All About Eating & Growing Microgreens

Learn how to keep microgreens fresh, healthy, and safe from foodborne illness.

What are microgreens?

Microgreens are the immature seedlings of edible herbs and vegetables. They’re basically baby plants.

Compared to the mature plants they grow into, microgreens have a ton of nutrients in a tiny package. They only grow a few inches and can be harvested and eaten a week to 10 days after the leaves have developed.

Their shelf life is pretty short even if they’re refrigerated, so they’re best eaten right away. Like most other fresh produce eaten raw, you should wash them right before you eat them to reduce the chance of getting sick. Once washed, you can add them to a salad, a sandwich, or as a fanciful topping to a dinner entrée.

Can microgreens make you sick?

We know a lot about the physiology and nutrition of microgreens, but there are only a few studies about the food safety risks. There are a lot of ways in which microgreens can get contaminated. Microgreens have been recalled in the past, but these contaminations were caught during routine food safety inspections.

Bottom line is that microgreens are about as risky as any fresh produce that is eaten raw. So if you are used to eating raw tomatoes, lettuce, and other vegetables, then you shouldn't fear microgreens. Just wash them right before you eat them and you should be fine.

Know the difference between sprouts and microgreens

Can you spot the difference?

A survey by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture found that only 49% of consumers knew the difference between a microgreen and a sprout. While they are both similar in that they are both “baby” plants, there are differences in both biology and how they are grown.
Link to survey summary north_east

The biological difference

Microgreens are defined as the immature shoots of vegetables and herbs, which are commonly used in salads or as garnishes. The primary difference between microgreens and sprouts, biologically speaking, is their age. Microgreens are more mature plants that are taller. Sprouts, on the other hand, have had less time to mature and are smaller. Both plants may have leaves, but the leaves of microgreens are “true leaves” while the leaves of sprouts are known as cotyledons, considered part of the embryo of seed-bearing plants. With microgreens, just the top part of the plant is eaten and the roots are left behind, whereas sprouts are eaten whole.

How they’re grown

Microgreens and sprouts are grown in very different ways.

Microgreens are first stimulated to grow by soaking them in water briefly (2 to 4 hours), if at all. They are then sown in either a soilless growing medium, fibrous grow mats, or, less commonly, soil. Their roots are kept moist while the rest of the plant grows above the growing medium under light. Ten to 21 days later, they are cut above the growth media, washed, and eaten.