Crop Spot: Shoots

Shoots are a nutritious and fun way to get your daily vegetable servings in, and they are becoming more and more popular at farmer’s markets because of their different appearance, crunchy texture, and interesting flavors. Pea and sunflower shoots tend to be the most popular, and for good reason: they are delicious, easy to grow, and packed with nutrients!

Sprouts vs. Shoots vs. Microgreens

Known as microscale vegetables, sprouts, shoots, and microgreens are similar but have subtle distinguishing features. They all begin from the same seed that produces their mature version but are produced using different growing mediums and harvested at varying growth stages.

They all grow from the same seed that a mature plant comes from, but are grown in different ways and harvested at different growth stages. Even though they are small, they share a similar flavor to their mature form, but it’s usually milder.

So what are the differences?

Sprouts are new seedlings that are often produced without a growing medium. The seeds are kept moist using a damp paper towel or adding water to a glass jar. Once the seeds have germinated, they are ready to eat! Give them a rinse and they are good to go, seed and all!

Microgreens are young when harvested, but grow longer than sprouts. They’re often grown in a medium such as soiless mix (like peat or coco coir) or potting soil. Microgreens are usually cut before the “true leaves” emerge so it can be hard to determine what specific vegetable you are eating if it isn’t labeled. Brassicas, such as broccoli and radish, look almost identical to each other at that stage of growth! 

Shoots are more mature and include early growth (think of the sweet tendrils on pea shoots). They are also produced in a growing medium and are harvested from their roots when the stem and leaves are still soft and tender. Shoots take around 1-3 weeks to reach harvest stage.

Nutrition of Shoots 

Shoots have gained popularity for many reasons and their nutritional value is one of the primary reasons. While specific nutrient profiles vary from plant to plant, shoots have a higher concentration of nutrients than when they are in their mature form. As a source of iron, zinc, potassium, and other vitamins, they are a great textural addition to salads, sandwiches, and pasta, and make an excellent pesto!

Pea shoots are low in fat and carbohydrates but high in fiber and fat. A 100-gram serving of pea shoots contains:

  • 4 grams of protein
  • 3 grams of fiber
  • 280 mcg of Vitamin K
  • 79 mg of Vitamin C
  • 340 mcg of Vitamin A

Growing Shoots 

Growing shoots is an easy and affordable way to produce nutrient-dense food at home, especially with limited space. All it takes is potting soil, a container, seeds, water, and a little sunshine!

Flat, open grow trays with drain holes are a great option, but if that’s not available, use any food-safe planter or container with drainage. Add a layer of soil around two inches thick; you don’t need a lot since the shoots are harvested young. Place your seeds on the surface of the soil. Keep some distance between the seeds – about the width of the seeds. Cover with a shallow layer of potting mix about as thick as the seeds. Water the seeds thoroughly and leave them to grow! 

Check daily for water needs; the soil needs to be kept moist for them to germinate and grow. Shoots don’t need sunlight until they are germinated. After germination, place them outside (if it’s warm enough), by a sunny window, or under a grow light.

Peas are cold hardy so they can be left outdoors in most temperatures (above 32°F ideally). Sunflowers are more sensitive to cold, so keep them inside if the temperature is below 45°F.

Try growing your own, or use our Find Food & Farms Directory to find some locally!


Carrie Hause is the Digital Media Specialist for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at [email protected].