If you haven’t already, get ready to see microgreens popping up everywhere. The tiny, edible plants have been gaining in popularity for several years, but are quickly becoming one of the trendiest foods of 2018.
In some foodie circles, microgreens are known as “vegetable confetti” for their ability to brighten any culinary creation with fun texture and rich, colorful dimension. But don’t let their beautiful hues and tiny shoots fool you. Not only do these little greens pack a serious nutritional punch, they also offer add a variety of concentrated and complex flavor profiles that burst with every bite.
Microgreens have been of interest ever since a 2012 University of Maryland study found the greens contain higher concentrations of certain nutrients, namely vitamin C, vitamin K and carotenoids antioxidants.
Researchers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service followed up, publishing several studies they conducted on 25 varieties of microgreens. They found:
Among the 25 microgreens tested, red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish had the highest concentrations of vitamin C, carotenoids, vitamin K, and vitamin E, respectively. In general, microgreens contained considerably higher levels of vitamins and carotenoids — about five times greater — than their mature plant counterparts, an indication that microgreens may be worth the trouble of delivering them fresh during their short lives.
The best part? While you can buy microgreens from specialty farms and markets, they’re really easy to grow right at home. All you need is a shallow tray, some good light, soil (or another suitable medium) and water. They also grow rather quickly — often needing no more than 14-21 days to sprout up and reach their full potential as microgreens. But, whatever you do, don’t confuse these sprout-like shoots with sprouts.
The Difference Between Microgreens and Sprouts
Not to be confused with sprouts, microgreens are micro versions of a vegetable leaf, and not at all the same as sprouts.
Sprouts are typically soaked in water to increase the water content of a seed and “wake it up,” or bring it out of quiescence, a state of dormancy. After, it is drained and rinsed in intervals until it germinates. Consider the “infancy” of the plant life cycle, sprouts require little light and can usually be harvested in just four to six days.
Microgreens, on the other hand, are grown in soil and are characterized by having reached the cotyledon growth stage, a stage defined by having the first seed leaves. This is sometimes referred to as the “toddler” phase of the plant’s life cycle. Microgreens require lots of light, good ventilation and can usually be harvested in one to three weeks.
Another key difference between microgreens and sprouts is that microgreens are harvested using a good ole fashion pair of scissors. You just cut the shoot toward the bottom of the stem, leaving the root behind, and add it to your favorite entree, salad or soup. And the options are seemingly endless. Almost all fruits, veggies and herbs can be used to create microgreens. From leek, which offers a hint of onion with a tangy spicy finish, to purple radish which is crisp and peppery, to sorrel, which is sweet and zingy, there is a grassy-like pod of greenery to compliment any recipe.
Here are some of the more popular microgreens you can start growing right in your kitchen:
5 Reasons to Start Eating More Microgreens
1. They grow quickly: You can go from “seed to feed” in just one to three weeks.
2. They grow easily: Generally speaking, growing your own microgreens requires very little time, effort or money. All you need to nurture these nutrient-dense greens are a sunny window, a tray, soil and water. Well…and the seeds! In a matter of just weeks you can have an in-house edible garden.
3. Nutrient dense: As I noted earlier, several studies have found that microgreens are packed with a high vitamin and mineral content. They are also loaded with polyphenols, powerful antioxidants known to wage war against cell damaging free radicals. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that microgreens from the Brassica family of vegetables not only contained a high polypohenol content, but they contained even more polyphenols than the mature vegetable.
It is also worth noting that with microgreens, you have significantly less nutrient loss from harvest, because the greens are typically enjoyed within hours.
4. Microgreens add texture and flavor: Microgreens can add just the right amount of texture to any of your favorite recipes, but where they really shine is in their flavor profiles. Because the greens are harvested while still young, the flavors are soft but concentrated. But be careful, some, such as the purple radish or leek, have some heat on the finish.
5. Fantastic value: Many microgreen varieties can regrow and produce several harvests, making these indoor garden pods an excellent value.
Ready to Get Started?
Starting a microgreen garden is easier than you think! Click here for an easy tutorial by Anne Gibson — The Micro Gardener. You can also purchase a full kit to get started. I’ve linked some great options below.
But if starting your own microgreen garden is a bit intimidating, or you just want to try the greens before growing them yourself, you can always go to a specialty farm or market for your microgreens. As much as I love the idea of growing them at home, and see the ease and value of doing so, I tend to buy my microgreens from a trusted farm that I know uses non-GMO seeds and the safest growing methods. (If you live in Maryland you can check them out MetroMicrogreens.com.)
If you’ve tried microgreens or have grown your own microgreen garden, comment below and let us know how it’s going!