Microgreens Versus Sprouts: All Similarities & Differences

Microgreens Versus Sprouts: All Similarities & Differences

Sprouts and microgreens are often compared, but because many institutions put them under one category, they are often confused.

While there is a significant difference between microgreens and sprouts, they are both considered functional foods owing to their valuable health-promoting properties.

Unlike sprouts, microgreens provide greater nutrients and higher concentrations of antibacterial compounds. Nevertheless, their growth takes longer and harvesting microgreens take a little more time and effort compared to harvesting sprouts.

Compared to microgreens, sprouts are not only cheaper to purchase and produce, but they also take less time to grow and do not require harvesting.

What are Microgreens?

Microgreens are very young plants: tender, immature greens grown from various vegetables, herbs, or grains (such as broccoli, cilantro, and buckwheat) and harvested in about 8-14 days, just after the cotyledons (seed leaves) and/or the first pair of true leaves emerge.

Radish micro greens.

How to Grow and Harvest Microgreens

Growing microgreens requires a growing medium, either soil-based such as potting soil, or in a soilless medium such as in peat moss, coco coir, or vermiculite mixes or growing mats.

Unlike sprouts, microgreens require direct sunlight or artificial light for growth and are harvested a few inches tall by cutting the baby plants just above the soil line, leaving the roots in the growing tray.

Several trays of growing microgreens.

Nutritional Value & Accessibility

Microgreens pack a nutrient punch, as they offer extensive nutritional value. They're a rich source of protein, sugars, fat, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants compared to microgreens' mature counterparts.

Their high dietary fiber content is also excellent for gut health.

From their stems to their tiny leaves, microgreens are abundant in vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, and several carotenoids, some of which are precursors to creating vitamin A

This diminutive superfood has grown in popularity across the nation thanks to its health benefits and its increasing accessibility in farmer's markets and grocery stores.

Sunflower shoots with emerging true leaves.

Variety & Flavor

The sky's the limit when growing microgreens because almost any seed can become a microgreen, the most common of them being: sunflower shoots, pea shoots, radish microgreens, kale microgreens, red cabbage, and broccoli microgreens, among many others.

Microgreen varieties offer a wide range of flavors, from mild lettuce microgreens to nutty sunflower shoots, to spicy mustard and radish microgreens, making them a diverse ingredient that adds extra nutrients to dishes.

Wheatgrass is also a popular microgreen commonly used for juicing.

Wheatgrass microgreens and wheatgrass juice.

Health Risks

When cultivating microgreens, the growing medium, microgreen seeds, water, equipment, and ourselves can be a source of contamination and disease.

Ensuring good ventilation and daily inspection of crops, as well as maintaining a high level of cleanliness and sanitation can reduce the chances of disease.

Like most raw foods, it's best to wash them prior to use.


What are sprouts?

Sprouts have been a health food staple in Southern, Eastern, and Southeast Asian cuisine for centuries before making its way to Western palate in the 70s.

Sprouts are germinated or partially germinated seeds that are eaten whole—seed, root, and stem.

Sprouts are a mainstay in raw diets and are described as nutritionally beneficial.

Growing sprouts: mung beans sprouting on paper towels.

How to Grow Sprouts

Unlike microgreens, sprouts are relatively easier to grow.

And many people grow their own sprouts.

As opposed to microgreens, growing sprouts doesn't involve a growing medium. A batch of sprouting seed is soaked in water for about 8-12 hours, drained, and placed in a sprouting jar or cloth bag.

The seeds are then placed in a low-light environment and rinsed 2-3 times daily. Due to the high moisture and intense humidity levels maintained to sprout, the seeds germinate rapidly and are ready for consumption in less than a week.

Mung beans and lentils are popular seeds to sprout.

Several sprouting jars topped with paper towel.

Nutrition & Accessibility

During the sprouting process, the nutrients stored in the seeds are released in the form of digestible energy, vitamins (A, C, E, & B vitamins), minerals, amino acids, proteins, and antioxidants including phenolic compounds, carotenoids, chlorophylls, and ascorbic acid.

While mung bean sprouts have remained widely available in most grocery stores since the 1970's, more and more varieties have been making their way to the market including lentil sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, and broccoli sprouts.

Phytic Acid

Phytic acid is found in many seeds. It binds to dietary minerals and inhibits their absorption in the small intestine. Luckily, sprouting seeds greatly reduces, if not completely gets rid of, the compound.

Variety & Flavor

Unlike microgreens, sprout varieties are limited.

Sprouts are generally milder in flavor, which makes them a versatile addition to many dishes. Eaten raw, sprouts make an excellent salad, but they also do well in stir-fries and side dishes.

Mixed sprout salad.

Health Risks

The FDA considers sprouts a high-risk food because of the increased risk of bacterial contamination due to the moist and humid environment required for sprout production.

A number of outbreaks of harmful bacteria (including salmonella and E. coli) have been associated with commercially grown sprouts.

Good Agricultural Practices

The outbreaks led to the US FDA's development and implementation of good agricultural practices such as sanitary handling of seeds and sprouts, seed disinfection, and regular microbial testing.


Growth Periods of Microgreens and Sprouts

One major differentiation between microgreens vs. sprouts is the grow time.

Generally, sprouts grow for 3-7 days, while a microgreen plant can take between 5-7 days, even up to 21 days depending on the variety. Herb microgreens in particular take longer to grow compared to vegetable and grass seeds that grow fast.

Unharvested, microgreens allowed to grow for longer periods (3-4 weeks) will become baby greens and even reach their full size.

Baby arugula greens.


Microgreens vs. Sprouts: Which is Healthier?

Both microgreens and sprouts are high in health-promoting nutrients and properties.

Longer Grow Time for Microgreens

But because microgreens are grown in a growing medium and allowed to mature longer than sprouts, they are able to develop roots that absorb nutrients in the soil to convert into plant material, increasing available nutrients and digestible fiber for consumption.


Microgreens are also allowed to fully grow their cotyledons and occasionally their first true leaves, allowing them to photosynthesize and develop chlorophyll, which has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-mutagenic potential.

Foodborne Illness

The risk of foodborne illnesses is also lower with microgreens, thanks to their need for ventilation.


What are the advantages of microgreens?

  • Variety. Microgreens come in many varieties and many different flavors and textures.
  • Better Flavor. Microgreens are also more flavorful: from sharp mustards to spicy radishes to nutty sunflowers.
  • More Nutritious. Because they are grown for longer, they uptake nutrients and are therefore more nutritious.
  • Fewer health risks. How microgreens are grown also lends them to less risk of bacterial and mold growth, and foodborne disease. 

What are the disadvantages of microgreens?

  • Longer grow time. Although it increases their nutritional value, microgreens take longer to grow compared to sprouts.
  • More time and effort. Before the seeds are even sowed, the equipment and materials need to be prepared: it takes time and labor to sanitize the seeds, clean the tray, and fill it with the growing media.

Microgreen crops also need to be watered somewhat regularly. They also need to be harvested, cut just above the soil level. The cleanup also involves storing or composting the used soil and disinfection of trays.

Costly. Packed micro greens are priced higher than packed sprouts, and the costs can accumulate if planning on buying regularly, which is why some choose to grow their own microgreens.

Clamshell package of micro greens.

What are the advantages of sprouts?

  • Quick to grow. Sprouts are grown quickly and are ready in less than a week.
  • Minimal equipment. No need for a growing tray, a spray bottle, or soil. A clean jar will suffice.
  • Minimal labor. Sprouts only need an initial soak and daily rinsing. No harvesting required.
Seeds soaking in a sprouting jar.

What are the disadvantages of sprouts?

  • Limited varieties. Limited choices of sprouts are available commercially unless growing at home.
  • Milder flavors. Flavors are milder and more subtle compared to microgreen varieties.
  • High risk of contamination. Growing conditions are conducive to bacterial growth, increasing the chances of foodborne illnesses.