As microgreens take America by storm, more and more people are putting these amazing superfoods into their salads and sandwiches. It seems that regardless of who you ask, more and more people are excited about microgreens.
A lot of people are talking about the tremendous amount of nutrients, vitamins, and the antioxidants typical microgreen blends bring to the table. In this excitement, it’s very easy to lose track of the difference between microgreens and sprouts. In fact, for a lot of people who are really into microgreens, they’re one and the same.
No, they’re not. Understanding this distinction is important because you don’t want to overpay the next time you go to your local grocery. You may be there to pick up a nice packet of microgreens, but you may be thinking that you should just pick up sprouts instead.
The worst thing that you can do is to think that they’re one and the same. There is a big difference.
What are Microgreens?
Microgreens are vegetables like radishes, broccoli, as well as flowers like sunflowers, grown from seed to a vegetative state.
Pay close attention to the last part of that sentence. We’re talking vegetative state. In other words, they are several weeks into their growth cycle so that they are high enough, long enough, and wide enough to start developing some of the characteristics of their adult stages.
This depends on the variety of plant we’re looking at. A 3-week old broccoli plant is going to be different from a 2-week old radish or pea. But at the end of the process, they’re way past their cotyledon stage. After the blackout phase, microgreens are allowed to grow further so they’ll need more light, water, and nutrients as they start developing leaves.
Microgreens Actually Hit the Vegetative State
This is the key difference between microgreens and sprouts. When you’re harvesting microgreens, you’re getting them at their tender, crispy, succulent vegetative state. They haven’t quite gone through the major internal hormonal stage that would toughen them up.
This is why they’re great for salads and sandwiches. They have a crunchy texture, and depending on the microgreen blend that you’re eating, they can deliver quite a nice range of flavor accents. From tangy to slightly sweet, to even aromatic, to celery-like textures and tastes, they are quite versatile. They definitely deliver a much-needed dose of diversity to your palate.
However, you shouldn’t confuse microgreens with baby greens as well. Baby greens are leafy plants that have grown their first real leaves but aren’t allowed to get bigger, so people harvest them before they mature.
As far as flavor concerned, microgreens are tastier than sprouts and their full-grown counterparts.
The Big Difference with Sprouts
Sprouts, on the other hand, are cultivated primarily to stay within their cotyledon stage. Cotyledon are the two halves of the seed that provide sustenance to the baby plant as it sets down roots. Sprouts don’t need light or nutrient solutions to begin germinating. However, they do need a lot of moisture, but they don’t require soil to grow. More often than not, they’re germinated in water.
For example, if you plant a mung bean into a growing medium, the mung bean would sprout a root that will draw sustenance from the growing medium or liquid. It would also split the two halves of the seed that contained it, and then it would grow a stem.
The stem would be very light in color. It’s very sensitive, yet crispy.
The idea behind growing sprouts is to not let the plant get way past its two cotyledon stage. You’re harvesting the plant for its root and its tender stem, and not much else. In fact, if you notice that your sprout’s cotyledon has withered or fallen away, then chances are, it’s too mature to be eaten as a sprout.
Why Eat Sprouts?
When you eat seed sprouts at the two cotyledon stage, you get to enjoy a dramatic increase in the nutrient and vitamin content of that plant.
Put simply, if you were to take the seed of the plant before it sprouted, you’re going to get only so much nutrients from it. But once it sprouts, it’s as if all these other nutrients came out of nowhere. That’s how explosive the nutrient profile of sprouts can be. Not to mention, its texture is going to be different because now you’re going to be eating its root and its stem.
Also, sprouts can be eaten whole. You don’t have to necessarily cut off its roots if you grow them in the right medium. For example, mung bean sprouts are usually grown on water or are misted so they can be consumed whole.
Flavor Differences: Microgreens vs. Sprouts
The different parts of the plant have slightly different tastes and texture profiles. This is not the case with microgreens. Microgreens can be grown in a wide range of mediums – including without soil. But generally speaking, their roots are cut off so you enjoy mostly the middle and the top parts of the plant.
Depending of course on the specific microgreen variety that you are eating, you might be leaving a lot of flavor behind when you cut it off a couple of millimeters above the roots.
Lifecycle Differences: Microgreens vs. Sprouts
Another great difference between microgreens and sprouts is their life cycle. Sprouts have a much shorter planting and harvesting cycle than microgreens. We’re talking of a few weeks’ difference. That means growing sprouts is cheaper and you can harvest them faster, which is good news if you plan to sell them. Microgreens will need longer TLC before they’re harvested.
This, of course, can have a big impact on your bottom line if you’re trying to decide whether to sell microgreens or sprouts at your local organic farmer’s market. Obviously, the more crops you harvest, the more money you stand to make. Since microgreens have a longer growing period, you harvest less. The good news is, depending on the microgreen variety you plan, this may be offset by the higher pound price of the microgreen you are selling.