Microgreens vs. Sprouts: What’s the Difference?


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Microgreens vs Sprouts

People often use the terms sprouts and microgreens interchangeably.  And why not—there are clover sprouts and clover microgreens.  Aren’t they the same?  Maybe microgreens are a trendy way to charge more for the same thing. 

Is there a difference between sprouts and microgreens? Yes, there is a difference. Basically, sprouts and microgreens are the same seed at different stages of development. They look different, taste different, and are grown differently. 

Both sprouts and microgreens are super nutritious baby plants. That doesn’t mean they are identical. We will explore their differences in the rest of the article. 

What Are The Similarities Between Sprouts and Microgreens?

As I mentioned, many people use the terms sprouts and microgreens interchangeably. While they are two different things, they do have many things in common. For one thing, they are both grown from the same seeds, and they both require water to get the germination process started. 

One potential problem with working with sprouts or microgreens is that they are both susceptible to mold if gardeners are not careful. For more information about safely growing sprouts and microgreens, watch the video below. 

Another similarity between the two is that they can both be pre-soaked before the process. And finally, they are both super nutritious

What Are the Differences? 

It is quite obvious that people could mix up the two terms because sprouts and microgreens are very similar. However, their significant differences are important to know. 

  • Microgreens are generally more expensive than sprouts to purchase.
  • Microgreens contain more fiber than sprouts. 
  • Over 100 different types of microgreens exist, while sprouts are more limited. 
  • Microgreens can be used in soups, salads, sandwiches, smoothies, and various other dishes. They can be used as a garnish too. Sprouts are excellent for adding to stir-fry or to any dish to add a little crunch. 
  • Microgreens require proper air ventilation, while sprouts do not. 
  • Microgreens require light or photosynthesis to grow. Sprouts don’t need light. 
  • Eating raw microgreens is not as risky as eating raw sprouts. 
  • Microgreens are even more nutritious than sprouts. 
  • You cut off microgreens above the soil level. And with microgreens, only the stem and leaves are eaten. Sprouts are eaten entirely, including seed leaves, stem, root, and seed. 
  • Microgreens form true leaves. Sprouts don’t form true leaves. They instead form cotyledon or seed leaves. 
  • Microgreens are usually grown in soil, although they can also be grown hydroponically. Sprouts are only grown hydroponically. 
  • Microgreens are taller. They usually measure four to seven inches. Sprouts are considerably shorter. They generally only measure two or three inches. 
  • Microgreens are harvested in 7 to 14 days, while sprouts are harvested in just three to five days

Learn more about the differences and how to grow sprouts and microgreens by watching the video below.

Microgreens and Sprouts: The Basics for Newbies

What Exactly Are Sprouts? 

Sprouts in a jar
Photo credit @bentcanuck

Sprouts and microgreens are different versions of the same plant at different stages of their development. They are both very young and tender plants that are used as a garnish or added to salads and smoothies for extra nutrition. And while the terms sprouts and microgreens are often used interchangeably, they are two different things. 

Sprouts are younger than microgreens. And they are precisely what the name suggests, seeds that have germinated. Sprouts come in different colors, and some don’t have much color to them at all. When it comes to sprouts, you eat the entire plant, including the seed, roots, and shoots. 

Here are some of the most popular sprouts: 

Alfalfa Green Sprouts 

Alfalfa sprouts are very popular, mostly because they’re super healthy. They contain plenty of vitamins K, A, E, and D. Alfalfa sprouts are often added to salads and sandwiches. If you eat them when they are yellow, you’ll get a fresh sweet flavor. They are equally delicious if you let them mature until they’re green. 

Read more about alfalfa sprouts from the University of Rochester Medical Center

Broccoli Sprouts 

Broccoli sprouts are another excellent option. These sprouts are loaded with antioxidants. They offer some great flavor. Broccoli sprouts have a mild spicy taste. They also add a touch of red color to the plate.  

Clover Sprouts 

Clover sprouts are very similar to alfalfa sprouts. They are sweet and crisp, and they make excellent additions to sandwiches and salads. Clover sprouts are also packed with proteins, iron, potassium, and calcium. 

Mung Bean Sprouts 

Mung bean sprouts have also become very popular in recent years. They originated in Asia, but now they can be found everywhere. Mung bean sprouts are low calorie and high fiber. And they offer a slightly nutty flavor.

These sprouts are delicious additions to stir-fried dishes. They’re also great in salads. 

Wheat Sprouts 

Wheat sprouts are really great for juicing. If they are left to sprout for three days, they are sweet. They can also be left untouched for a week to produce super-nutritious one-inch grass.  Toss it in the juicer along with fruit or veggies. 

Radish Sprouts 

Radish sprouts are another excellent option. They are loaded with vitamins C and A, and they add a spicy flavor to salads and sandwiches. 

Soybean Sprouts 

Gardeners who are looking for sprouts that are great for cooking should try soybean sprouts. They are very high in both fiber and protein and they make tasty additions to casseroles and stews. 

Mustard Sprouts 

At first glance, mustard sprouts and alfalfa sprouts can be easily confused. But be careful because the leaves of mustard sprouts are hot and spicy! They taste great when added to egg dishes or salads. 

Green Lentil Sprouts 

Green lentil sprouts are another sprout that is good for cooking. Try adding them to soups. Green lentil sprouts are around 25 percent protein. In addition to cooking with them, they can be eaten raw too. 

Onion Sprouts 

One taste of these sprouts, and there is no mistaking where they come from. They offer a distinct onion flavor. And they are loaded with vitamins A, D, and C. Onion sprouts make excellent additions to salads and sandwiches. 

Sunflower Sprouts 

Sunflower sprouts are another one that’s great for the juicer machine. They are packed with vitamin D and offer a nutty flavor.  Raw, they have a nice crispy texture. 

Sprouts can be excellent additions to many dishes. They’re not too hard to grow either. They can be grown in a simple sterilized jar. Just cover them with a couple of inches of water and a food-grade cloth. 

Read here from the University of Florida to learn more about growing sprouts at home. 

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

Psalm 127:3-5

Sprouts Are Super Foods 

In 1997, researchers from Johns Hopkins University made some incredible discoveries about the nutritional value of sprouts. They found that broccoli sprouts contained significant amounts of a substance known as glucoraphanin. Glucoraphanin is a precursor to the detoxifying antioxidant and cancer-inhibiting isothiocyanate called SGS (sulforaphane). 

One study found that broccoli sprouts can even be used to manage and help fight schizophrenia! 

As we’ve been discussing, sprouts have many incredible health benefits. Experts say that there are far more enzymes in sprouts than in the majority of raw vegetables and fruits. 

The enzymes are essential because they are unique kinds of protein that act as catalysts for your body’s functions. By extracting more minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids, and amino acids from the foods that we eat, we ensure that our bodies have the nutritional building blocks that we need for life. 

In the soaking and sprouting process, the nutritional value is improved, and the quality of protein in grains, nuts, seeds, and beans increases. Lysine, the amino acid that prevents cold sores and helps to maintain a healthy immune system, also significantly increases during the sprouting process. 

And that’s not all. 

It’s also a major benefit that the fiber content of grains, seeds, nuts, and beans increases significantly during the sprouting process. That added fiber helps with weight loss. It also binds to toxins and fats in the body and sweeps them out quickly before they can be absorbed through the bloodstream and intestinal walls.

Another thing that increases during the sprouting process is essential fatty acids. Many people lack these essential fats that aid in fat burning. This is because we don’t get enough of them in our modern diets. 

On top of all of that, the vitamin content also increases dramatically. This is undoubtedly the case with vitamins E, C, A, and B-complex.  

Researchers have found that “The vitamin content of some seeds, grains, beans, or nuts increases by up to 20 times the original value within only a few days of sprouting. Research shows that during the sprouting process, beansprouts increase in vitamin B1 by up to 285 percent, vitamin B2 by up to 515 percent, and niacin by up to 256 percent.” 

Potential Health Risks with Sprouts 

With all of the extraordinary health benefits of eating sprouts, some health risks are also a concern. Sprouting could cause food poisoning. The key is sanitation. Often the result of bad seeds is contamination with E. coli and Salmonella. 

Sprouts that are sold commercially must go through stringent sanitation standards. However, even with these high standards, several outbreaks of illness caused by sprouts have occurred. 

Growing sprouts at home doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be safer. Often it’s the seed that is the source of infection. For this reason, it is crucial to buy seeds that are sold specifically for sprouting. Seeds sold for sprouting are tested for the presence of microorganisms.

It’s also vital that you keep the sprouts away from areas where food is prepared. Keep sprouts away from animals too. It’s also important to make sure to wash hands thoroughly before setting up a sprouting process. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 

“The warm, humid conditions needed to grow sprouts are also ideal for germs to grow. Eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts, such as alfalfa, bean, or any other sprout may lead to food poisoning from Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria. Thoroughly cooking sprouts kills the harmful germs and reduces the chance of food poisoning.” 

And What Are Microgreens? 

Microgreens in a jar

As mentioned earlier, sprouts are the youngest plant. Well, microgreens are the next size up. The cotyledons are the first leaf-like structures that come from a seedling. Each seedling will have one or two cotyledons. Usually, they are not the same shape as the leaves that form on a mature plant. 

The cotyledons also come in different colors. Often you will see them in red or purple. Microgreens are ready to eat when the first true leaf emerges. These true leaves develop after the cotyledons. 

Many edible plants make excellent microgreens. That even includes plants not generally known for edible greens, like carrots. One plant that does not make a good microgreen is lettuce. Lettuce seeds are just too delicate.  

Some of the most popular microgreens include: 

Alfalfa 

Their large, deep-green leaves can identify alfalfa microgreens. These microgreens offer a mild flavor. They are excellent for added nutrition and crunch to a sandwich or salad. 

Beet 

Detroit Dark Red Beet microgreens are another excellent option. They have a subtle earthy flavor. When harvesting these microgreens, make sure to cut very close to the soil line. This way some of that beautiful red stem is saved. Create a beautiful and tasty treat by adding them to hummus toast. 

Buckwheat 

Another microgreen worth a try is buckwheat. Buckwheat microgreens have a tangy flavor and they are pale green in color. Buckwheat is an excellent gluten-free option. Eat them by the handful as a delicious snack all on their own. Buckwheat microgreens are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. 

Clover 

Clover microgreens feature green leaves, and they have a mild fresh flavor. The younger the clover microgreen is, the sweeter it will be. Sprinkle them on a salad for a flavor-packed crunch. Clover microgreens are also loaded with zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron. 

Collards 

Collards microgreens have the same delicious flavor as adult collards, but they have a whole lot more intensity. They are dark green in color. And they give a tasty kick to salads or can be used as a garnish. Martha Stewart offers an incredible recipe for spaghetti with collard greens and lemon. The collards microgreens make it even better! 

Kale 

Kale is another microgreen that is great. They are green in color and have a flavor that resembles that of romaine and red leaf lettuces. This makes them ideal for a microgreens salad. Also use them in smoothies.

Chard and kale are also high in an antioxidant that protects skin and eyes called lutein. They’re also full of zeaxanthin. According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation and MIT, they will decrease the chances of getting Macular Degeneration. 

Kohlrabi 

Another very popular microgreen that should be considered is kohlrabi. This microgreen features a white stem and green leaves. Their flavor is mild and cabbage-like. And they taste great when added to slaw, salads or sandwiches. 

Pea 

Pea microgreens are another excellent option. They offer several times more vitamin C than blueberries and a lot more folic acid than even bean sprouts. Pea shoot microgreens make a delicious addition to a strawberry salad or they can be mixed with pickled onion and radishes. 

Radish 

For a pleasant peppery taste, try radish microgreens. They contain healthy amounts of B6 and folate. To really give the taste buds a treat, try adding them to a salad with watermelon and avocado. 

Sunflower  

Sunflower shoots are known for their essential amino acid properties. They offer a delightful crunch and they are loaded with selenium, folate, B complex, and vitamins E and C. Add them to a salad or sandwich. They taste fabulous when paired with a creamy vinaigrette. 

Microgreens are Even Healthier Than Sprouts! 

We’ve already discussed the incredible health benefits of sprouts. Well, believe it or not, microgreens are even more nutritious than sprouts! 

Microgreens are also more nutritious than their fully-grown counterparts. In fact, microgreens can offer 40 percent more nutrition! Take arugula microgreens, for example. Adult arugula provides 15 mg of vitamin C, but arugula microgreens have a fantastic 45.8 mg of vitamin C. 

Beyond their extraordinary health benefits, microgreens also taste great. For more information about increasing the flavor of microgreens, read here. 

Microgreens grow differently 

As we have discussed, sprouts are grown in water and are ready for harvest in about a week. Microgreens grow differently. They are grown in soil and are typically ready for harvest in about two weeks. 

It’s important to note that there is no such thing as a microgreen seed. The truth is, just about any seed can grow microgreens. One of the ways that we qualify good microgreen seeds is by how the cotyledons, or the baby leaves, taste.

For example, cantaloupe microgreens taste terrible. Because of that, they would be a poor choice of seeds. Fortunately, many delicious microgreens are out there to choose from, including the ones that we’ve already gone over. 

To learn more about growing microgreens, read this article from PennState Extension. 

The Bottom Line 

The bottom line is that both sprouts and microgreens are super nutritious. They are a true gift from nature and a healthy part of God’s design. 

Sprouts and microgreens represent different stages of development of the same seed, but they also have many distinct differences. They look different, taste different, and grow differently.  

Growing sprouts and microgreens are the ultimate in-home organic gardening. They are easy to grow, they take very little time, and they don’t cost much money. On top of that, they taste great! There’s also no denying their incredible health benefits. 

What are you waiting for? Let’s get growing! 

If you are interested in getting started with microgreens or are looking for a reliable online store for seeds and supplies at a great price, check out our affiliate at True Leaf Market. TrueLeafMarket.com – Microgreens Seeds, Kits & Supplies

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Corey Leichty

Hi, I’m Corey and I love using gardening as a way to provide food for my family, learn life lessons alongside my wife, Andrea, and teach life lessons to my two sons. Do you have gardening questions? Not finding what you are looking for? Please feel free to Ask a Question (Click Here!) and I will get back with you as soon as I can!

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