Microgreens and sprouts are both harvested at very early stages, but they have a few distinct differences. Tatum, our Horticultural Lead, walks us through those differences and talks about why we grow microgreens and not sprouts in our farm.
While they may seem similar at face value, there are a few distinctions that set sprouts and microgreens apart.
The most commonly eaten sprouts are “harvested” at the very first stage of a plant’s development, very shortly after a seed has germinated and produced a small root and shoot. Unlike microgreens, sprouts do not require a growing medium, which allows the entire plant to be consumed. They are often cultivated by rinsing seeds and keeping them in damp, dark environments, which is also a preferred environment of bacteria and mold, so extra care must be taken to prevent contamination that could lead to illness when the sprouts are eaten, especially if they are not cooked beforehand.
Microgreens tend to be more developed than sprouts, as they are allowed to root on a growing medium, be it soil, a hydroponic mat, or terra cotta (who knew chia pets were really a microgreen garden!). After germinating and establishing a solid root base, microgreens are allowed to grow until their first leaves, called cotyledons, fully emerge. At this point most microgreens are harvested, but some are allowed to grow just a little longer and have their first set of adult leaves, called true leaves, appear. And while sprouts do tend to be slightly higher in fiber than microgreens, allowing the plants to develop longer and “green up” with access to higher intensity light makes them a concentrated source of vitamins and other beneficial compounds like antioxidants.
At Planted, we choose to grow microgreens instead of sprouts for a number of reasons. By planting in soilless media and using fertilized water to irrigate, we are able to grow a more diverse number of crops than the brassicas and legumes that are typical choices for sprouting. This leads to a wide variety of colors, textures, and flavor profiles that chefs and home cooks alike can appreciate. Our growing methods also allow our microgreens to have a longer shelf life than most sprouts, not only because the plants are more developed and less delicate, but they are also not agitated by rinsing in the growing process, which means there is less opportunity for cell wall breakdown and the plants stay fresher, longer post-harvest. The growing methods for our microgreens also reduce food safety risks, and at Planted we go above and beyond with our biosecurity measures to cut these risks even further.