The terms sprouts and microgreens are quite common these days and are often being used interchangeably. This can give the impression, that they are the same thing. But they are not. There are some important and distinct difference between microgreens vs. sprouts.
Both are the young edible shoots of a plant but microgreens are usually a little more mature shoots than sprouts and therefore take a little longer to grow. Micogreens and sprouts have slightly different nutrition profiles, meaning that sprouts are higher in some nutrients but microgreens are higher in others. When entering the world of sprouts and microgreens, it is important to fully understand the difference between sprouts and microgreens. As I know it can be very confusing (especially at the start) here is a simple way of breaking down the difference between those two superfoods.
What are sprouts?
Let’s start at the beginning and identify what sprouts even are. Sprouts are the germinated seeds of plants. In other words, they’re the embryonic beginnings of a plant that are harvested and eaten before they have time to develop into a full-grown plant. Sprouts are grown hydroponically without any soil or growing medium. All you need are seeds and some water. The ideal equipment for growing sprouts is to use a glass jar with a special sprouting lid. Sprouts do not require a lot of light to grow.
Sprouts won’t form real leaves but they will make seed leaves, also known as cotyledon. The most common type of sprouts are bean, pea and alfalfa. Sprouts are typically eaten as a raw vegetable or added to sandwiches or salads. The sprout is eaten whole, including stem, seed, root and the seed leaves. They’re also often used in soups and stews as a nutritional supplement.
What are microgreens?
Microgreens are the young, tender shoots of a plant that are harvested before they reach full maturity. To be considered a microgreen, they need to be harvested within two weeks from when they were planted. Microgreens can also be grown hydroponically, however they require some kind of growing medium. Some of the most common growing mediums are rock wool, perlite or coco peat. Microgreens can also be grown in soil instead of using a growing medium.
Contrary to sprouts, microgreens need a lot of o light in order to grow and they require very good air ventilation during the growing process. Microgreens will form actual leaves, not just seed leaves like sprouts. With microgreens, the seed and roots are not eaten. They are being cut off just above the soil or growing medium, only the stem and leaves are being eaten. Microgreens are perfect as toppings on soups, salads or sandwiches.
What is the difference between microgreens and sprouts?
So now that we understand what sprouts and microgreens are, let’s look at the key difference between the two of them.
- ready to be harvested after 3-5 days
- about 5-8 cm long
- grown hydroponically
- not forming real leaves, only seed leaves
- eaten whole (inc. seed and roots)
- not very dependent on light to grow
- perfect to add crunch to a dish
- okay with less air ventilation
- cheaper than microgreens
- ready to be harvest after 7-14 days
- about 10-15 cm long
- grown in soil or in a growing medium
- forming true leaves
- not eaten whole but cut off above the roots
- very dependent on light to grow
- perfect as soup, salad or sandwich toppings
- requiring very good air ventilation
- more expensive than sprouts
How to Use Sprouts & Microgreens
Sprouts and microgreens are a great addition to meals. They are packed with important vitamins and nutrients, an easy, affordable and fun way to boost your diet. They are the perfect companion for sandwiches or salads but there are plenty more options:
- use them in a buddha bowl
- use them as a topping on crackers
- add them to summer rolls
- roll them into your homemade sushi
- add them to your smoothie
- make pesto out of them
- add them to an omelette
- incorporated them into curries
There are so many options and experimenting on how to use your homegrown sprouts and microgreens is a lot of fun. Whichever way you use them, they will always add some colour, texture, vitamins, fibre and phytochemicals to your meals.
Which tastes better – microgreens or sprouts?
Just as it is a common misconception that sprouts and microgreens are the same thing, it is also a common misconception that they taste the same. They don’t! They actually have quite some interesting difference when it comes to taste and flavour profiles.
Because sprouts are the much younger stage of a plant, the flavours are less developed and therefore they usually have a milder taste compared to microgreens. It does depend on the type of sprout though. Alfalfa is considered to be the mildest tasting sprout (therefore perfect for sprouting beginners), whilst beet, radish and broccoli sprouts can have a bit more kick to them. Sprouts have a tougher, crunchier texture whilst being soft and watery on the inside.
Microgreens are left to grow for longer than sprouts, which gives them more time to develop their flavour. They taste more intense compared to their sprouted counterparts but are less firm in texture. Just like with sprouts, different microgreen seeds have different flavour profiles. Radish microgreens for example have quite a spicy kick, sunflower microgreens taste nutty with a hint of lemon and pea shoots are on the milder and sweeter side. People who are new to sprouts and microgreens, might not enjoy the stronger flavours at first, which is why sprouts are usually the best way to start.
Which is more nutritious – microgreens or sprouts?
Both, sprouts and microgreens are highly nutritious and are often referred to as superfoods. Whilst they are both packed with nutrients, the type and intensity of these nutrients varies.
Sprouts are very high in fibre, enzymes and protein. Even though different seed varieties have a different nutritional profile, sprouts are typically high in vitamin B, C, and A, beta carotene, niacin and omega-3-fatty-acids. Especially broccoli sprouts are also incredibly high in sulforaphane. Sprouts are also a great source of zinc, copper, magnesium, potassium and iron. The process of sprouting also helps to break down anti-nutrients in the seeds, making them very easy to digest. As sprouts are not grown in a medium but just by using water, all the nutrients found in sprouts comes from the seed. Sprouts are eaten whole (including seeds and roots), so you get the full amount of nutrients.
Just as with sprouts, different microgreens varieties have different nutrients. Generally microgreens are high in vitamin C and E and are just like sprouts a great source of potassium, zinc, copper, magnesium and iron. Because microgreens have a little more time to develop than sprouts, the amount of vitamins and nutrients can often be higher than in sprouts. But what both types, sprouts and microgreens, have in common, is that they boast about 40-50 times the nutritional value compared to the fully grown plant. So whichever one you choose, it is always a good idea to incorporate more sprouts or/and microgreens into your meals.
How do you grow microgreens?
To grow microgreens you will need a container that is about 5cm deep and has holes at the bottom for water to drain. Then you need the growing medium. This can be soil, like regular potting soil (this version is a little messier) or you can use something like coconut coir, rock wool, perlite or coco peat. You will also need some organic seeds and a warm and sunny place for your microgreens.
Fill the container with the growing medium and then sprinkle the seeds over the surface of the growing medium. Try to spread the seeds evenly. Water the seeds thoroughly but without washing them away. The easiest way to do this is by using a spray bottle and gently mist the seeds. Place the container in a warm and sunny place and continue to water your microgreens. They should be a little damp at all times, so it is advisable to spray them at least 2x per day. To avoid the water evaporating, you can place a lid over the growing container. Since microgreens need light to germinate and grow, make sure that light can pass through the lid.
After about one week the seeds should have germinated, and you should see the first green shoots. Continue to keep them moist until they are about 7-10cm in size. This should take about 2 weeks from the day you planted the seeds. To harvest your microgreens, simply cut their stems just above the growing medium. You can wash them under cold water and dry them using a salad spinner. Use them immediately or store them until you need them.
Microgreens can last up to a week in your fridge. It is important that the microgreens are completely dry before you put them in the fridge. If you know you won’t be using them all and want to store some or all of them, then avoid watering your microgreens about 24-48 hours before harvesting them. Also make sure to place them in the fridge immediately after harvesting and that the fridge stays at a consistent temperature. To avoid your microgreens drying out, store them in a glass or plastic container with a lid or use a Ziploc bag.
How do you grow sprouts?
In order to grow sprouts you will also need a few things. You will need a sprouting jar (at least 500ml, ideally 750-1000ml), a sprouting mesh lid (or cheesecloth), a holder for the sprouting jar and a tray to catch excess water. Of course you will also need some organic seeds. Since sprouts are grown hydroponically, you won’t need a growing medium.
Fill the sprouting jar with 1-2 tablespoons of seeds and add water until the jar is about 2/3 full. Close with the sprouting mesh lid or cheesecloth and let the seeds soak for 4-12 hours (depending on the seed variety). When the seeds are soaked, drain the water and rinse the seeds with fresh water a few times. Drain all the water out of the jar and place the glass upside down on to a holder or stand. Place a container underneath that catches excess water that may drip out.
From now on rinse your sprouts twice per day, ideally in the mornings and evenings. Make sure to drain them well after rinsing and then place them back on the holder. Always place them upside down to ensure water can drip out. This ensures good air flow and prevents water logging, which in turns prevents mould growing on the sprouts. After 3-7 days (depending on the seed variety) your sprouts are ready to harvest.
Harvesting sprouts is very easy. Simply open the glass jar and pour the sprouts into a bowl. Wash the sprouts in cold water and dry them in a salad spinner or pat them gently with a towel. If you consume them immediately, they don’t have to be completely dry. But if you want to store them, make sure the sprouts are as dry as possible. Make sure to thoroughly rinse your sprouting equipment before growing your next batch of sprouts.
If your sprouts are stored properly, they will last up to one week in the fridge. In order to store them properly, it is important to remove as much of the water as possible, just as mentioned when talking about how to store microgreens. If you can’t get your sprouts completely dry, a good tip is to store them together with a paper towel. This will absorb excess moisture. You can store your homegrown sprouts in an airtight plastic or glass container or a Ziploc bag.
What are the benefits of eating sprouts?
As discussed earlier, sprouts are incredibly nutritious as they are packed with many vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (especially antioxidants). At the same time they are very low in sodium, fat and calories. Sprouts have a variety of powerful health benefits, such as:
- aiding indigestion
- improving blood circulation
- strengthening our immune system
- protecting our heart
- improving our vision
- promoting healthy hair, skin and nails
- can prevent anemia
- promoting weight loss
- anti-cancerous properties
Sprouts are a great source of protein, making them especially valuable for vegans and vegetarians. They are also very high in fibre, a nutrient that most of the population is deficient in.
What are the benefits of eating microgreens?
The health benefits you can expect to gain from incorporating more microgreens into your diet are very similar to the health benefits you will experience from eating sprouts. Just like sprouts, microgreens also contain very high amounts of minerals, vitamins and beneficial plant compounds (especially antioxidants).
Microgreens can lower the risk of heart disease, which is being attributed to the high amounts of polyphenols they contain. Studies have suggested that microgreens lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.
Research has shown a connection between consuming microgreens and better blood sugar control. Especially people who suffer from diabetes might enhance the cellular uptake of sugar by incorporating plenty of microgreens into their diet.
Since microgreens are very high in antioxidants, they are considered an important food source in the fight agains Alzheimer’s disease. At the same time microgreens may also help in the fight against certain types of cancer. Again, this comes down to the high amounts of anti-oxidants, especially polyphenols, which can lower the risk of developing a variety of different cancers.
Are there any risks associated with eating microgreens?
Consuming microgreens is safe. However, there is a small risk of getting food poisoning if bacteria has grown on your microgreens. Since microgreens are grown in much drier conditions than sprouts, the risk of bacteria growth is a lot less. It is always a good idea to properly wash your microgreens after you have harvested them. If you want to be completely sure that they have absolutely no bacteria, you can blanche your microgreens. The only caveat with this is, that heat destroys a lot of the nutrients.
Another thing to keep in mind when growing microgreens is to choose a high quality growing medium, that has not been contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella. The same goes for the seeds you choose. It is important to choose high-quality organic seeds. Non-organic seeds may stem from plants which have been heavily sprayed with pesticides.
Are there any risks associated with eating sprouts?
Just like microgreens, the consumption of sprouts is generally considered as being safe. Because sprouts are grown in a damper environment, they are more prone to bacterial growth than microgreens. However, if you grow them correctly, the chances of this happening are small. To avoid harmful bacteria growing on your sprouts, it is important to regular rinse and drain them as well as ensuring that water can drain properly. Therefore, having a good stand for your sprouting jars is very important. This will prevent water logging and promotes air flow, ensuring that you can safely enjoy your sprouts.
It is very important to choose high-quality sprouting seeds. Only use organic sprouting seeds, to ensure that they have not been contaminated with pesticides. This is important when choosing seeds for microgreens but even more so for sprouting seeds as you will consume the entire sprout incl. the seed.
Can I use the same seeds to grow sprouts and microgreens?
Most seeds can be either grown as sprouts or as microgreens. Although many sources say you can use any seeds to grow sprouts or microgreens from, I would recommend to use seeds, which are meant for this purpose. First, they are more likely to be safe for consumption (especially when growing sprouts, as you will eat the seed as well) but also because the seed germination rate will be much higher. For example, you could use dried lentils from the supermarket to grow lentil sprouts. However, they are often irradiated to make them more shelf stable. The irradiation of seeds will prevent them from sprouting.
There are some seeds, which are often referred to gelatinous seeds. The most common are flax seeds, arugula and chia seeds. These types of seeds can not be grown as sprouts in a sprouting jar. Because the seeds turn into a gel like, gooey consistency when being mixed with water, the water won’t drain properly out of the sprouting lid. Gelatinous seeds are best grown as microgreens.
Common seeds used to grow microgreens are:
- Swiss Chard
The most common seeds to grow sprouts are:
Even though sprouts and microgreens are not the same thing, taste differently and have different nutritional advantages, both are incredibly healthy. Incorporating either sprouts or microgreens into your diet is definitely a good idea. Both require fairly little equipment. If you grow microgreens, you will need a growing medium. Which sometimes can be a little hard to get a hold off. If you grow sprouts, I would advise to invest into a good starter set that has everything you need to get started.