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 Foodsafety.gov, 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.
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!