What is the Difference Between Micro-Greens, Shoots, Sprouts, and Baby Greens?
Microgreens, shoots, and sprouts are all immature plants harvested before they reach full maturity.
“Shoots” and “micro-greens” are the first growth of young and tender plants harvested before reaching full maturity. They are generally 2-6 inches long and have a few baby leaves and maybe a budding flower. They taste like their mature counterpart- but have a very delicate texture and crunch. Micro-greens and shoots are eaten raw, sauteed, or used as a garnish on dishes served hot or cold. Micro-greens are essentially the same as shoots. The word “micro-green” is generally used to describe baby kale, lettuce, chard, and beet greens. Microgreens and shoots need a growing medium, like soil, and sunlight to grow. It usually takes about 7 days for them to reach a harvestable size. When a plant is in the early stages of growth, it needs the most nutrients. Because of this, micro-greens and shoots are more nutritious than if allowed to grow to maturity. They can be good sources of vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, minerals, and antioxidants.
“Sprouts” on the other hand, are seeds that have just entered the first stage of germination. You will see a seed opening up and a tiny sprout emerging. They do not need a growing medium or sunlight to grow. Sprouts are often grown in jars, stored in the dark, and require more sterile technique than microgreens. You rinse the seeds twice a day with clean water until they sprout, then they are ready to eat!
“Baby greens” (like baby spinach, kale, arugula, “spring mix”) are also leafy greens picked at an immature state, but they are more mature than shoots and micro-greens. Micro-greens and shoots will most often only have their “seed leaves” or Cotyledons. These are two leaves that are part of the embryo and emerge from the seed to provide nutrients to the plant to help it grow “true leaves”. Baby greens have “true leaves” that can perform photosynthesis to help the plant grow. This difference changes the shelf-life, nutrition, texture and taste.
No matter what size you like your little green things, they are all really healthy, delicious, and locally available!
History and Facts
While it’s very possible that people have been eating tiny green things for a very long time, “micro-greens” and “shoots” really just went mainstream in the United States.
The use of pea shoots and leaves in cooking originated in China and was popularized by immigrant populations in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand in the early 1800s. Eventually, immigrants moving to the United States in the 1970s brought the tradition with them. Traditionally, wok sauteed dòu miáo, or pea shoots with garlic are a staple side dish in Chinese cuisine, as reported by Oakland Magazine.
Micro-greens got their start in the United States in the 1990s in Southern California with the rest of the “hippie food” movement. And like many of the other traditionally “ethnic” foods popularized by far-out cafes on the West Coast like hummus, lentils, and tofu- micro-greens and shoots have made their way all the way into the greenhouses and kitchens in rural Upstate New York.
How They are Grown
Micro-greens and shoots are a very popular crop to grow in the Adirondack region because they are relatively easy to grow in covered spaces and hoop houses early in the season before the ground has thawed.
Many different edible vegetables and legumes can be grown as a micro-green or shoot, like radish, broccoli, sunflower, beets, cabbage, peas, cilantro, basil, and dill.
While a pea plant can take about 60 days to reach maturity, a pea shoot can be harvested in just two to four weeks. The added benefit of pea shoots, a legume, is that as the plants grow, they add nitrogen to the soil. This improves the soil condition for other crops that can grow in the same area once it becomes too warm to grow the cool-season-loving peas.
Once the tops are cut off, some varieties of plants will keep growing and are ready to harvest again in several days. They are usually grown in dense planting, allowing for more plants in a relatively small area.
How to Enjoy Them
Micro-greens have earned a reputation as being fancy, expensive, and reserved for upscale dining. The small clam-shell plastic containers of micro-greens can seem like an intimidating item to add to your market basket. But their primary benefit is their ease. They require minimal washing, chopping, and cooking.
They are most commonly used to top warm or cold dishes to give the dish a delicate spicy fresh flavor and crunch.
Micro-Green and Shoots Recipes to try
Micro-green salad, PBS Food
Stir-fry pea shoots with garlic, chinasichuanfood.com
Grow your own pea shoots, from CCE Essex Farm to School Educator Meghan Dohman
Pea Shoots on the Menu at an Upcoming Event
The Adirondack Experience: Museum on Blue Mountain Lake and the Albany Public Library are hosting an online cooking demonstration on April 14 at 7:00 PM. The virtual event will highlight students and staff in the Culinary and Hospitality Program at Paul Smith’s College, the College of the Adirondacks. Pea shoots from Moonstone Farm, and other local food is on the menu. Chef Kevin will be presenting on:
– Venison medallions with a hard cider maple sauce
– Gratin of 3 Tuckers Taters with Dutch knuckle and thyme
– Carrot puree, pea shoots, and glazed celery root
Learn more and register: https://www.theadkx.org/adkx-live-events/adirondack-style-encore/
Where to Buy Shoots and Micro-Greens
Wherever veggies are sold near you! To find the most interesting and flavorful micro-greens and shoots, find them locally grown.
Find retail locations, farms, and winter markets selling little green things at adirondackharvest.com/browse
How do you enjoy micro-greens? Comment below and let us know!