You may have seen them popping up in the organic section of your grocery store or farmers market: immature, leafy vegetables and greens referred to as microgreens. You see them used as garnishes in restaurants and incorporated into veggie-forward recipes on Pinterest. Sure, they look colorful on a plate, but what is special about under-ripe produce? And why are microgreens often pricier than their full-grown counterparts?
What Are Microgreens?
Microgreens are young vegetables, usually a week or two old, harvested when they are between one and three inches high. These mini greens boast delicate texture, intense flavor, and vibrant color, which make them ideal candidates for garnishes and salad toppings.
Microgreens are nutritional powerhouses, containing the same vitamins and minerals of full-sized veggies and herbs in a much smaller package. They are also easy to grow in small, indoor environments, making these tiny, year-round greens a popular choice for farmers and urban home-gardeners alike.
Most microgreens are more nutrient-rich than their corresponding, fully-mature vegetable counterparts. They tend to be especially high in antioxidants and minerals like zinc, magnesium, and copper.
According to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, microgreens contain, by weight, between four and forty times the phytonutrients of the full-grown vegetables tested in the study. Vitamin C levels were also noticeably higher than the adult plants among the 25 varieties of microgreens tested.
So what does all this science mean for your health? The bottom line is microgreens offer more nutrition per ounce than regular vegetables, with a focus on vitamins and minerals that help prevent heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and even.
Types and Uses
Most vegetables and herbs can be grown as microgreens. Common varieties include:
- Mustard Greens
Microgreens are a great way to top off a salad or pasta with some added flavor and nutrition, but they can make a delicious main course, too. Feature them in salads, smoothies, even a microgreen frittata. The options are endless!
Sourcing and Storage
Microgreens can grow indoors year-round with a yield every week or two. This makes them ideal to grow yourself, for a crop of fresh, nutrient-dense greens anytime. They’re also easy to source from a grocery store or farmers market, and are a regular part of Copiana harvests. Most retailers offer mixed packs of assorted microgreens that make an excellent sampler pack to discover what varieties and combinations you prefer.
Store your microgreens in the refrigerator for the longest shelf life–over a week, depending on the variety–but keep in mind, your greens are most nutritious when they’re harvested, so eat them within a few days for maximum health benefits.
Grow Your Own
It’s easy and rewarding to grow your own microgreens at home. You don’t need any special equipment. If you haven’t had much success caring for houseplants in the past, microgreens are a simple and rewarding way to get a fresh start at that green thumb.
How to Grow Microgreens Indoors:
- Start by filling a shallow tray with an inch or so of potting soil.
- Distribute your seeds throughout the tray. You can place them closer together than you normally might, given that you’ll be harvesting your plants before they are fully mature.
- Cover your seeds with soil and mist the tray lightly with a spray bottle of water.
- Place the tray by a window with natural light. In the wintertime, or if you don’t have a strong source of natural light, you may want to use a grow light.
- It’s important that the seedlings stay hydrated. Mist the soil with water several times a day to help your seeds germinate.
- Once your microgreens have grown to three inches tall (seven to fourteen days after germination), it’s time to harvest your plants. Cut your greens above the soil line and rinse any dirt off the stem.
- To replant your tray, remove the roots of your old plants, or start over with a new batch of soil. If you choose to reuse your soil, it will be depleted of nutrients after a few generations, and you’ll need some new potting soil.
The microgreen growing process is quite labor intensive, what with keeping the greens sufficiently hydrated, nourished, and well-lit. This is why, in the grocery store, you will see microgreens priced higher than full size vegetables. Yes, they are ready for harvest more quickly, but they require much more attention during that week or two than is typical for conventional produce.
Whether you choose to buy your microgreens or grow them, they offer more nutritional density and variety than grown-up vegetables–and in a smaller and more flavorful package. That’s what we, in the produce business, call a win-win.