There are many questions that people have about microgreens, initially what they are, the how to eat or even grow them, the different types which can been grown, are there risks involved and of course, their nutritional value.
First introduced in the 1980s in a Californian restaurant, they have gained a place in the presentation of predominantly savoury dishes around the world.
Sometimes known as vegetable confetti or micro herbs, the microgreens not only add colour to the plate but add a serious punch of intense flavour.
They may be small in size, but nutritionally they often contain higher levels of nutrients than fully grown vegetables, making them an addition to any diet which is well worthwhile.
Specifically young vegetables which are between 2,5 - 7,5 cm tall can be classified as microgreens; they are baby plants which are further developed than the seed sprout and less so than a baby green and have a concentration of nutrients that belies their size and come in different colours and textures.
Never confuse microgreens with sprouts, which have not got to the stage of leaf formation. Harvesting for sprouts is as little as 2 - 7 days whilst microgreens are between 7 - 21 days from germination, once the first leaves are established.
The similarity of microgreens to baby greens is closer that it is to sprouts as it is the stems and leaves alone which are eaten. They are simply smaller and can be sold still growing, ready to harvest by the restaurateur, or at your home, immediately before use. This delivers a fresher product.
It is comparatively easy to grow microgreens and depending upon the time of year and climate they can be grown outdoors, under glass or on your windowsill.
Whilst many different types of seeds can be grown for microgreens, the most popular for taste and texture are produced from the following plant groups:
Legumes including peas, beans and lentils and cereals including corn, barley, wheat and oats can also be grown to the microgreen stage. Naturally the taste can range considerably depending upon which seed the grower is using, some being strong in flavour, others quite spicy, some indeed can be bitter or slightly sour, or simply neutral.
Put quite simply, microgreens are very nutritious. Whilst varying according to variety, microgreens generally speaking are rich in magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, and potassium; they are also a potent antioxidant. Because of the high concentration of their nutritional content they often contain higher levels of these vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than mature greens of the same quantity. In fact, current research now indicates that in comparison, microgreens versus the more matured greens, show microgreens nutrient levels are up to nine times higher than mature greens. Plus, polyphenols and other antioxidants are present in greater variety than the mature greens.
Studies which have worked on a variety of commercially produced microgreens in the US, show measurements which were up to 40 times higher in vitamin and antioxidant levels when compared to mature leaves. Not all studies have been as conclusive, dependent upon variety; for example mature amaranth crops scored equally, or more highly than either microgreens or sprouts in one similar research study. While varieties do differ, across the board microgreens appear to contain higher levels of nutrients than more matured plants.
It is now accepted that eating more portions of vegetables is linked to lowering the risk of certain diseases. This is largely due to the vitamin, mineral and plant compounds which they contain in large amounts. Therefore the higher values of these nutrients found in microgreens may be seen to also reduce risk of such diseases.
With Heart disease eating microgreens, which are a rich source of polyphenols, an antioxidant linked to lowering the risk of heart disease can be beneficial. Studies, currently only performed on animals, indicate that microgreens may lower the levels of triglyceride and “bad” cholesterol.
It is believed that antioxidant-rich foods, which include those with higher amounts of polyphenols, could be linked to lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Some recent work has indicated that antioxidants could help lower the type of stress that prevents sugar from entering cells in the normal way. Laboratory studies using fenugreek microgreens appear to promote cellular sugar uptake by as much as 25–44% which could ultimately help those suffering from diabetes and pre-diabetes
Those fruits and vegetables which are rich in antioxidants, especially those also with high levels of polyphenols, it is now thought, may potentially be responsible for lowering the risk of certain types of cancer.
Polyphenol-rich microgreens may be able to equally lower this risk.
At present, few pieces of research have been completed on the beneficial effects of microgreens, those that have been conducted to date have not used humans for their research. This is without doubt an area that when fully explored could reveal huge benefits, but to date absolute conclusions cannot be drawn from present statistics.
It is generally considered that eating microgreens is safe. The potential for bacteria growth in microgreens is substantially less than in sprouts as the growing conditions are different. They require less humidity and warmth than sprouts and only the leaf and stem are eaten and not the seed or root. If you are thinking of growing microgreens at home it is most important to use a growing medium that is free of E coli and Salmonella contaminants and that the seeds you use are from a highly reputable supplier. Professional growers generally use single-use growing mats which are considered to be the safest of all, otherwise you can use vermiculite, peat or perlite as a growing medium.
Being so easy to grow and reasonably priced from a trusted supplier there are many ways to introduce microgreens into your diet at little cost. Add them as a dressing to your usual dishes to give that professional look and benefit from their high nutrients at the same time; add to the topping on your pizza, delicious homemade soups or other warm dishes just before you serve. Added to sandwiches, salads and wraps they also add texture or they can be blended into smoothies. A popular choice with many health conscious people at the moment is wheatgrass juice, which is a juiced microgreen.
Requiring little in the way of equipment or time, you can grow microgreens all year long, indoors or outdoors depending upon climate.
Using good quality seeds is an essential, plus a quality growing medium or if you prefer a single-use growing mat and between 12 - 16 hours a day of light, either sunlight or from ultraviolet lights.
Microgreens are a tasty, nutritious addition to your diet and can even influence your health and help you avoid some diseases. Growing them yourselves, or buying from a local supplier, is an amazingly cost-efficient way to raise your vitamin and nutrient intake and all from such a tiny vegetable source. A fantastic addition to your daily intake of vegetables.