I remember when I started selling on a farmers market, at the time microgreens were very new in Slovenia. People didn’t actually know what they were. Most of those who thought they were familiar with them, made the assumption that they were sprouts. It was quite funny when almost every second person told me that these are sprouts.
I used to just smile and then explain the difference between them, and what microgreens were exactly. A bit of advice, if you ever think of selling microgreens some day, you should create a small leaflet, so you have something to give to your customers, something with which they can remember you later on.
So, what exactly is the difference?
The main difference is in how they are grown. Sprouts flourish in water and microgreens are commonly grown in soil or some other growing medium (peat moss, coco fibres…).
Before microgreens where ‘discovered’, sprouts had a major place in the market. People were familiar with them. But after the big reveal of microgreens to the world (in the 1990’s), when chefs were seeking for something more, something with a different look and taste, a misunderstanding of microgreens also appeared. Fortunately, you are in the right place to clarify everything.
The best way to grow the healthiest sprouts is in a ‘small kitchen germinator’ such as this, or in a sprouting kit (jar glass). This will help create a perfect growing environment. But if you do not have these and choose to grow them in water, make sure you rinse them at least twice (three times is better) and drain each crop. The growth environment should be very humid with dim light. With this process you will grow fresh sprouts right in your kitchen and have them on hand everyday.
Microgreens, on the other hand, have an advantage in that their growing medium is less subject to mould. There is more ventilation, sunlight, and less chance for bacteria to take hold. If you choose good quality soil (with compost or peat moss), you will be the luckiest person in the world since you will get much more nutritious young plants as opposed to water grown sprouts.
Microgreens and sprouts.
Ready to harvest and taste
Harvesting refers to a stage of plant growth. Sprouts grow really quickly and can be harvested in four to six days. They don’t have time to mature into plants. They are essentially eaten as exploded seeds, they are very pale with almost no green as they didn’t have the chance to photosynthesise. Since they are water grown they aren’t able to absorb nutrients from the sun or soil leading to a very different taste to microgreens. Generally they are mild, and used in the culinary arts for their crunch.
For microgreens, harvesting comes a little later. Generally in one to three weeks, depending on the plant. After the germination phase, you need to expose them to artificial light or daylight. This is the cotyledon growth stage, when the first couple of leaves appear on the plant. The second pair of leaves that are appear are called true leaves. You can harvest your microgreens during these two stages.
In terms of flavour, microgreens reveal depths not found in sprouts or their older siblings. For example, if you love cilantro, then micro cilantro is a must for you to grow. The taste is just so much more intense. The same is with arugola.
From 1996, sprouts have gained a ‘bad’ reputation due to several food borne illnesses associated with sprouts. You can find more information on this at Foodsafety.gov If sprouts were not grown in an appropriate environment, bacteria (including Salmonella, Listeria and E.coli) could be present on them. But not to scare you too much, there is a very easy solution – grow microgreens.
The risk of diseases is much smaller if you have really good quality soil (*link to post about soil) and if the levels of humidity and ventilation in the room that you are growing in are around normal. The kitchen with the window opened at half is suitable. Good quality seeds are also very important. This means that their germination rate is 100% or close. Mould will not occur if you follow these tips. When the seeds germinate, they produce root hairs. These can easily be confused with mould. For better clarification, see picture above.
Sprouts don’t need any added nutrients, the same goes for fast growing microgreens. But if you are a commercial grower and have a much longer growth cycle (one month or more), some added nutrients are pleasant for microgreens.
A significant source of protein, packed with fibre, essential nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and enzymes (important for various metabolic processes, such as digestion), sprouts are great for you. But in 2012, microgreens were researched and compared with mature vegetables in a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The break down of the study is that microgreens consist of 4 to 40 times higher nutritional densities than their mature plants. They are abundant in vitamin C, and loaded with beta-carotene. They are also a good source for vitamin E and even vitamin K was present. You can find out more on microgreens nutritional in other post.
The best way to eat them is raw, if cooked, they will lose their nutritious value. You should give them a try right after harvesting.
Beautiful salad bowl with a pinch of microgreens and sprouts.
To sum up:
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