"They're microgreens not sprouts". I think I say that sentence at least a hundred times a week (ok maybe 20 time, but I say it a lot). Customers often confuse microgreens with sprouts. This doesn't surprise/bother me at all! I mean... I never saw a microgreen in the flesh until I grew one. You rarely see them in grocery stores and most people definitely don't know how they're grown. It makes sense that a customer would think that microgreens are sprouts.
One weekend at market I wrote a little sign to display at my stall that said "They're not sprouts! They're microgreens!" All the other vendors we're laughing at my (unintentional) bitchy sign. So let me take a stab and explaining the difference in a non-bitchy fashion.
Let's first talk about how sprouts are grown. Seeds are placed in a wet environment in jars (home-grown) or incubation chambers (commercially grown). Light exposure is usually limited until the end of growing to allow for the seed to open, revealing the seed leaves, stem and root. This process can take several days to complete. During this time the grower will have to frequently change the water to prevent the seedling from rotting. Once the seeds are fully sprouted they are packaged and sold as sprouts. Some common sprouts you see are alfalfa, mung bean, radish, etc.
Unlike sprouts, microgreens are started like any other plants that we grow - they are planted in SOIL. Once they germinate, they are watered and are given ample sunlight. We plant the seeds very densely in greenhouse tray since they will be harvested soon after they are planted and do not need a lot of room to grow. You can think of this dense planting as being similar to how salad mixes or baby greens are seeded densely and harvested when they are small.
After about 10 to 20 days of growing the microgreens are ready to harvest. We harvest them by cutting the stems just above the soil line in the planting trays. Harvesting is a bit tedious but we're pretty quick at this point after doing it for two years.
So why grow and eat microgreens? Why cut down these tender young plants as soon as they are getting started? Well, for just that reason: they are tender, super loaded with flavor and nutrients that are in a convenient form that we can easily digest. In fact, there is research that shows that microgreens can be 4 to 40 times more nutrient dense than their adult counterpart (check out the research article here).
Please forgive us for being picky about the name. We just want to make sure that you know what you're buying and how they are grown. So remember, dear customer, that they are not sprouts but microgreens and they are delicious and YES, we love them too! And we also love answering your questions about how we grow them and how to use them in your weekly meals so please don't be afraid to ask!
Ross and Jillian Mickens are the owners and operators of Open Door Farm located in the North Carolina Piedmont.