Sprouts vs. Microgreens vs. Baby Greens
Microgreens are little baby edible plants. They can be used as a garnish or be a major ingredient in a salad or sandwich. Think of alfalfa sprouts you might get on a deli sandwich. Many different plant species can be consumed as microgreens including kale, clover, radish, herbs and much more.
One Healthline article described microgreens as the product between a sprout and a baby green. A sprout is usually just seeds soaked and rinsed in water for a few days until the root tendrils start to grow. Sprouts don’t need light and can be grown at home in a jar. Microgreens are grown in a tray with growing medium (a soil replacement or mat that absorbs water). Microgreens are allowed to grow to the photosynthetic stage of their lives. They’ll need light and will take on coloration (usually shades of green, but can be pink, purple, light and dark). These baby plants are grown to a few inches tall. This can take anywhere from one to three (or more!) weeks. Some seeds are better suited for sprouts and some are better suited for microgreens. For instance, mung beans make great sprouts, but produce tough unappetizing stems and so are not good as micros.
Though there is no “scientific” definition for any of these young plant products, a good indication that you’re leaving microgreen land and moving into the realm of baby greens is the formation of a true leaf. The first little green lobes that grow from the seed, are not actually “leaves,” but “cotyledons”, part of the plant embryo that was inside the seed. The true leaves come after the cotyledon and are much more efficient photosynthesizers. As the plant matures the cotyledon will often shrivel and fall off. Once true leaves start to grow, the plant’s nutrient needs will increase drastically. Most farmers will grow baby greens outside or in greenhouses, and some produce hydropocially, in a nutrient solution rather than in soil. Baby greens try to obtain the fresh flavor and tender texture you get in microgreens, but deliver more volume and can be more durable (though some varieties of microgreens have a surprisingly long shelf life in the fridge.)
I will be trying out new microgreen varieties and expanding my offerings of baby greens in 2021 at Saltless Sea Urban Farm. Sign up for my email newsletter and follow on Facebook and Instagram to make sure you don’t miss out!