As many of you know, my husband has a full-time job but is also a part-time gentleman farmer. He keeps chickens and bees as well as growing fruit trees, berry bushes and all sorts of vegetables. He has a greenhouse, which keeps us in fresh greens for much of the winter. He has recently become interested in growing Microgreens and I thought that would make a good Cooking Tip topic.
Many of you have probably heard of baby greens, especially baby spinach. Baby greens are small versions of fully mature plants that are picked before they are fully grown.
Microgreens are similar but are cut even younger in their growing lives. They are the first, tiny shoots of herbs, lettuces and other greens. They are usually grown in soil and require sunlight. They are harvested between 7 & 14 days after germination and are under 3 inches tall. Because of their small form, the flavor is said to be more intense than the mature greens.
Microgreens are different than sprouts as the latter are obtained by sprouting seeds in water to achieve germination. They are harvested within 2-3 days. As you may have heard in the news, sprouts do carry a higher risk of bacterial contamination that can cause illness. This concern has not been found with microgreens although caution is recommended depending on how the greens are grown, harvested and stored. Be sure to wash them thoroughly before consuming.
It is said that all the nutrients that you would find in the mature plant are packed into the microgreen version. That makes it possible to amp up the nutritional value of your salads (or other dishes) by adding just a small amount of these greens. Therefore, they are said to be nutrient-dense. One caveat is that the nutrient content can vary widely depending on where the microgreens are grown, when they are harvested and the kind of soil used.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland conducted a scientific analysis of nutrients in microgreens. The results were published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and were summarized in The Salt in 2012.
According to the study, “The researchers looked at four groups of vitamins and other phytochemicals – including vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene — in 25 varieties of microgreens. They found that leaves from almost all of the microgreens had four to six times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plant. But there was variation among them – red cabbage was highest in vitamin C, for instance, while the green daikon radish microgreens had the most vitamin E.”
Some caution, though, that the amount nutrients can vary depending on how and where it is grown, handled and harvested. Not only are additional studies needed to evaluate the effect of these agricultural practices on nutrient retention but also to compare microgreens to their mature counterpart. Finally, according to the Agricultural Research Service, “no known study has been conducted to evaluate whether consumption reduces cardiovascular disease risk factors.”
In a 2018 issue of The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the authors state that not only are they easy to grow but, “microgreens are environmentally friendly and serve as excellent sources of various nutrients.” They conclude that, “based on existing literature, microgreens appeared to be excellent low-caloric sources of nutrients and bioactive components. Based on their chemical compositions, we propose that these nutrient-rich plants may provide health-promoting effects related to abilities to prevent the development of the vast array of inflammatory-related chronic diseases.”
They do end with stating that more studies need to be done “to fully realize the value of microgreens in human health.”
Here is just one list of popular microgreens.
Microgreens do have a very short shelf life, only a few days. They are not always readily available in grocery stores but they are easy to grow – even without a greenhouse.
There are many ways to include microgreens in your diet. We throw them on our salads but you can also add them to sandwiches and wraps as well as blended into smoothies. Add them to omelets or sprinkle them on pizza.
Whether you toss them on your salad for color, for taste or for nutrition, microgreens are a great addition!