Introduction to Microgreens
What are microgreens?
Microgreens are a relatively new culinary trend of using small delicate salad leaves to elegantly garnish dishes. They have grown in popularity, especially in fine dining circles, often used to add vibrant colour, unique textures and extraordinary flavours to meals.
“Microgreens” is a marketing term for vegetables or herbs that have not yet matured. They are the middle ground between sprouts and baby greens. Harvesting usually takes place around the onset of photosynthetic sustainability, within 2-4 weeks, when the seedling is in transition from a sprouted embryo reliant on its seed store, to a ‘stand-alone’ organism. As a result, the very young plant has a unique blend of phytochemicals which gives it a different flavour combination. Microgreens are harvested above the soil line. They are usually no taller than 5cm, but tiny as they are, they deliver intense flavour.
Common microgreens include radish, kale, broccoli, cabbage, mustard, parsley, beet leaves, celery and pea shoots. The taste provided by microgreens is usually strong, indicating their high antioxidant and phytochemical content. They vary in taste from fresh and delicate pea shoots to the fiery radish and mustard microgreens.
How are microgreens grown?
Microgreens can be grown indoors or out, in soil or hydroponically. The micro plants are ready to harvest as soon as they produce little true leaves. A hydroponic system will require a growing medium such as hemp mats, coconut coir or wool. Seeds are planed more densely than you would for full-growing plants.
Where can you find microgreens?
You might be able to find microgreens at farmers’ markets or some grocery shops. They can also be purchased online. They do need to be used right away, and most will only last a week under the best of conditions, which is why many consumers decide to grow them at home. Microgreens can be sold in their growing medium, allowing the consumer to snip them off at the stem. They can be stored in a refrigerator.
Health benefits of microgreens
In general, microgreens contain a higher concentration of vitamins than fully grown versions of the same plants. The mineral content is also higher. Microgreen lettuce has more calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and manganese that the fully mature plants. Although only a small amount is needed, they will certainly pack a nutritional punch!
As there is limited research available beyond the nutritional content of microgreens, it’s hard to say for sure that eating any microgreens will produce any specific health benefits. There are no studies that look at microgreen consumption in humans, but it makes sense that microgreens from plants high in healthy phytochemicals and adding a few more vitamins and minerals to a balanced diet could have positive health benefits.
How to use microgreens?
Microgreens can be served in a variety of different ways. They can be used alongside any dish. Topping a pea risotto with fresh pea shoots will elevate the dish, adding flavour and texture, as will topping a pesto and mozzarella pizza with arugula microgreens. Adding beet microgreens will add a vibrant reddish colour to a dish. Microgreens can also be added to a sandwich or a wrap instead of lettuce or used in place of herbs. The secret is to choose colours and flavours that fit your individual taste buds.