In the vast universe of nutritious foods, there’s a group of tiny powerhouses that often gets overlooked – microgreens. These miniature versions of familiar plants pack more than just a visual and flavorful punch; they bring a substantial amount of science-backed nutritional benefits to the table. With their vibrant colors and distinct flavors, microgreens are scientifically fascinating and nutritionally potent, offering a surprising advantage for those seeking a healthier diet. Let’s take a closer look at these small but mighty heroes of nutrition.
What are Microgreens?
Microgreens, as their name suggests, are miniature plants, specifically the young seedlings of vegetables and herbs. They represent the early stages of a plant’s life, just after the germination of seeds, when the first true leaves begin to develop. This is a period of intense growth and development for the plant, a stage that’s captured and delivered to your plate in the form of microgreens.
The term “microgreens” is not just a fancy word for sprouts, and they’re not quite baby greens either. They occupy a unique place in the plant life cycle. Sprouts are typically harvested just days after the seed begins to grow, often while they’re still root systems with tiny leaf buds barely visible. On the other hand, baby greens are harvested later when the plant is small but well-developed, usually a few inches tall.
Microgreens are the in-betweeners. They are allowed to grow for approximately one to three weeks after germination, reaching a height of about one to three inches before they’re harvested. At this stage, they have developed cotyledons, or the plant’s first leaves, and sometimes even a set of true leaves, the ones that come after the cotyledons. This makes them larger and more developed than sprouts, but younger and smaller than baby greens.
The High Nutritional Density of Microgreens
Their small stature, however, does not limit their flavor. Microgreens are known for their strong and distinct flavors, often more intense than their mature counterparts. But in addition to stronger flavor, researchers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service found that microgreens often contain higher concentrations of vitamins and antioxidants compared to their mature counterparts. This counterintuitive finding makes sense when you delve into the biology of plant development. In the early stages of growth, a plant focuses its resources on building a strong foundational structure to support future growth. As part of this process, it accumulates a high concentration of nutrients in its tissues, resulting in a nutrient-packed seedling.
The “micro” stage of greens represents this peak moment of nutritional accumulation, a time when the plant’s reserves of vitamins and antioxidants are concentrated in a small package. This explains why a handful of microgreens can deliver an equivalent or even higher amount of nutrients compared to a larger serving of the same plant in its mature form.
For instance, studies have found that red cabbage microgreens have five times the amount of vitamin C and sixty-nine times the amount of vitamin K as the mature red cabbage. Similarly, garnet amaranth microgreens were found to have eight times more vitamin C, three times more vitamin E, and forty times more vitamin K than mature amaranths. The list goes on, making it evident that the “micro” in microgreens stands not for their nutritional value, but merely for their size.
From the peppery bite of radish microgreens to the sweet nuttiness of sunflower microgreens, each type offers a unique taste experience, elevating the simplest of dishes to gourmet levels. The combination of their nutritional density and taste profile make microgreens a truly remarkable addition to any diet.
Will microgreens replace mature vegetables?
Hearing all this, it may be tempting to get all your veggies in the form of microgreens, but it’s important to remember that variety is always going to be beneficial when it comes to a healthy and fulfilling diet. Mature vegetables offer much more fiber, and versatility than microgreens, which are both important to your overall wellbeing. We believe a combination of microgreens and mature vegetables is the best option for a nutritionally diverse diet, and you should simply consider adding in microgreens for a vitamin boost to whatever vegetables and dishes you’re already eating, rather than replacing anything.
Showcasing a Variety of Microgreens
The microgreens family is incredibly diverse, featuring members from all sorts of plant families. While this diversity makes the world of microgreens exciting and colorful, it’s important to know which plants make great microgreens and which ones you should avoid.
For starters, avoid plants that are toxic in their early stages or have parts that are poisonous. This includes plants from the nightshade family such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes, which contain solanine, a harmful substance especially concentrated in their leaves and stems. Similarly, rhubarb microgreens should be avoided as their leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid, which can be harmful if consumed in large amounts. You likely won’t find any of these sold as microgreens in stores, but we advise you not to try growing these yourself at home.
Moreover, plants with hard, thick seed hulls like corn may not be suitable for microgreen farming because they can be challenging to grow and may not yield as much edible product.
That still leaves plenty of options of plants that are suitable for microgreens. For instance, most leafy vegetables and herbs can be grown as microgreens. Some of the popular ones include:
- Brassicas: This family includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and radish. Brassica microgreens are known for their vivid colors and slightly peppery taste.
- Amaranths: Amaranth microgreens, especially the red varieties, are loved for their striking colors and slightly earthy flavor.
- Legumes: Pea microgreens are sweet, crunchy, and have a flavor similar to fresh peas. They are larger than most microgreens and are excellent for stir-fries and salads.
- Grasses: Wheatgrass is a well-known example in this category. It’s usually juiced rather than eaten whole.
- Herbs and Spices: Many herbs and spices like cilantro, basil, dill, and fenugreek can also be grown as microgreens.
- Sunflowers: Sunflower microgreens are large, crunchy, and have a pleasant, nutty flavor.
Incorporating Microgreens in Your Daily Diet
Incorporating microgreens into your diet is a surprisingly simple process, providing an effortless way to boost both the flavor and nutritional profile of your meals. Despite their gourmet appeal, using microgreens doesn’t require any sophisticated culinary skills – they can be added to dishes as easily as any other fresh herb or leafy green.
One of the simplest ways to enjoy microgreens is to sprinkle them over salads. Their bright colors and distinct flavors add a new layer of complexity to a traditional salad, and their crunch provides a satisfying texture contrast. Plus, the nutrient-dense microgreens help elevate a basic salad into a superfood-rich meal.
Blending microgreens into your smoothies is another practical way to increase your daily nutrient intake. Microgreens like spinach and kale blend seamlessly into fruit or green smoothies, adding a surge of vitamins and antioxidants without overpowering the taste. They can be an excellent addition to your morning routine, starting your day off on a healthy note.
Wraps and sandwiches can also greatly benefit from a handful of microgreens. Replace the regular lettuce in your sandwich or wrap with microgreens for a nutrient-packed crunch. Varieties like radish and mustard microgreens add a spicy kick that can elevate your lunch game.
Moreover, microgreens can be used as a beautiful and tasty garnish for soups and main dishes. Imagine a butternut squash soup topped with a scattering of arugula microgreens, or a plate of pasta primavera accented with a sprinkle of basil microgreens. They add a touch of sophistication while enhancing the overall flavor of the dish.
Even your favorite pizza can get a microgreen makeover. Once your pizza is out of the oven, add a layer of microgreens like sunflower or broccoli for a unique twist. The warmth of the pizza slightly wilts the greens, melding the flavors beautifully.
Microgreens are a versatile ingredient that can find a place in virtually any dish. Their vibrant color, unique flavors, and crunch can add a fresh and gourmet touch to everyday meals, while significantly enhancing their nutritional value.
Finding local Microgreens
Now that you know the power of microgreens, why not try them for yourself? We are thrilled to announce that we have started carrying microgreens from ‘Sow Good‘, a small local grower based right here in Tampa. Varieties they are currently growing include Broccoli, Radish, Sunflower, Pea, and a spicy salad mix made up of Broccoli, Kale, Kohlrabi, Arugula, Red Cabbage & Mustard. We have been loving everything we’ve received from them, and we highly encourage you to stop by Intelligent gourmet to pick up some greens for yourselves!