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Sprouts and Microgreens: big nutrition in a small package

Winter is the perfect time to try out sprouts and microgreens for an easy burst of fresh greens and nutrients. Both sprouts and microgreens are available to purchase in most grocery stores and are a nutrient-dense addition to any meal. However, they can be expensive to buy, and are rather easy to grow at home, even in winter. It’s a fun project to watch your little garden emerge!

When you think microgreens, you might think that it’s a sprout or a smaller version of the mature vegetable. However, microgreens and sprouts aren’t the same things: they look different and taste different. Understanding the differences is essential if you decide you want to grow them at home. 

Sprouts are germinated seeds, which is when the seeds come out of their dormancy and sprout into a live plant. Inside the seed, the embryo uses the nutrients stored to sprout. Small stems and the earliest leaves, called cotyledons, form. They are usually rounded: not the shape of the plant’s true leaves. After a few days sprouts will go brown and die, because they aren’t planted in soil. 

To grow sprouts, germinate your seeds in water to reduce the risk of mold. A glass jar with a permeable lid or piece of paper towel to keep it moist and covered, placed on its side, is the ideal medium. These sprouts grow quickly, reaching harvestable size within six days. You don’t need to provide light or nutrients for them to grow. 

Eating sprouts gives you fibre, protein, and enzymes in one little bite. Sprouts are full of flavor and nutrients, plus they’re easy to use. Toss handfuls in your salads or on top of sandwiches.  Some favorite seeds for sprouting are:

  • Lentil

  • Alfalfa 

  • Radish

  • Sunflower

  • Pumpkin

  • Wheat

  • Chickpea

  • Broccoli

However, it’s important to note that eating raw sprouts can be risky. People have been known to become sick after eating sprouts contaminated with food-borne pathogens. This can be true of store-bought sprouts as well as home-grown, and this is why rinsing and draining sprouts is a necessary part of the growing process. Growing sprouts requires intense humidity and lack of direct sunlight; but that’s similar to how you grow fungus. To prevent your jar becoming a breeding ground for microbes, rinse your sprouts daily, and never eat sprouts that look or smell mouldy.

What are microgreens?

Microgreens happen when the first true leaves of a plant appear. They’re larger than sprouts and look more like a baby plant. They are grown in soil to provide nutrients. The leaves of the plant require sunlight for photosynthesis, to start to convert light into chemical energy, using it to grow.

Microgreens start from seeds, either vegetable or herb, just like sprouts. But they’re started in soil or peat moss rather than water. Microgreens take between one to three weeks to produce a real set of leaves, depending on the plant you’re growing.  

You can eat both the leaves and stems of your microgreens, but we usually trim off the roots. 

Some of the fastest-growing microgreens are:

  • Mustard greens

  • Radishes

  • Watercress

  • Kale

  • Red Cabbage

  • Broccoli

In addition to soil and nutrients, microgreens need plenty of light and ventilation, the same as any other plant. 

What makes microgreens so nutritious is that they’re more concentrated than the mature versions of the plants. All the vitamins are condensed into a smaller bite. Some people prefer to eat them right after the set of true leaves appear; the later the harvest, the stronger the taste.0

Microgreens vs. sprouts? Here are the key things to remember:



Grow in soil or peat moss

Germinate in water 

Need light, nutrients, and air to grow.

Need intense humidity but not sunlight to sprout. 

You eat the leaves and stems.

You eat the seeds, stems and cotyledons.

Take one to three weeks to grow.

Take under one week to grow.

Great for flavor and nutrients, as well as an addition to salads.

Add crunchy texture to any dish, and contain protein, enzymes, and vitamins.

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