Sprouts vs. Microgreens

Sprouts earned their place in the grocery store because they make grain seeds easier to digest.  The process of soaking in water and sprouting breaks down acids and enzyme inhibitors that inhibit digestion and cause intestinal gas.  Sprouting stimulates the formation of vitamins from the nutrients stored in the cotyledons.

In recent years, however, sprouts have experienced recalls at a rate of about one every four months due to food-borne illnesses, mostly Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli.  These bacteria thrive in the warm, humid, and dark conditions often used to grow sprouts and their populations often expand during shipment to grocery stores.

As a result, microgreens are coming to the forefront.  Although they are similar to sprouts, there are fundamental differences.  Their growing conditions mimic field growth: dense seed planting in a grow medium, usually soil, under full sun conditions.  These conditions inhibit the growth of bacteria, significantly reducing the likelihood of disease being transmitted.

Additionally, microgreens have a denser nutrient profile than sprouts, courtesy of the grow medium.  While sprouts are harvested before they start photosynthesis and therefore, all their nutrients come solely from the cotyledons, microgreens have the time to draw additional nutrients in through their roots and perform photosynthesis.  This has several effects: first, it increases the nutrients available in the microgreens; second, it brings out the flavor and color of the plants, making them a much more interesting addition to your food.

Any seed can be sprouted or grown as a microgreen, but the Brassicaceae family are one of the most common families of seeds used due to their rapid germination and growth rates.  I’m currently growing four blends and a fifth grain: a spicy mix consisting of multiple mustard greens; a mild mix of broccoli, kale, and kohlrabi; a sweet mix of fennel, basil, and borage; a robust mix of amaranth, swiss chard, and orach; and buckwheat for protein.

microgreens infographic

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