

  • Grown in soil or soil-like mediums
  • Germinate in water; no soil needed

Parts eaten

  • Leaves and stems of microgreens can be eaten
  • “Stem” and seeds of sprouts can be eaten

Germination time

  • Ready after 7-21 days
  • Ready after 2-5 days

Forms of eating

  • Best eaten raw
  • Best when slightly steamed or stir-fried

Sunlight

  • Require sufficient exposure to sunlight
  • Grown in dark and moist conditions

Seeds

  • A low number of seeds is required
  • A large number of seeds are needed

Nutrients

  • Often high in nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
  • Although nutritious, sprouts contain fewer amounts of most nutrients apart from enzymes

More About Vegetables:

Final Thoughts

While microgreens and sprouts may share some similarities in terms of their nutritional value and ease of cultivation, they are distinct in terms of taste, appearance, and growing methods.

Microgreens offer a wider range of flavors, textures, and colors that can elevate the culinary experience. Furthermore, their higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals make them an excellent addition to any diet.

On the other hand, sprouts provide a quick and affordable way to enjoy fresh greens all year round. Ultimately, whether you choose microgreens or sprouts depends on your personal preferences and needs.

Whichever path you take, incorporating these small but mighty plants into your meals can undoubtedly enhance both the taste and nutrition of your dishes.

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