Sprouts and microgreens represent a growing market segment within vegetable products. The category of sprouts is legally defined. The production and commercialization of sprouts must comply with strict regulations. Given their short growth cycle, sprouts are usually grown in the dark, without a growing medium, fertilizers and agrochemicals. Their edible portion is constituted by the entire sprout, including the rootlets. From a biological point of view, the sprout represents the first stage of growth of a plant that starts from seed germination. On the other hand, “microgreens” is a marketing term used to describe a category of product that has no legal definition. They differ from sprouts because they require light, a growing medium, and have a longer growth cycle; the edible portion consists in the single stem, the cotyledon leaves and, often, by the emerging first true leaves. Both sprouts and microgreens are mainly consumed as raw products, they have good nutritional value and sensory traits. An important qualitative aspect of these vegetable crops is their microbiological safety, especially in the case of sprouts. In this review we discuss several aspects of sprouts and microgreens, their potential in terms of preservation and enhancement of biodiversity, as well as research and development prospects of those products in horticulture. Sprouts and microgreens represent two further expressions of biodiversity in vegetable production, supplementary to the genetic diversity (inter- and intra-specific) and diversity of the agro-ecosystems. Although the seeds of several cultivar are available on the market, the species and local varieties potentially useful for the production of sprouts and microgreens are numerous, and the vast heritage of agro-biodiversity of each geographical area may represent an extraordinary resource to be explored. Therefore, sprouts and microgreens can contribute to preserve and give value to many landraces that are at risk of genetic erosion or extinction, offering an opportunity to recover and use such genetic material. Moreover, landraces and wild species, are often characterized by a higher nutrient density as compared to commercial improved varieties, widely grown at global level, and represent a good source of vitamins, essential micronutrients and other phytonutrients. In conclusion, the production of sprouts and microgreens from local varieties and wild edible species may provide novel and nutritious food, which can satisfy the demand of modern consumers.
Keywords: fresh-cuts, functional food, nutritional quality, soilless culture, wild species