I’m a big fan of making growing sprouts and microgreens a big part of your prepping plan, especially if you live in a small space or in a climate where you can’t garden year-round. Both sprouts and microgreens are easy to grow indoors, any time of year, and I love how fast they grow. But the big question is, how are sprouts and microgreens different? And which option is best for you? In this article, I’ll tackle the topic of microgreens vs. sprouts.
Microgreens and sprouts have a lot of similarities, but they also have a few differences. They both start from seeds but are harvested at different stages of development. They look different, taste slightly different, have different uses, have different nutritional values, and are grown in different ways.
Both microgreens and sprouts are worth growing at home and will supply you with a sustainable, healthy food source. The one you chose to grow is primarily a matter of personal taste. One is not better than the other, just slightly different.
This article will contrast microgreens vs. sprouts so you can see the difference between the two. After reading, you may even decide that both food sources will have a place in your indoor garden and your dinner plate.
What Are Microgreens?
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First, let’s dive into what exactly microgreens are.
Microgreens are immature plants. They are harvested while they only have two true leaves on the stems, about 2-3 weeks after the seed has germinated. (Note that in my experience, it takes less time than that to grow microgreens in an AeroGarden. I typically harvest AeroGarden microgreens in 10 days. You can read more about how to grow microgreens in an AeroGarden in my article The Ultimate Guide to Growing Microgreens in an AeroGarden.)
Now let’s get back to the topic at hand – what exactly are microgreens?
The first two leaves that develop on the plant stem are not true leaves. They are called ‘cotyledons’ and their sole purpose is to feed the tiny seedling during its first few weeks of life.
The cotyledons are filled with nutrition that the seedling will need until the first set of true leaves appears on the plant. When the true leaves appear, the cotyledons have finished their job and will fall off the plant.
When the seedlings are harvested and consumed just after the true leaves appear on the stem, you are getting a concentrated amount of vitamins and minerals.
Note: Some people harvest microgreens before the first true leaves appear. I prefer to wait until the true leaves appear to harvest my microgreens.
What Are Sprouts?
Now let’s get into what exactly sprouts are.
Sprouts are germinated seeds. The seed germinates and develops a stem before the cotyledons appear. They are harvested when the stem and, if desired, cotyledons appear. You consume both the stem and cotyledons.
If the sprout was not harvested it would continue to grow into a mature plant if all the growing conditions were favorable.
Nutritional Value of Microgreens Vs. Sprouts
Now let’s look at the nutritional value of both microgreens and sprouts.
- Microgreen’s nutritional value varies based on the variety of plants. The exact nutritional value is based upon the variety of greens that you grow. Broccoli, beans, and peas are some of the common microgreens grown and they are packed with nutrition.
The cotyledons contain concentrated amounts of potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, and antioxidants. They are also a rich source of vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. Microgreens are also a good source of fiber.
The flavor of microgreens is much more intense than their leafy adult counterparts, so a little goes a long way.
- Sprouts have an increased level of nutrients over their fully mature plants. The exact nutrients depend on which type of plants are sprouted. You can expect to add a lot of protein, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and vitamins C, K, and essential amino acids to your diet by incorporating sprouts into your diet on a regular basis.
Sprouts have a very mild flavor and tend to take on the flavor of whatever they are cooked with. Note that while you can cook sprouts, since they are so fragile and since cooking kills nutrients, I prefer to eat my sprouts raw. I typically put them in smoothies and use them on sandwiches or wraps.
- The difference between microgreens and sprouts when it comes to nutrition is minimal.
Next, we’ll get into how to grow both sprouts and microgreens.
How Are Microgreens Grown?
Microgreens are quick and easy to grow and will be ready to harvest in 2-3 weeks, or in around 10 days when growing in an AeroGarden.
There are two ways to grow microgreens – in soil, or hydroponically.
Growing Microgreens in Soil
Here are the basics of how to grow microgreens in soil.
When you grow microgreens in soil, you typically plant them in trays such as these that are available on Amazon, or these, that you can get from True Leaf Market.
The seeds must germinate in the dark under the soil and develop a root system. The roots hold the seedling in place in the soil while the cotyledons and true leaves emerge from the stem.
Start by spreading the seeds on top of the soil and cover lightly with more soil. You then moisten the soil and cover the tray. You can cover the tray with something like plastic wrap to create a mini-greenhouse effect. Alternatively, you can cover the tray with another microgreen growing tray that you weigh down with a heavy object such as bricks or canned goods.
Either way, once the seeds germinate and emerge from the soil, remove the cover. At this point, keep the soil moist. Microgreens also require ample light, so when growing them indoors, it’s often best to use a grow light.
Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening: How to Grow Nutrient-Dense, Soil-Sprouted Greens in Less Than 10 days (Amazon) is a book that I first checked out from the library. It has enough solid information that I decided to buy it so it would have a permanent place in my library.
The book uses the term, “soil sprouts” but in my opinion, they are basically the same thing as microgreens, though you grow them in just 10 days.
Growing Microgreens Hydroponically
Some people, including me, prefer growing microgreens hydroponically, which simply means growing them in water, instead of soil.
The advantage of growing microgreens in water is that it’s less messy, and you also don’t have to deal with soil-born pathogens.
There are a few ways to grow hydroponic microgreens. I personally grow most of my microgreens in my AeroGarden, using the AeroGarden microgreens kit. Here are few articles where I demonstrate growing microgreens in an AeroGarden.
- Growing Sunflower Microgreens in an AeroGarden
- Growing Buckwheat Microgreens in an AeroGarden
- Growing Radish Microgreens in an AeroGarden
If you don’t have an AeroGarden or simply prefer a more low-tech way of growing microgreens, you’ll need a tray, and some type of hydroponic growing medium, such as these hydroponic grow pads, which you can get here on Amazon or here on True Leaf Market.
Problems with Hydroponic Microgreens
As much as I love growing microgreens hydroponically, it’s important to know that not all microgreens grow well hydroponically. Some microgreens are best grown in soil.
In this article, I share my top 10 hydroponic microgreens.
Here are 10 microgreens that grow best in soil, along with where to buy them on Amazon and True Leaf Market.
|Swiss Chard||Buy on Amazon||Buy on True Leaf Market|
|Nasturtium||Buy on Amazon||Buy on True Leaf Market|
|Carrot||Buy on Amazon||Buy on True Leaf Market|
|Beet||Buy on Amazon||Buy on True Leaf Market|
|Cilantro||Buy on Amazon||Buy on True Leaf Market|
|Sunflower||Buy on Amazon||Buy on True Leaf Market|
|Shiso (Perillo)||Currently unavailable|
|Buy on True Leaf Market|
|Buy on True Leaf Market|
|Fava Beans||Buy on Amazon||Buy on True Leaf Market|
|Fenugreek||Buy on Amazon||Buy on True Leaf Market|
Pro Tip: If you’re new to growing microgreens in general, and hydroponic microgreens in particular, you may want to start with a microgreens growing kit, that has everything you need. I like these two options available on True Leaf Market:
If you want to learn more about growing microgreens, I recommend the book, Microgreen Garden: Indoor Grower’s Guide to Gourmet Greens by Mark Mathew Braunstein (Amazon). I love that it includes full-color photos, and breaks down microgreens by how easy (or challenging) they are to grow.
How Are Sprouts Grown?
Now let’s get into growing sprouts.
I always considered myself to have no hope as a gardener. Then one day, for some reason, I decided to give sprouting a try. Sprouts were the first thing I managed to grow without killing them!
I definitely recommend growing sprouts if you’re brand new to gardening, especially if you live in an apartment or for other reasons you prefer to grow your food indoors.
The thing that I love about sprouting is that you need just a few basic items to get started:
- Sprouting seeds
- A sprouter. My two favorites are the 3 Tray Stackable Sprouter and the Easy Sprout Seed Sprouter, both from True Leaf Market.
- Water – tap water is fine
You don’t need nutrients, grow lights or anything fancy to grow sprouts. If you have enough light to see, you have enough light to grow sprouts.
To grow sprouts, first soak your seeds. Different seeds require different soaking times. Small seeds such as clover or alfalfa typically only require about 4 hours, and larger seeds such as mung bean, typically require around 12 hours of soaking time.
Once you’ve soaked your sprouting seeds, drain off the soaking water and rinse with fresh water.
Place your sprouter with the soaked seeds in a dark place, and continue the draining and rinsing cycle twice a day. Continue this process for up to 6 days, then allow the sprouts to green up for a day before consuming.
Sprouts add a healthy crunch to sandwiches, rice dishes, and salads.
Microgreens Vs. Sprouts
Microgreens provide more actual food than sprouts plus they provide a slightly higher level of nutrition.
Both start from seeds and are easy to grow at home. They are also sustainable food sources and can be grown indoors year-round.
Microgreens need light to grow and develop cotyledons and the first true leaves. Sprouts do not need light since they never get beyond the cotyledon stage.
If you intended to grow sprouts but waited too long to harvest them, they can be allowed to grow for harvesting when they reach the microgreen stage. Nothing will be wasted. However, if microgreens are not harvested on time the plant flavor, texture, and nutritional value will decline.
When it comes to growing either sprouts or microgreens, in my opinion, you can’t go wrong. They are among the easiest, healthiest, and fastest growing vegetables that you can easily grow indoors any time of year. If you’re intimidated by gardening but want to grow some of your own food, I definitely recommend giving growing sprouts and microgreens a try.
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