January 22, 2018
woman with dark soil and microgreen seedling

Micro-Managing Microgreens

by Berkeley Wellness  

You’re probably familiar with baby carrots and baby corn, maybe even baby lettuce, zucchini, and eggplant. But did you know there are vegetables even more juvenile, so to speak, than baby vegetables? They’re called microgreens, and they’re one of the latest culinary trends at upscale restaurants and specialty markets, with their rich colors and distinct flavors. Some large supermarkets now carry them too.

There is no standard definition, but microgreens are vegetables and herb seedlings that are typically harvested after 7 to 14 days of growth and sold with their little stems, along with the two embryonic leaves (called cotyledons), the first true leaves, or both. They’re grown under sunlight in soil or a soil-less potting mix with little or no fertilizer. (In contrast, sprouts are seeds that have just germinated in water over a couple of days, consisting of the intact root with a stem and undeveloped leaves.) As many as 100 crops have been grown as microgreens—from beets, broccoli, chard, and celery to dill, fennel, kohlrabi, red sorrel, and spinach. Some, such as arugula and daikon radish, are spicy; others, like cabbage, are mild. Still others are nutty, lemony, peppery, earthy, or sweet.

Besides their flavor and visual appeal, microgreens offer concentrated nutrition. In a 2012 study, researchers from the University of Maryland and USDA analyzed 25 different microgreens. Though the findings varied widely, microgreens overall had significantly higher levels of nutrients (vitamins C, K, E) and carotenoids (beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin), ounce for ounce, than their mature plant counterparts. Red cabbage microgreens, for instance, had two to six times higher concentrations of vitamin C than mature red cabbage. But since microgreens are used mostly in small quantities, you eat much less of them. Another study, from Czech researchers in 2010, found high levels of flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin E in buckwheat microgreens. On the other hand, microgreens have less fiber than full-grown vegetables.

A downside is their cost: about $7 to $12 per ¼ pound (a little goes a long way). You can grow your own for less. All you need are the seeds, shallow trays, potting mix, and a sunny spot. Or you can grow them indoors under artificial light all year long. To harvest them, just clip with scissors close to the base of the plant. Supplies, including “microgreens kits,” are sold at gardening stores and online.

Microgreens are best used as edible garnishes or as additions to salads, sandwiches, and other dishes. They keep for about five days if you refrigerate them in a sealed bag.