Microgreens became popular about 20 years ago, when a few trendy California chefs started growing and using them to add “bling” to their garnishes and salads. That popularity has continued to grow, with microgreens named as one of the hot new food trends by several restaurant magazines, even National Public Radio.
This popularity has created a steady demand for this micro-crop, and made it one of the best new crops for urban farmers, as it takes very little space to grow microgreens, indoors or outdoors.
Microgreens are tiny edible plants that are older than a sprout, but younger than a full-grown plant. Microgreens are harvested after the first “true” leaves have developed. They are the smallest of the salad greens, and can be grown from almost any plant variety that would produce a mature plant, such as beet, radish or mustard. Because microgreens undergo more photosynthesis than sprouts, they develop more nutrients.
Greens Versus Sprouts
Microgreens differ from sprouts because sprouts are grown only using water, whereas microgreens are grown either in soil, or in our case hydroponically. Because microgreens undergo more photosynthesis than sprouts, they develop more nutrients. Microgreens are further developed than sprouts and have a slightly higher fiber content as well.
What’s the difference between sprouts and microgreens?
Because of their size, microgreens are often confused with sprouts. They are not sprouts. Sprouts are just germinated seeds grown in water that are eaten whole, with the seed, root and stem still attached. Microgreens are not grown in water, as are sprouts. They are commonly grown in a sterile growing substrate such as a coconut fiber mat like Alabama Microgreens uses. The seed density for microgreens is much lower than for sprouts, which allows plenty of room for each tiny plant to grow, and prevents the disease problems common to sprouts. Microgreens are harvested by cutting, without any roots.
Can microgreens be grown in any climate?
Unlike most crops, microgreens can be grown almost anywhere, even during winter in northern climate zones and in the hot humid summers of our beloved Alabama. However, since microgreens take so little space, it is practical, to grow them indoors when weather conditions don’t permit outside growing.
What are the best plants to grow as microgreens?
Because microgreens are widely used to add “zing” to a main course or salad, the most popular varieties are the spicy ones. These include arugula, which adds a spicy, peppery flavor to other foods, basil, celery, cabbage, cilantro, a widely used spicy herb, endive, mustard and tangy radish. In addition to the popular spicy microgreens, we produce a wide range of colorful greens, such as amaranth or purple kohlrabi.
While they’ve been available for quite some time in health food stores and some specialty farmers markets, due to their increased popularity, microgreens have recently become more widely available.
Their increasing popularity is due partly to their ability to pack a lot of flavor in a small amount, as well as their flexibility in being included in a dish. Mix them to create a small, flavorful and delicately textured salad, or use only one or two greens to give a plate a final touch. Microgreens, in addition to their strong flavors, are also lauded for their health benefits, which can vary depending on the type of microgreen.
Microgreens are most commonly harvested from leafy greens such as sunflower, peas, kale, arugula, beet greens, radish greens, watercress, chard, bok choy and herbs such as cilantro, basil, chervil, parsley and chives.
The taste of microgreens depends on the original vegetable. Microgreens have a very strong and concentrated taste of the original vegetable. This means that cilantro microgreens will still taste of cilantro but in a stronger, more vegetal and condensed format. The health benefits of microgreens are similar to those of sprouts; however, the specific nutritional profile for each microgreen depends on the type of plant it comes from originally.
Nutrients and Health Benefits
The nutritional profile of each microgreen depends greatly on the type of microgreen you are eating. Leafy greens are a good source of beta-carotene as well as iron and calcium. Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and chard are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin.
Because microgreens require only minimal sunlight and space to grow, they can be grown in your kitchen or in a windowsill, allowing you to control the type of microgreens as well as their growing conditions. Home-grown microgreens and those grown by Alabama Microgreens in our climate controlled greenhouse, are not exposed to pollutants as large commercially grown operations which are grown outdoors in open air.
Because we have greater control over their growing conditions, such as no exposure to chemical pesticides and the type and quality of water and substrate we use, you will have no added environmental toxins in your microgreens.
Growing your own microgreens means that you have easy access to them and can incorporate them more readily into your daily diet, increasing your vegetable consumption.
When should microgreens be harvested?
Most microgreens are ready to harvest when they have produced a second set of leaves, known as “true leaves.” Sometimes we are requested to let the microgreens continue to grow an additional week or two to produce baby greens, also a popular sideline crop.
Do microgreens have special nutritional value?
Studies have shown many microgreens , such as red cabbage, broccoli, and radish often contain up to 40 times more nutrients that mature plants. According to Professor Qin Wang at the University of Maryland, microgreens are 4 to 40 fold more concentrated with nutrients. His research team tested 25 different commercially grown microgreens, and found consistently high levels of important nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, lutein and beta-carotene. Dr Gene Lester, a USDA researcher says, “All these nutrients are extremely important for skin, eyes and fighting cancer, and have all sorts of benefits associated with them. To find these high levels of nutrients, I find that quite astonishing.”