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What's the difference between microgreens and sprouts? How to grow them? Here’s our guide to get the most benefits out of these nutritional powerhouses!
What’s the difference?
Sprouts and microgreens have a lot in common, but they are not identical. They look and taste different, and they are produced in different ways as well. And above all you are eating different parts of the same vegetable.
As the Urbancultivator puts it: „All plants start as a seed. Think of a seed as an embryo. Seeds are embryos that come with a protective shell, which is called the seed coat, and in it contains all the wonderful nutrients and vitamins that the plant inside needs to burst out of that coating. Between the protective coating and the embryo is the endosperm, which wraps around the embryo and gives the little baby nutrition."
For sprouting the seed doesn’t need much light or nutrients from the environment, it basically only needs water. First you soak it in water which makes the seed swell up, then the protective shell cracks. Using the nutrients stored in the seed, the embryo develops its stem. You need to rinse it daily, then after a few days, you can eat the crunchy sprouts.
Microgreens on the other hand are more mature then sprouts. To achieve this stage you have to sprinkle the seeds on a thin layer of wet soil. The seeds get extra nutrients from the soil, so they can grow further from sprout into microgreen. They need sunglight and a little water too. You’ll notice the first leaves in 1-3 weeks, and this is when you can harvest them. Just cut them off with scissors above the surface of the soil.
Microgreens on the left, sprouts on the right
In short the differences are the following:
- Microgreens grow in soil, sprouts in a wet environment.
- You eat the stems and the leaves of microgreens, while the whole plant as sprouts
- Microgreens are ready to eat in 1-3 weeks, while sprouts take less then a week to grow.
Why should you eat them?
According to WebMD researchers found microgreens like red cabbage, cilantro, and radish contain up to 40 times higher levels of vital nutrients than their mature counterparts. Although nutritional claims about microgreens abound on the Internet, this study is the first scientific evaluation of their nutritional content. Researchers say they were astonished by the results. “The microgreens were four- to 40-fold more concentrated with nutrients than their mature counterparts,” says researcher Qin Wang, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Maryland in College Park. “When we first got the results we had to rush to double and triple check them.”
For example, red cabbage microgreens had 40 times more vitamin E and six times more vitamin C than mature red cabbage. Vitamin C, vitamin K, and vitamin E levels were highest among red cabbage, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish microgreens.
Broccoli sprouts contain sulforaphane, a cancer-fighting compound that has been extensively studied. Sprouts contain 10-100x as much sulforaphane than adult broccoli plants and are often recommended for this reason.
At the same time, sprouting increases the content of many beneficial nutrients and amino acids by making them more available to the body. It is estimated that there are up to 100 times more beneficial enzymes in sprouts that in raw vegetables. The rapidly growing sprouts need these enzymes for their own growth and cellular health make them beneficial for us as well.
Sprouts are also an excellent source of enzyme inducers that protect against chemical carcinogens. One study found a 10x increase in antioxidants like rutin from only three days of sprouting. Sprouting increases the amino acid content of nuts and seeds, especially of certain beneficial amino acids like Lysine. Alfalfa sprouts are quick growing and a good source of Vitamins C and K and B-Vitamins. They are also a source of saponins, which are said to help balance cholesterol and support the immune system. Sunflower sprouts are high in protein, phytosterols, essential fatty acids and fiber.
No wonder microgreens are getting more and more popular. Especially in the winter and early spring they are excellent source of vitamins when seasonal and local produce isn’t available.
But let’s face it: no scientific evidence would make you eat them, if they weren’t delicious as well right? Luckily there are several different flavour profiles that would satisfy anyone. Sunflower is slightly nutty, onion and mustard seeds are spicy. Broccoli, cress and radish is also on the spicy side, while alfalfa is milder. Generally speaking microgreans have a more intense flavour than sprouts.
You can use them in several ways. Microgreens are excellent for anything that you would use leafy greens in. With sprouts you can garnish dishes, top sandwiches, add extra crunch in salads, and more nutrients into your green smoothie.
How to grow?
Altough you can buy sprouts and microgreens in some supermarkets, we would advise to grow them at home! Firstly it is an awesome experience, especially for children. Watching them grow, and telling them about the biology behind it is educational and fun at the same time! Children are more likely to eat vegetables which they are so familiar with. Secondly it is much more economical to buy a packet of seeds: often they cost the same as a box of sprouts, even though you can grow several boxes full of sprouts from one packet. Of course the eco footprint is smaller because of less transport, and the sprouts are at their freshest form, so they contain the maximum amount of vitamins. If you are trying to go plastic free you’ll have a hard time finding sprouts in bulk, while you can buy the seeds in tiny paper packets.
A beautiful bowl of crunchy sprouts
Growing them won’t take up much of your time either: they need a few minutes of care each day: you can do the daily rinse while waiting for your coffee or a meal to warm up. Seed sprouters come in all shapes and sizes! But our favourite is this glass jar, because it is so easy to use. No wonder it is our best seller! It has a special plastic lid, which acts as a filter, and also keeps the jar in the right angle. This is important because this way the excess water can easily leave the container, so it won’t get mouldy.
Doing these four easy steps, which take only a couple of minutes a day will make you a successful sprouter for sure:
Place 1-1,5 tablespoons of seeds in the glass, put on the cap and fill the sprouter with water. Shake it vigorously and pour out the water without removing the cap. Repeat this twice.
Fill the glass with water and let it sit for a night, so the seeds can soak up the water.
After 10 hours pour out the water. Fill it up again, shake it up, and pour out the water. Place the glass upside down, so the excess water can pour out, and the sprouts get enough air flow. Rinse the sprouts every day as the first step instructs!
4. Preparing the sprouts:
Depending on the type of seeds, sprouting can take up to 4-6 days. The more sprouts are left sprouting, the milder the flavour. They can be used several ways, suitable for adding to sides, salads and soups.
It is easy right? The only thing you need to be careful about is cleanliness! As the humid environment can help bacterial growth, make sure everything that touch the sprouts is sanitized, and wash your hands before handling the sprouts! The regular and thorough rinse is also important! When the sprouts are ready, eat them within 2-3 days, and always refrigerate them! If you like to be extra careful, you can also soak the ready to eat sprouts in lemon water, or vinegar diluted with water, but this is not necessary. These steps will minimize the risks, so you can enjoy these healthy powerhouses without any problem.
To grow microgreens you need high-quality organic soil, and a tray with 6-8 cm edges, with holes on the bottom so the water can flow freely.
1. Spread 3-5 cm soil on the tray.
2. Sprinkle the seeds evenly. How much? That depends on the size of the seed. 1-2 tablespoons is usually a good measure on a 20x20 cm tray. You can be more generous with radish seeds, but put less from broccoli.
3. Water the soil, and cover it with an additional 0.5 cm layer of soil.
4. Place the tray where there’s enough light but no direct sunlight. Avoid too much watering, use a spray bottle to dampen the surface of the soil.
5. When the first leaves appear, you can cut them off and eat them after a quick rinse!