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Microgreens and Sprouts Are Not the Same Thing

fresh microgreens

When someone says the word "microgreen," what is the first thing that you think of?

"It's the baby version of the mature vegetable, of course."

"It's a sprout."

"They're really pretty, decorative plants!"

Only one of those three response above are accurate.

Microgreens, contrary to very popular belief, are not the same things as sprouts. In fact, not only do they look and taste different, but even the way in which they are grown is different.

Another difference is that microgreens and sprouts are technically at different parts of the growing cycle of any given vegetable/herb.

All plants start as a seed.

Think of a seed as an embryo. Seeds are embryos that come with a protective shell, which is called the seed coat, and in it contains all the wonderful nutrients and vitamins that the plant inside needs to burst out of that coating.

Between the protective coating and the embryo is the endosperm, which wraps around the embryo and gives the little baby nutrition.


Let's talk about sprouts, baby

Then, comes sprouting.

Sprouts are germinated seeds. What this means is that the "germ" of the seed awakes from its slumber, and becomes a real, live plant.

Using the nutrients stored in the seed, the embryo develops its stem.

Imagine a bean sprout: that's the infant plant's stem!

If you let a sprouting seed grow, then it eventually becomes a full-grown plant. But until then, what you have are crunchy, refreshing sprouts.

Oftentimes, people germinate sprouts in water. To ensure that they do not mould, those seeds are rinsed once or twice a day. Sprouts grow really quickly, and can be harvested in about four to six days.

Very little light and nutrition (none at all, actually) is needed for sprouts to grow.

Plus, they are packed in fibre, protein, essential nutrients, and enzymes. Sprouts are tasty, and great for you.

A word of caution, though: sprouting seeds require a certain amount of humidity, a condition in which bacteria thrive in.

According to, there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with sprouts since 1996.

One way to try to reduce the risk of illness is to cook the sprouts, which, hopefully, will kill all of the bacteria.

Sprouts are used in a number of dishes, mostly for their textural contrast as opposed to their visual appeal. They're relatively mild in flavor.


Tiny little baby microgreens

Microgreens are the result of the cotyledon growth stage, which is when the first couple of leaves from a plant appear.

The "cotyledon" usually becomes the plants' first set of leaves. They're formed in the seed, and function in the same way as leaves do when it comes to photosynthesis—both convert light energy into chemical energy that the plant will use to grow.

The leaves and stems can generally be eaten, and the seeds are started in soil or peat moss, as opposed to in water like sprouts. The soil is what gives the plants nutrients.

They take a little longer to grow, around one to three weeks, depending on the plant. The seed, unlike sprouts, cannot be eaten as it's in soil.

Micros also require lots of light and good air ventilation, just like when you grow any plant in- or outdoors.

Microgreens shouldn't be confused with baby greens. Baby greens don't really fit into any growing stage in particular; they're the leafy plants that are harvested before they're really, truly mature.

So, they've developed their first set of true leaves, but they're not quite as big as they could be yet.

In terms of flavor, microgreens carry the most when compared to their younger selves (sprouts) and older siblings (baby greens or full-grown vegetables).

Many studies have also shown that, depending on the variety, microgreens are more concentrated in nutritional value than their mature counterparts.

fresh microgreens

In short

To sum it up, here are the differences between microgreens and sprouts:

  • Microgreens are grown in soil; sprouts germinate in water
  • The leaves and stems of microgreens can be eaten; the "stem" and seed of sprouts can be eaten
  • Microgreens take around one to three weeks to grow, depending on the variety; sprouts take under a week to grow
  • Microgreens are packed with flavor and are often used as garnishes; sprouts are great for crunch

Hopefully, this helped dispel some misconceptions and confusion regarding microgreens and sprouts.

Urban Cultivator units grow microgreens, and because of the machines' automated functions, the grow times are shortened, meaning you can harvest delicious greens quicker.

To learn more about microgreens, and why you should care, read this.

Next time someone asks about "sprouts," you'll know if to ask if they really mean microgreens!

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18 Responses for "Microgreens and Sprouts Are Not the Same Thing"

  1. adjie says:


    it's means you can't used Seeds that labeled for sprout for growing as microgreens, is there any specific seeds for microgreens, it is same seeds for grow leave ?

    sometime still confusing.

    great article is give me a new horizon as grower.

  2. Nicolas says:

    Your site is very informative and well written. Thank you.

    As far as you know, are there any sprouts (commun or more exotic varieties; teff, etc.) that can only be consumed as sprouts and should not be eaten as microgreens?

    Thank you again for your excellent site and hard work putting all this together.

  3. SEAN says:

    Hi there, i'm keen on growing micro-greens and was wondering if i can only use micro-green seeds or am i also able to use normal seeds and sprouts??

  4. […] more information check out a few of these sites: Micro vs Sprout by Steamy Kitchen’s sprout/micro/baby […]

  5. Diana says:

    Just for clarification, the seeds are the same though? The only difference is the stage / way the seed is grown i.e. Seeds labeled either for sprouting seeds or microgreen seeds are actually the same?

  6. Pedro says:

    Hello !
    I want to start having my own microgreens but I read online that you need special seeds for them , since I Will eat them with my family , I would like to know if it's alright if I don't use special seeds to grow them
    Kind Regards from Portugal

    • Cyberdeck says:

      If you want to pick which seeds to use for either micro greens or sprouts, you need to look up each plant and if it is edible to eat the plant. Some plants are grown for their fruit or seed only and the rest of the plant is toxic. Milk thistle seeds are great for your liver. But the plant is bad for you. Leaves, stems, roots, all bad.

  7. How to Grow Microgreens Indoors | Eco Peanut says:

    Microgreens are commonly referred to as “vegetable confetti,” and can often be mistaken for sprouts.

  8. Daniel says:

    All seeds are the same, at least they came from the same plants. Difference is usually the quality due to selection process or additional treatment to help them grow better.
    So, seeds for bird feeding is not recommended but seeds to grow plants and for sprout are not much different. Check for the variety though as it may have slight different taste..

  9. Daniel says:

    All seeds are the same, at least they came from the same plants. Difference is usually the quality due to selection process or additional treatment to help them grow better.
    So, seeds for bird feeding or diet meals is not recommended but seeds to grow plants and for sprout are specially treated to ensure higher growing rate. Check for the variety though as it may have slight different taste..

  10. St8kout says:

    Yeah, I've noticed that sprouts and microgreens are grown the same way, the only difference is that microgreens use soil. However, all these websites that sell microgreen kits use such things as hemp pads and coconut coirs as the 'soil.'

    So how are the microgreens getting nutrients from these?

    • Gail Gardner says:

      No, that isn't accurate. Microgreens can be grown on soil or on other materials.

      Sprouts are not grown on anything. They are typically sprouting in jars or containers using only water and air.

    • Ross says:

      All the nutrition in the micro-green is in the seed, not the growing media. You harvest them very soon after the green leaves form. They will be far more nutritious than a sprout or full grown plant. You can also use peat or other seed starting media, if it's the right depth to support the small plant. Bottom watering is preferred.

  11. Jaswinder Kaur says:

    The explanation between the two is explained so nicely with words as well as Pictures.


  12. broccoli sprouts says:

    This is very fascinating, You're a very professional blogger.

    I have joined your rss feed and sit up for in search of more of your great post.
    Additionally, I have shared your site in my social networks

  13. INNA Radzinsky says:

    When growing sprouts in soil, can the same soil be used more than once for planting?
    Or, after harvesting, I need to empty the tray, clean it and fill with the new growing substance (i.e. soil)

  14. INNA Radzinsky says:

    If the sprouts left longer in the soil, do the become edible microgreens or they become useless?

  15. dave says:

    Good Grief! This whole article should have just stated "The difference is 10 days, it's just that much older a plant".

    Trying to put all these human labels on things is very silly. The plants don't care one way or the other.

    There is no difference in the seeds between sprouts, and microgreens, and the seed for the entire mature plant, if the seller is being diligent and honest, but "sometimes" they will call seed sprouts if there is doubt how pure they are, hoping the customer will not notice that it's not the right plant because it didn't get big enough to make a positive identification.

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