Do you know the difference between sprouts, cress, microgreens, and baby greens? This post will discuss the key factors that will allow you to distinguish between each plant and its stage of growth.
Sprouts are essentially germinated seeds and are identifiable by their long pale root. During sprouting, the seed coat softens to allow water molecules to soak into its pores. Seeds are very absorbent, and this high water content gives sprouts their famous crunch. At this stage of development, the plant lacks chlorophyll, which is why sprouts have that refreshing, but minimally flavoured taste.
Sprouts have been linked with numerous cases of food poisoning over the years so it is important to understand this risk and how to minimise it when growing your own sprouts.
Sprout safety begins with production and understanding where your food is coming from. Most sprouts at a supermarket have been grown in large quantities. To speed up this process, these seeds are rarely planted, but instead, are placed in cloth bags and repeatedly soaked in water. It is the constant exposure to high humidity and low light that enables bacteria to thrive. Additionally, sprouts are generally eaten raw, reducing the likelihood that high heat will kill off any of this bacteria. Growing your own sprouts reduce this risk, but it is important to ensure that you carefully sanitise your containers between each germination cycle.
A sprout is called a cress once it grows cotyledons, which is its first leaves. A plant’s true leaves usually look different from its cotyledons as they differ in size, shape, texture and sometimes even colour and represent the final leaf shape of the plant. Some plants will have multiple cycles of this process.
Plants with one cotyledon are called ‘monocots,’ and plants with two are called ‘dicots’ – a plant will be one or the other. The purpose of the cotyledons is to provide a food reserve to sustain the plant until it can extract energy and nutrition from the sun and the soil (photosynthesis).
The cotyledons shed at different rates and microgreens will be harvested once they have developed the first set of their true leaves.
The next stage following on from cress is when we get Microgreens. At the point of harvest, microgreens are anywhere from 2-4 weeks old. Despite their short harvest and small size microgreens hold a lot of flavour. Sprouts and Cress often look similar between different plants, but once they are harvested as microgreens their true flavour and appearance allow us to distinguish between different plants.
Baby greens follow on from the microgreen stage but it can be difficult to distinguish between the two. Baby greens have more than one set of true leaves and look like overgrown microgreens. Baby greens are essentially just smaller versions of the more mature plant.
if left to grow, some plants can flower to produce seeds and self-sow. This process is called bolting. The production of seeds grows away from the centre stem. It is important to note that as a plant begins to bolt its flavour often becomes more bitter.
Now you are able to differentiate between the various stages of plant development you will be able to grow your own fresh microgreens to pack a big punch of flavour to every meal.