Are Microgreens Baby Plants?

Baby plants are, as their name suggests, are young plants at the infancy stage (2-40 days) of a plant’s growth cycle. Microgreens are therefore considered baby plants. Baby plants include the following:

  • Sprouts
  • Microgreens
  • Baby greens

In the hierarchy (based on the growth cycle) microgreens fall somewhere between a sprout and baby green.

Each plant starts to evolve characteristics as it grows and reaches the microgreen stage. To produce microgreens, a growth medium, light and nutrients are required. A microgreen is a seedling of vegetables and herbs with one or two completely formed cotyledon leaves and the appearance of a basic pair of first true leaves.

The world of baby plants can have you wondering at first – sprouts, baby leaf greens, microgreens– what is the difference? Let us review them for a better understanding.

Microgreens as Baby Plants

Microgreens are typically harvested 14 to 28 days after germination. Microgreens are in general seedlings that are harvested before they become larger plants. However, compared to their more mature species, the flavour is highly satisfactory.

5 Striking Characteristics of Microgreens You Should Know
  • Microgreens are young greens about 1–3 inches (2.5–7.5 cm) high.
  • They have an aromatic fragrance, a concentrated nutrient content and are available in various colours.
  • Microgreens are known to be baby plants, falling somewhere between sprouts and baby greens.
  • That said, they are not to be mistaken for sprouts which have no leaves. Sprouts will also have a much shorter period of growth (2-7 days), while microgreens will usually be harvested 7-21 days after germination, after the plant has the first real leaves.
  • Microgreen are more similar to baby greens because their only edible parts include stems and leaves. However, they are much smaller and can be sold before harvest, unlike the baby greens.This ensures the plants can be purchased complete, and cut at home, hence keeping them alive until they’re eaten.

Microgreens are very easy to grow because they can be planted in a lot of areas, like indoors, in gardens, and even on a table.

Are Microgreens More Nutritional Than Mature Plants?

Microgreens are packed with nutrients.

Most of the varieties are rich in potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and copper, though their nutrient contents differ marginally. Microgreens also have a significant source of protective medicinal compounds such as antioxidants.

Moreover, the concentration of their nutrient content implies that they sometimes contain higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than mature greens.

A recent study comparing microgreens to mature greens shows that in microgreens, nutrient levels can be up to nine times higher than those in mature greens.

Analyses also reveal that they contain a larger range of polyphenols and antioxidants than their more mature forms.

An analysis assessed the amounts of vitamins and antioxidants in 25 marketable microgreen items. These amounts were then compared to the values reported for mature leaves in the USDA National Nutrient Database.

While the concentration of vitamins and antioxidants differed, microgreen concentrations were up to 40 times higher than those measured for mature leaves. Both tests, however, do not report identical findings.

The Exceptions

In an instance, the researchers examined the levels of nutrients present in sprouts, microgreens and fully grown amaranth plants. It showed that the fully cultivated crops often possessed nutrients at a level equal to, and at times, even greater than that of microgreens.

Thus, while microgreens tend to produce higher amounts of nutrients than mature plants, this can differ depending on the species in consideration.

In summary, microgreens are nutrient-dense. They sometimes contain more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than their mature forms.

While this sounds interesting, the number of studies that assess the impact of microgreen products explicitly on these conditions is small and no research concerning their impact on humans can be found. More experiments are therefore required before one can draw firm conclusions.

Microgreens supply nutrients and beneficial plant compounds in a condensed dosage. As a consequence, the incidence of certain diseases can be minimized.

Baby Greens vs Microgreens

Baby greens are as their name suggests, babies. Baby leaves, such as spinach, kale, and arugula, are harvested at the age of 15 to 40 days compared to 45 to 60 days for a mature leaf. They are more delicate and bite-sized in their youthful state.

Baby leaf vegetables or greens are also young seedlings and, like microgreens, they need a growth medium, light, and nutrients.

With respect to nutrition, the general notion is that baby greens and their more advanced counterparts are roughly comparable. As far as spinach is concerned, both varieties have proponents who suggest that either has a stronger vitamin composition, but there is no definitive data that lead in any direction.

The difference becomes more evident with Kale. A fully cultivated plant may have too tough, bitter leaves for some eaters, and the baby variety provides a lighter taste and a lighter texture.

SproutsMicrogreensBaby greens 
Leaves NoYesYes
Growing cycle2 – 7 days17 – 21 days20 – 40 days
Lighting requiredLittle to none is requiredRequire lightRequire light
FlavourMild Very strongStrong 
Nutritional contentNot particularly highMajorly high (varies with species) High
Growing mediumWaterSoilSoil
Edible partsStem & seedLeaves & stem Leaves
Presence of true leavesNoNoYes
Health riskHighVery lowVery low

What is the Difference Between Baby Greens and Microgreens? 

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.

So, from all these, we see that microgreens are baby plants, together with sprouts and baby greens. 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. You can go ahead to mix several varieties and grow them together to create different combinations of flavour, textures and colours.

Challenges With Growing Baby Greens

Because baby greens are frequently grown in a meagre one inch of soil, they can quickly dry out. You should, therefore, water the plants on a regular basis.

Aphids and snails both love microgreens, and it is often the case that aphids that clear up the tray for you if you don’t harvest the baby plants quickly enough.

Microgreens vs Baby Greens: And The Winner Is…

Based on research comparing microgreens and baby greens in a different study, baby greens were found to have approximately 20% more chlorophylls, carotenoids, phenols, and anthocyanins (a type of flavonoid) than microgreens.

It is thought to be due to the difference in how long the two products are allowed to grow before they are harvested. Germination is the process by which the energy (chemical) stored in the plant’s seed is activated. These phytochemicals are thought to increase during leaf development and peak in mature leaves.

Baby greens have more macrominerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium, and manganese) than microgreens. However, the study found trace minerals like iron, copper, and zinc concentrations to be higher in microgreens.

Between microgreens and baby greens, the latter were often found to be richer in minerals and antioxidants.

The Best Microgreens You Can Cultivate

Microgreens can be cultivated from various types of seeds.

Seeds from the following plant families are used to grow the best varieties:

  • Brassicaceae Family: Cauliflower, broccoli, watercresses, radish and arugula 
  • Asteraceae Family: Lettuce, Endive, Chicory, and Radicchio
  • Apiaceae Family: fennel, carrot, dill, and celery.
  • Amaryllidaceae Family: Garlic, onions, and leek
  • Amaranthaceae Family: Amaranth, quinoa swiss chard, beet, and spinach
  • Cucurbitaceae family: squash, melon, and cucumber.

Cereals like corn, oats, wheat and grain are also developed into microgreens, as are legumes such as chickpeas, beans and lentils.

Microgreen tastes differ, and depending on the type, they can vary from neutral to salty, mildly sour or even bitter. Their aroma is usually observed to be intense and concentrated.

Overall, baby plants are very fun and rewarding to work with. I especially enjoy growing and exploring microgreens. What’s more, you get a lot of value for very little effort.

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