Sprouts: terminology, suitable varieties & health benefits


I have always been fascinated by plants. There is still so much to explore and discover in the plant kingdom and I would love to be a part of it. At the moment I am really enjoying my studies in horticulture, focussed particularly on veg and ornamental plants.
Working sustainably and using eco-friendly integrated plant protection are very important to me.

Favourite fruit: Raspberries
Favourite vegetable: Tomatoes

Sprouts are considered to be low-calorie vitamin bombs. In this article we will go over the health benefits of sprouts as well as which varieties are best for growing.

Fresh sprouts in wooden bowl
Sprouts are very nutritious and can be used in many ways [Photo: grafvision /Shutterstock.com]

Sprouts are becoming ever more popular and are being used more frequently in the kitchen. They add a nice crunch to our menu, especially in winter. Read on to find out what sprouts actually are, as well as an overview of suitable varieties and the health benefits that they provide.

What are sprouts?

Sprouts are the germinating seeds of plants. Oftentimes, they have a light white or yellow colouring because they do not need sunlight to grow. The cotyledons are visible, but not fully developed. They only need water and a couple of days in order for them to grow. The entire sprout, including the root, can be eaten.

It is particularly easy to grow sprouts with a sprouting jar. A sieve is screwed onto it instead of a lid. This makes it easy to water the seeds and excess water drains easily from the inverted jar.

Growing sprouts in sprouting jar
You can grow sprouts in a snap using a sprouting jar [Photo: Arina P Habich /Shutterstock.com]

What is the difference between sprouts and microgreens?

Sprouts are in an earlier stage of development than microgreens. The cotyledons are clearly visible in microgreens. Furthermore, these plants need some light to complete photosynthesis and to be able to develop their green colour. Microgreens, such as classic cress, are typically grown on a substrate, whereas sprouts can grow without one.

Microgreens grown on substrate
Microgreens have developed much further than sprouts and grow on a substrate [Photo: Vulp/Shutterstock.com]

Sprout varieties: which plants are suitable?

A wide range of plant seeds can be used to grow your own sprouts at home. Always make sure that the seeds are untreated. Nightshade plants such as tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), peppers (Capsicum) and aubergines (Solanum melongena) as well as poisonous plant species are not suitable for growing as sprouts.


  • Borage (Borago officinalis) – only eat in moderation
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) – contains a lot of potassium
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Sesame (Sesamum indicum)
  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) – for Indian cuisine

Note: The popular culinary herb borage contains some potentially toxic alkaloids. So, only consume borage plants and sprouts in small quantities.


  • Soybean (Glycine max) – contains particularly high levels of potassium
  • Lentils (Lens) – taste sweetish, spicy and nutty
  • Peas (Pisum sativum)
  • Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) – slightly spicy and very healthy
  • Red cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata f. rubra) bright red, but tasteless
  • Mustard (Brassica napus) – spicy
  • Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – mild and nutty
  • Beetroot (Beta vulgaris) – bright red
  • Carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus)
  • Cress (Lepidium sativum) – mildly spicy
  • Rocket (Eruca sativa)
  • Radish (Raphanus sativus) – tastes hot and spicy


  • Wheat (Triticum) – mild, sweet taste
  • Amaranth (Amaranthus)
  • Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) – high in fibre and vitamin A
  • Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) – smells like curry
  • Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)
  • Buckwheat (Fagopyrum)
  • Mung beans (Vigna radiata) – sweet taste

Tip: You can often find premade sprout mixtures in garden centres and DIY stores. These mixtures contain seeds from several plants that complement each other in terms of taste and nutrient composition.

sprouting sprouts on wooden spoon
Premade sprout mixtures are commercially available [Photo: Inna Dodor/Shutterstock.com]

Are sprouts good for you?

In addition to a variety of nutrients and vitamins, sprouts also provide proteins, dietary fibres and secondary phytochemicals which are valued for their health-promoting properties. However, the amount of these substances can vary greatly depending on the plant species, seed quality and harvesting date. Sprouts generally have higher concentrations of nutrients and vitamins than fully-grown plants. However, since they are only consumed in such small amounts, they cannot be considered healthier than fully-grown vegetables. When it comes to nutritional benefits, their current importance as a so-called “superfood” is somewhat exaggerated. Having said that, they can still be beneficial in a low-vegetable diet, for example, if you have a digestive system that does not tolerate vegetables well.

Below you can also find out in which scenarios sprouts are not considered to be healthy.

Which sprouts are the healthiest? Sprouts from many cruciferous species (Brassicaceae), such as broccoli, kohlrabi, red cabbage and green cabbage, are particularly healthy. Besides important nutrients and vitamins, they also contain mustard oils that act as antioxidants in the body.

Sprouting red cabbage sprouts
Red cabbage sprouts contain many secondary phytochemicals [Photo: Inna Dodor/Shutterstock.com]

Uses: sprouts recipes

Sprouts can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen. For example, legume sprouts complement vegetable dishes such as stews, spring rolls, and casseroles. However, these must be warmed up before eating. Other types of sprouts can safely be eaten raw and can also add flavour to your sauces, wraps, dips, salads or soups.

Which sprouts should not be eaten raw? Legume sprouts, such as soy, lentil, or pea, contain phytic acid, which inhibits nutrient absorption and can cause abdominal pain. However, these substances can be rendered harmless by briefly blanching or heating before consumption, making it possible to eat the sprouts without hesitation.

Salad containing greens and sprouts
Whether you are making a salad, dip, or a stew – Sprouts go well with almost all dishes [Photo: iMarzi /Shutterstock.com]

Storing and preserving

The best place to store sprouts is in a sealed container in the refrigerator. The sprouts should be slightly moist, but not wet. They have a short shelf life because the young plants are constantly growing. Many of the essential properties of sprouts are lost when they are frozen, dried, or pickled, so it is best to use them fresh. Dried sprouts lose most of their flavour and vitamins, and frozen ones turn into an unappetizing slush when thawed. Pickling or fermenting are other options that, depending on the method, create completely new flavours.

How long can sprouts be kept? Keep sprouts in the refrigerator and consume within two days. Moulds and bacteria can quickly spread through the delicate tissue. As soon as they no longer look crisp and fresh discard them.

sprouts stored in containers
When stored in an airtight container, sprouts can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 days [Photo: /Shutterstock.com]

Are sprouts dangerous?

According to studies, purchased, packaged sprouts are heavily contaminated with microorganisms even before their best-before date expires. In the past, there have been several outbreaks of illness that were most likely caused by sprouts contaminated with Escherichia coli (E. coli). If in doubt, avoid eating the sprouts, especially if they have been stored for an extended period of time or improperly.

When growing your own, the seeds you use and how they are prepared are critical. Sprouts grow in humid conditions, which also serve as a good breeding ground for some microorganisms such as bacteria and moulds. As a result, it is important that there are no harmful pathogens on the seeds. For example, non-sprout seeds (regular seeds for growing vegetables) may be contaminated with the faeces of storage pests. Sprout seeds are purer and less contaminated with microorganisms in comparison to regular seeds.

  • If you do not use special sprout seeds, wash them thoroughly with lukewarm tap water beforehand
  • Clean your equipment regularly and thoroughly
  • Wash your hands before starting and when handling seeds and sprouts

If you are still in doubt, try growing microgreens. They last longer because they are grown on a substrate and are just as nutritious and tasty as sprouts.

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