Fresh food lovers may get confused about the difference between “pea sprouts” and “pea shoots” – given that they are both dubbed microgreens. It is not unusual to find pea shoots sold commercially or presented at a restaurant as “sprouts”. Rest assured - they are not the same.
Let’s take pea sprouts vs. pea shoots – are they somewhat the same or very different?
You can distinguish between pea shoots and sprouts based on when they are harvested.
Sprouts emerge in the earliest stage after the seeds germinate, whereas the shoots emerge when the plant is more mature, though not all the way mature.
There are a number of differences between pea sprouts and pea shoots - from the nutritional level to appearances and methods of growing. Let’s examine this in further detail.
Sprouts come out right after the seeds germinate. Fresh sprouts show only a slender stem and a couple of fledgling leaves (cotyledons) on top.
These early leaves are wrapped around the seed and the first to emerge after germination – they are very different than the later leaves that adorn a more mature plant. Sprouted peas are often grown in water and the entire seed and young root can be eaten.
Shoots are immature pea plants – more precisely, they are the shoots and tendrils of the pea plant. They are grown in soil, with water and other nutrients.
While they can still be classified as microgreens since they are harvested far before the plants become adult, they will appear as a mini version of a fully grown plant shape, taller than sprouts, with thicker stems and “true” leaves on top.
The table below captures some basic differences between pea sprouts and pea shoots.
|ATTRIBUTE||PEA SPROUTS||PEA SHOOTS|
|Stage of Growth||The first stage after germination.||More mature stage, though harvested long before the plant reaches an adult stage.|
|How It’s Typically Grown||Typically “sprouted” in water.||Must be grown in soil.|
|Appearance||Thin stem with two small leaves on top.||Thicker stem with more leaves on the harvested plant.|
|Common types of Peas Often Used||Field or Garden peas (e.g., sugar snap or snow peas)||Green peas|
|Harvest Time||2-3 days after “planting”, right after germination.||7-12 days after planting, 5-10 days after germination.|
We will look at how a couple of other characteristics – namely nutritional values and costs – vary between pea sprouts and shoots.
Freshly harvested pea sprouts are enormously rich in vitamins (esp. high quantities of C, along with A, B6, B9, E, and K) and minerals (including Iron, Zinc, Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, Manganese, Calcium, Copper, and Sodium) and chlorophyll. They are also very high in proteins (about 20% of their make-up. They tend to be sweeter.
The shoots mature longer, draw nutrients and photosynthesize. They retain many of the nutrients in the sprouts, but at a lower proportion as they also pick up bioactive polyphenols (e.g., flavonoids and lignans), choline, betaine, and phytoestrogens (e.g., coumestrol).
While sprouts are fresher and chock full of vitamins, minerals, and proteins, the more mature shoots add several ingredients that are anti-inflammatory and known to help control obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
However, lignan in high concentrations can change estrogen metabolism and increase the possibility of breast cancer. The more mature your peas, the higher the possibility that the amount of lignan is high – when eating shoots, avoid eating the seeds (e.g., cut the stems off above the seeds while harvesting) since they have the largest concentration.
Another concern with sprouts may be the rapid growth of bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, which come about due to the warm, moist conditions that pea sprouts may be grown in.
Freshness, rinsing, and storage are all important steps to ensure health.
Pea shoots retail for $20-30 per lb. on online retail sites. They can also be found in farmer’s markets, Asian stores, and occasionally in gourmet greens counters at some groceries – where they may cost a bit lower.
Pea sprouts need less paraphernalia to grow, which will typically cost between $2.50 to $10. Be careful to check their condition since they need to be eaten fresh.
Shipping will typically be extra but can be waved with bulk purchases.
Pea sprouts are often used as garnish or ingredients in gourmet salads, following the path of alfalfa sprouts and others. Their curling tendrils and tiny leaves display well with such use.
Pea shoots are commonly used as fresh, leafy ingredients in soups and stir fries, especially in Asian cuisine.
Despite their popularity, finding pea sprouts, properly grown and well preserved to produce the maximum amounts of flavor and nutrition, is hard.
Even with chef’s markets or other specialty gourmet greens counters, you are more likely to find pea shoots or pea tips than sprouts.
Luckily, it is easy to grow either pea sprouts or pea shoots at home.
Sprouts do not require much paraphernalia, as long as you choose the right types of seeds – especially if you do sprout them on water.
You can simply use a mason jar on a kitchen counter. A few other inexpensive pieces, such as sprouting jar lids and cheesecloth, can help. Of course, you could invest in a seed sprouter but it is not necessary.
Pea shoots do require a growing kit, but those, along with appropriate seeds, are readily available at places like True Leaf Market.
DIY kits can also be effective, with individual components or kits ordered from Amazon or similar vendors.
If you want to be technical, the shoots are the “real” microgreens (the baby version of the fully grown plant) while the sprouts are – well, sprouts! But they are both great for you.
Pea sprouts and shoots are typically put to a slightly different use in the kitchen. The former is more a part of organic green dishes in fresh form, whereas shoots can be used as a gourmet leafy vegetable in prepared soups, broth, and main dishes – especially with Asian stir fry style cooking.
They are not the same, but they both deliver excellent nutrition and flavor which is why many chefs like to use sprouts and microgreens in their dishes.
Both pea sprouts and shoots can be easily grown at home, which may be a more reliable means of procuring the exact right ingredient than depending on sources that confuse the two types of microgreens. Look into it and enjoy the sweet, crunchy goodness of peas at their absolute freshest stage of life!