Microgreens vs Sprouts – [A Complete Comparison]

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Thinking of starting a small urban garden with microgreens or sprouts? Or do you want to stick to a healthier diet by incorporating these greens? Our detailed Microgreens vs Sprouts comparison can help you figure out which is better.

Planting either vegetable is pretty easy. Yet, you get rewarded with an arsenal of micronutrients and flavor-packed meals. But, a deeper understanding of both microgreens and Sprouts can help you make the most of either plant.

So, let our comparison guide to the job help you learn everything there is to know about these two plants.

Microgreens vs Sprouts – quick answer

Microgreens vs Sprouts
Side by side view of Microgreens (left) and Sprouts (right)

Contrary to many people’s belief, microgreens and sprouts are not the same. Microgreens are young seedlings of edible vegetables and herbs grown in soil. On the other hand, sprouts are premature growing plants from germinated seeds (that germinated in water).

Microgreens and sprouts boast similarities in their harvest as this is done at their early growth stages. This is usually a time when the germinated seed has just sprouted. But, this is not all. The two plants also use the same seeds although their growing style differs.

Main Differences Between Microgreens and Sprouts

The main difference between microgreens and sprouts is how they are grown and what they become. Microgreens are young seedlings harvested just above the oil line. They typically boast the first leaves, stems, and seed leaves which are both edible.

Sprouts are simply germinated seeds of a plant that germinate in water. They produce a seed, root, and shoot which can be eaten. However, the differences aren’t just limited to how microgreens and sprouts are grown.

According to studies, sprouts carry more nutrients than microgreens. Sprouts tend to have a higher content of amino acids, pectins, and sugars than microgreens. However, microgreens also come with their fair share of nutrients.

They have a higher content of carotenoids, organic acid, and chlorophyll than sprouts. Due to the nutrients and complete lack of sugar, microgreens tend to be a better option for diabetics.

Key Features of Microgreens

Microgreens being picked
Microgreens being picked

As previously mentioned, microgreens are younger seedlings of edible vegetables and herbs. Unlike their matured versions, microgreens grow a little to just a few inches. These vegetables or herbs don’t reach maturity level and are typically harvested for consumption in about a week to 14 days after the leaves develop.

Microgreens Growing and Size

Growing microgreens is very easy. All you need is a shallow container filled with soil (rich potting soil or compost) and some water. Then, plant the seed and let it grow. You can also grow microgreens in growing trays. Some people prefer to grow microgreens hydroponically or on a garden bed, too.

Microgreens need proper ventilation and are sun-loving so, they need to be grown with plenty of it. If you plant them indoors, put them near a reliable light source). Further, you want to keep the microgreens well water through bottom watering or daily misting. In about a week or two, you should start to see the microgreens grow.

You will, however, find that some varieties take slightly longer to a maximum of five weeks. But, letting microgreens grow for longer comes with the risks of a slightly different taste, giving off a bitter and stronger taste. Further, you will also notice a change in the texture with less tenderness.

To harvest the microgreens, cut them closer to the soil line as the roots are also safe and edible (although they are not always eaten).  When harvested, microgreens typically measure about 2 to 7 inches tall and develop true leaves. As mentioned above, while the entire plant is edible, only the part about the soil is usually eaten.

Microgreens Nutrition

Microgreens pack an abundance of nutrients. These greens boast up to 40% more phytochemicals (healthy and beneficial nutrients) than their fully grown/matured counterparts. So, they don’t only add to a delicious meal, but also come with a rich nutrient hold.

Microgreens are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other key healthy components. Generally, microgreens have an overall higher nutrient content and fiber content than sprouts.

Types of Microgreens

Raw green Arugula Microgreens
Raw green Arugula Microgreens

You can find over 50 varieties of microgreens available. While microgreens have become readily available, they used to be rare. In fact, these vegetables were only available in fancy restaurants or stores because of their high price tag.

This is because unlike with mature vegetables, the plant doesn’t regrow after harvesting microgreens. This means that after every harvest, you will need to place fresh soil where you plan to replant and get new seeds. It’s like you are starting fresh!

Whereas mature plants don’t require you to go through this strenuous and costly process again. After harvesting, a few trims or cuts allow the plant to regrow.

Popular examples of microgreens include;

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Arugula
  • Radicchio
  • Radish greens
  • Mustard greens
  • Watercress
  • Chard
  • Cabbage
  • Basil
  • Dill
  • cilantro
  • Fennel
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Peas
  • Beets
  • Leeks
  • Broccoli

You can make plenty of delicious and nutrition-packed meals using microgreens. This can be anything from salads, soups, sandwiches, pasta sauce and salad dressing to simply adding a floral/green element to a dish by using them as garnish. However, microgreens can be slightly more costly than sprouts.

Microgreens Longevity and Storage

To prolong the longevity of your microgreens you want to refrigerate them. This is because they have a pretty limited lifespan when stored in the pantry at room or higher temperatures. Stored fresh at room temperature microgreens will only survive for about a week.

However, you can extend their lifespan in a refrigerator. To properly store microgreens, thoroughly wash them and pat them dry using paper towels. When thoroughly dried, wrap them in a damp paper towel, transfer them to a clean ventilated container, and refrigerate.

Health Benefits of Microgreens

While more studies on humans are necessary, several existing studies suggest microgreens offer multiple health and healing benefits. These benefits are closely linked to the rich nutrients microgreens have. For example, microgreens are rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant.

This abundance of polyphenols linked them to lowering the risks of heart disease and lowering triglycerides and bad cholesterol (LDLs). Further, the rich antioxidants in microgreens are linked to lowering the risks of Alzheimer’s disease.

 On the other hand, microgreens, like fenugreek, pack antioxidants that reduce the stress that allows sugar to readily enter the cells. Some microgreens rich in antioxidants are even linked to anti-cancer properties.

Pros/Cons of Microgreens

Growing microgreens comes with its benefits and drawbacks worth noting. These include;

Pros

  • Rich in nutrients (phytochemicals) – up to 40% more than their matured/fully grown versions
  • Offers various reported healing and medicinal properties
  • Rich health benefits
  • Boast a more intense but, pleasant flavor than larger, matured vegetables and herbs
  • Safe to eat raw – gives yap most of its nutrients and enzymes which can be lost in cooking
  • Commercially available and can be easily homegrown
  • Can be used for a variety of delicious meals, including pasta, salads, sandwiches, salad dressings, etc.

Cons

  • They are a substitute to matured, readily available vegetables – they can be costly and you need to eat more
  • When freshly harvested, they start to lose some nutrients in just 24 hours
  • Need watering daily and can be messy to handle (if home grown)
  • A little expensive (if store bought)

Key Features of Sprouts

Sprouts of various plants in agriculture containers
Sprouts of various plants in agriculture containers

Sprouts are germinated seeds of a plant – typically, younger versions on their way to maturity. Unlike microgreens, sprouts are not grown in soil. Instead, these are usually seeds soaked in water in containers without any soil. After sprouting, the seeds are ready for consumption.

Sprouts Growing and Size

Sprouts grow in a completely different manner to microgreens. To grow them, you need an enclosed container, like a mason jar that comes with a holed or mesh lid to allow for drainage. All you do is soak the seeds I water inside these containers for them to sprout.

Unlike microgreens, sprouts don’t need soil to grow. This explains why sprouts grow well hydroponically. On the other hand, the enclosed container design harnesses enough warmth and humidity to promote germination. Further, sprouts do just fine in low light conditions (since they don’t photosynthesize).

So, you can plant them both outdoors and indoors, even in conditions with no rich light source. Because they grow hydroponically, sprouts don’t require as much air ventilation. To care for the seeds as they germinate, rinse them with water and let the container drain at least once or twice a day.

It takes a relatively shorter period to harvest sprouts from planting the seeds, about 3 to 5 days. Further, harvest sprouts are shorter than microgreens when harvested, about 2 to 3 inches. Further, sprouts don’t really develop true leaves; they only grow seed leaves (cotyledons). Upon harvest, you can eat the entire sprout – including seeds, roots stem, and seed leaves.

Sprouts Nutrition

Sprouts are rich in nutrients just like microgreens. Now, what makes them better than matured plants is their sprouting process. The sprouting process breaks down phytates, compounds that the human body can’t break down.

This, in turn, allows the body to effortlessly absorb the sprouts’ rich nutrients. Sprouts are typically rich in vitamins, minerals, fibers and antioxidants. However, sprouts have a much lower overall nutrient and fiber content than microgreens.

Types of Sprouts

Green mung bean sprouts in jars
Green mung bean sprouts in jars

There are four types of sprouts available. These include;

  • Bean and pea sprouts, such as lentil, snow peas, black beans, mung beans, and kidney beans
  • Nut and seed sprouts, such as sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds
  • Vegetable sprouts, such as alfalfa, mustard greens, and brussel sprouts
  • Sprouted grains, such as wheatgrass and quinoa

Sprouts come in a few varieties and also work great for many dishes. You can enjoy sprouts in stir fry, salads, sandwiches, or as garnishes. While you can grow it at home, sprouts can be purchased commercially, too. In fact, sprouts are cheaper than microgreens.

It’s worth remembering that sprouts risk contamination. In fact, consuming raw or lightly cooked sprouts increases your risk of food poisoning. This is because sprouts require warm and humid conditions to grow.

This, in turn, makes their growing conditions perfect for breeding bad bacteria, such as E.coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. These bacteria can thrive in the raw sprouts, which when eaten raw or lightly cooked, increases risk of infection.

But, you can mitigate these risks by properly cleaning and storing the sprouts in clean containers and refrigerating them in temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Washing the sprouts under hot running water or soaking them in water with vinegar and salt helps to kill the bad microbes. Cooking them also kills the harmful microbes.

If you are purchasing your sprouts, never buy smelly or slimy ones. You also want to stay away from sprouts with any visible deformity or discoloration. These are good indicators that they are contaminated or rotten.

But, if you still have doubts, certain people should avoid eating raw sprouts to be on the safe side. These include children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.

Sprouts Longevity and Storage

Sprouts experience a much shorter lifespan than microgreens. In fact, when freshly harvested, sprouts can start to lose nutrients in just 24 hours. Within two days, raw sprouts start to become wilted, browned, slimy and smelly.

You can, however, store some sprouts in properly ventilated containers for up to four days. But, you can slightly extend the longevity to about 6 weeks. Like microgreens, clean the sprouts thoroughly under hot running water.

Or, soak them for a few minutes in water mixed with vinegar and salt. Next, pat dry with paper towels and wrap them in damp paper towels. Transfer them to a vented container and refrigerate.

Health Benefits of Sprouts

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), eating sprouts can improve protein and carbohydrate digestion. Further, sprouts stimulate the release of enzymes, boost digestion and improve gut health while reducing intestinal gas and discomfort. But, this is not all they offer.

Other studies suggest that sprouts boost blood sugar level control and reduce the risks of type 2 diabetes. Sprouts also improve heart health but lower bad LDLs and triglycerides while boosting good HDL levels (good cholesterol).

Pros/Cons of Sprouts

Sprouts also come with their pros and cons. We’ve listed the common ones below;

Pros

  • Packed with vitamins, minerals, fibers and antioxidants
  • Low in fat, sodium, and calories
  • Boast numerous reported health and medicinal benefits
  • Add flavor and crunch to your salads and sandwiches
  • Can be eaten raw, lightly cooked, or fully cooked

Cons

  • Come with the risk of food poisoning if not properly washed and eaten raw
  • Commercially available and home grown sprouts both come with the risk of infection – straight from the seeds

Other Alternatives to Consider

Baby spinach growing in garden
Baby spinach growing in garden

Whether you want to incorporate more or look for a cheaper alternative, you can find plenty. The most common alternative to microgreens and sprouts are baby greens. These older siblings of microgreens and sprouts simply refer to the matured leafy greens of microgreens and sprouts.

These include plant leaves such as kale, spinach, and arugula. Sure, their taste, texture, and even nutrient content changes by then. However, they also bring their own fair share of nutritional content and complement dishes well.

You can use them in anything from salads, sandwiches, pasta, soups, salad dressing, sauces, and even cook them on their own. You can also use them in savory baked or roasted dishes.

FAQs

Why Are Microgreens Better Than Sprouts?

4 boxes of various microgreens

Microgreens are better than sprouts in several areas. For one, they boast a higher nutrient and fiber content than sprouts. Additionally, microgreens have a more pronounced and pleasant taste than sprouts.

Are Microgreens Safer Than Sprouts?

Bean sprouts growing in plastic container

Microgreens are considered safer than sprouts due to their growing conditions. Due to their growing conditions, sprouts come with the risk of food poisoning. Microgreens grow like regular vegetables in soil on a shallow container, growing tray, or garden bed.

Microgreens need ample lighting, drainage, and ventilation. On the other hand, sprouts grow hydroponically and do well in warm and humid conditions. They also don’t require as much light or ventilation.

The warm, humid, and wet conditions sprouts grow to create the perfect space for bad bacteria, such as E.coli and Salmonella, to grow and thrive. Now, consuming contaminated and poorly washed sprouts can cause you to suffer from serious food poisoning and illness.

Which Microgreens Offer the Most Nutrients?

Broccoli microgreens

Broccoli microgreens offer the most nutrients. Broccoli microgreens pack a rich supply of A, B, and K vitamins along with iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. In fact, its nutrient profile extends to 550% RDA of antioxidants the body needs. Now, this is the most generous supply of nutrients than any other vegetable.

Which Sprouts Offer the Most Nutrients?

Close up of Alfalfa sprouts

Alfalfa sprouts offer the most nutrients. These sprouts come with a high supply of minerals, especially manganese.

Conclusion

When it comes to the microgreens vs sprouts comparison, both food items do quite well. However, microgreens come out with the upper hand. Among the key things, microgreens outperform sprouts in include more nutrients and fiber supply and better flavors. Further, microgreens can be enjoyed raw.

 But, this is not necessarily bad PR for sprouts. These germinated seedlings also come with their perks. After all, microgreens also come with shortcomings. They take slightly longer to harvest and come with a slightly higher price tag.

On the other hand, sprouts allow you to enjoy a quick harvest, making them great for home growing. Additionally, they are quite versatile, allowing you to enjoy them raw, lightly cooked, or fully cooked. But, sprouts may also pose the risks of contamination and food poisoning. So, you have to exercise extra care when preparing them for consumption.

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