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Microgreens versus Sprouts
Many people are familiar with the term sprouting, which is a process of germinating seeds to eat raw before the new seed sprouts fully develops their first leaves. Sprouts are harvested after only 3 to 5 days of growth. Microgreens grow one step further and are grown for a longer period (10 to 14 days) until they fully develop their first or second leaves.
The growing process is what differentiates sprouts from microgreens. Sprouts are commonly germinated in water in a closed container, such as a mason jar for home use. The entire root, stem, and sprouted leaf is consumed. In order for seeds to germinate, the growing environment for sprouts is often dark, warm and humid. When this is combined with the cramped growing conditions and the lack of air circulation common to an enclosed container, sprouts can be susceptible to bacteria growth. Because of this reason, sprouts which are sold to retail consumers are regulated by the Federal Department of Agriculture (FDA) in the United States.
At the time of this writing, microgreens are not FDA regulated. This is because microgreen seeds are germinated in an open growing medium such as soil or a fiber mat. Microgreens are allowed to sprout and grow until their first or second leaves are formed. The open-air growing process allows for proper circulation so the chance of bacteria forming in microgreens is significantly reduced.
The tiny leaves of microgreens are known to produce a more robust flavor than the mature plant. With sprouts, it is the root that is consumed, but not so with microgreens. They are harvested just above the soil, so only the tiny leaves and delicate stems are consumed. Research has shown that microgreens have up to 4 times more vitamins than the mature plant.
Microgreens are used by top chefs. By adding fresh microgreens as a top garnish or sandwich or salad topper, you can add gourmet flair to everyday cooking.
Taste differences between sprouts and microgreens
Sprouts have a much earthier taste over microgreens because the seed shell and root are eaten along with the stem and tiny leaf. For microgreens, only the stem and first leaf are consumed, so there is more of a salad green taste.
Both sprouts and microgreens rely on the nutrients and energy supplied by the dormant seed. When water is applied to the seed, the growing process is activated and the seed expands. This kicks off a metabolic process that releases stored enzymes and nutrients that are necessary to pop out the root, stem shoot, and first leaf. For seed sprouting in the garden, this process typically occurs when the seed is under the soil. In order to duplicate this sprouting process to produce sandwich sprouts, the seeds are kept without light to discourage leaf growth, typically for 3-5 days depending on seed variety. Microgreens require photosynthesis from sunlight to produce a healthy first leaf. For a plant to thrive after the first leaf develops, additional nutrients must be obtained from light, oxygen, and rain as the nutrients stored in the seed are used up. So for growing microgreens, an additional 5-10 days of light exposure are needed to produce a robust leaf.
To sum up this sprouting explanation, what this means for the consumer of sprouts and microgreens, is they are receiving an organically grown food that is rich in natural seed nutrients. The longer a plant matures, the more the plant must rely on external intervention to provide nutrition to the plant. This is often accomplished through the use of chemical fertilizers. Sprouts and microgreens are a healthy food choice because the need for non-organic intervention is eliminated.
Hello gardeners and foodie fans. We are James LeValley and Cathy LeValley, owners of New Earth Micro Farm llc and our Good Carb Foods brand.