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Sprouts, Microgreens, and Baby Leaf Greens – What is what?

Category: Blog post
Mix of green vegetables
Drops Pattern

The world of small leafy vegetables and herbs can be quite confusing at first – sprouts, baby leaf greens, microgreens– what is the difference? Let us review them for a better understanding.

Read time 3 minutes

Sprouts are germinated seeds, which are usually grown in the dark and entirely in the water without soil or another growing medium. Seeds are inserted, and not actually planted, into enclosed containers in high density. Due to the high humidity levels, the seeds germinate quickly, within the first 48 hours. The entire sprout – seed, root, stem, and pale underdeveloped leaves – is eaten. As soon as the sprout starts to grow its first leaves – cotyledons (seed leaves) – the cotyledon stage begins. These first two leaves (or one leaf; depending on the plant) develop around day 5 and are different from the plant’s true leaves. Cotyledon leaves are shed usually after the photosynthesis begins.

Characteristics of each plant start to appear as the plant develops further and enters the microgreen stage. Microgreens need growing medium, light, and nutrients to grow. Microgreens are seedlings of vegetables and herbs, which have one or two fully developed cotyledon leaves with the emergence of a rudimentary pair of first true leaves. Microgreens are usually harvested 14–28 days after germination. In general, microgreens are seedlings that are harvested before they develop into larger plants. However, the flavor palate is equally satisfying compared to the mature plants.

Baby leaf vegetables or baby leaf greens are also young seedlings and they need growing medium, light, and nutrients to grow, just like microgreens. What is the difference between the latter two? Baby leaf greens are a bit older than microgreens. These seedlings have a longer growth cycle and they are harvested 20-40 days after germination when they have developed more than one set of true leaves.

To sum up the difference – microgreens are older than sprouts but younger than baby leaf greens. Commonly grown varieties include amaranth, arugula, beet, basil, cabbage, celery, cilantro, cress, fennel, mustard, radish, sorrel, etc. Several varieties can be mixed and grown together to create different combinations of flavor, textures, and colors.

Quick Definitions

  • A sprout is a germinated seed consisting of seed, root, and stem
  • The cotyledon stage starts as the first leaves – cotyledons – emerge. Plants with two cotyledon leaves are called ‘dicots’ and plants with one cotyledon leaf are called ‘monocots’
  • Microgreens are tender immature plants. The edible part of microgreen consists of a stem, cotyledons, and the first pair of young true leaves
  • Baby leaf greens are older than microgreens and have more than one pair of true leaves

Variation of sprouts e.g. germinated seeds

The cotyledon stage starts as the first leaves – cotyledons emerge

Coriander microgreens 
(Coriandrum sativum L.)

Over the internet, microgreens are often confused with the cotyledon stage. As seen in the picture, true leaves (lobed leaves) are completely different from the cotyledon leaves (smooth-edged leaves). As soon as true leaves start to grow, we have microgreens!

Baby leaf butterhead lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.)  
from Natufia smart Kitchen Garden

Baby leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.)  
from Natufia Smart Garden

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