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

January 15, 2018 2 Comments

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


This is the first of many future articles to be published on Natufia Labs Helery's Blog. Helery Harend is a senior botanist at Natufia Labs. She has accepted to share with you her precious knowledge in botanics, her practical experience of what can be done and what cannot be done in hydroponics, her many 'tips' to have plants growing better, healthier and tastier and the many properties and good use of those plants that grow in the Natufia Kitchen Garden. Swell gardening and Bon Appetit!


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.

Sprouts are germinated seeds, which are usually grown in the dark and entirely in the water without soil or other growing medium. Seeds are inserted, and not actually planted, to 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 sprout starts to grow its first leaves – cotyledons (seed leaves) – cotyledon stage begins. These first two leaves (or one leaf; depends on the plant) develop around day 5 and are different from 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 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 at 14–28 days after germination. In general, microgreens are seedlings that are harvested before they develop into larger plants. However, the flavour 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 flavour, textures and colours.

Quick definitions:

  • Sprout is a germinated seed consisting of seed, root and stem.
  • 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 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.
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 on 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
Baby leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) 
from Natufia Kitchen Garden.



2 Responses

Andrew Lim
Andrew Lim

January 18, 2019

Thanks for the article. It is very informative. One question on growing microgreens. You mention they need light and nutrients to grow. But don’t the nutrients come from their seeds? Since they are harvested at a young stage, I would think nutrients aren’t necessary.


January 18, 2019

Thanks for very clear explanation of different stages (with illustrations) of a tiny plant (micro green)
It would be highly appreciated if you will kindly shed some light on the nutrition value of sprouts, cotyledon and micro green
for the benefit of users and growers alike.

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