What You Didn't Know About Microgreens

Video by Julia Blakely and John Perrino

 
They have been used for years by chefs to garnish or add that extra kick to dishes, but it was not until recently that government researchers and others truly began to unlock all the facts and benefits of these bright and bold little microgreens that pack a flavorful and nutritious punch. Here are five things you probably don’t know about microgreens (if you know about microgreens).

1) There are dozens of microgreen varieties

People often believe the number of microgreens produced and available on the market is a small fixed number of plants. This is not true. In actuality, there are many dozens of varieties including everything from carrots and spinach to beets and mustards and beyond. This producer, for example, has over 115 different varieties of microgreens available for consumers. Many smaller farms produce about 10-15 varieties at a time.

Bringing Microgreens To Your Table

After watching Jenn Flynn whip up some of Graffiato’s signature appetizers, and taking a bite of the compressed Asian pear salad, I finally understood why restaurants like Graffiato invest in these tiny greens.

I used to be the foodie who would brush aside those tiny greens off of my appetizers and entrees, thinking that they were just a decorative element. After another forkful of salad, I realized what my taste buds had been missing out on. In just a green that is the height of my pinky finger, it delivers an action-packed taste that adds a little bit of a spice and crunch to a traditionally sweeter dish. 

I was so intrigued by the action packed flavor that exploded in my mouth that I wanted to use these greens in my own dishes at home. So I asked Jenn where she gets her Microgreens and how she knows how to pick the right type of microgreen to garnish her dishes. Because with 25 varieties of Microgreens that can’t be bought at your local supermarket, the hunt for the perfect green can be dicey, but don’t let these greens intimidate you! They are easier to use then you think! 

Here are some of Jenn’s tips on how to you can use microgreens “add a little dash or a little spike to your dish” at home: 

  • The next time you make your sandwich, ditch the alfalfa sprouts and replace them with micro basil, pea-shoots or sunflower shoots.
  • Add some of the micro basil greens to your scallops, salmon or halibut. Using these greens are a great way to use less butter and salt for a healthier, lighter dish. 
  • Swap out the spinach for micro mustard greens to your next omelet to add a new spin to a breakfast favorite. Micro mustard greens will add an extra spicy flavor that will make you ditch the ketchup and transform your outlook on eggs forever. 

  - Julia Blakely

2) They have a greater nutritional density than fully mature plants

The nutritional benefits of microgreens vary from plant to plant, but so far it appears all microgreens have a higher concentration of phytonutrients than their fully mature counterparts. It has been shown that some varieties have many times the ratio of vitamins than their fully grown counterparts.

Researchers from USDA and the University of Maryland found in a study leaves from almost all of the 25 microgreens they examined had four to six times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plant.

There was much variation between microgreen varieties with red cabbage having the highest density of vitamin C while green daikon radish microgreens had the most vitamin E.

"Microgreens aren't going to replace a big, leafy salad that has lots of fiber and will give you a good sense of satiety… but if you throw a big bunch of microgreens on anything, that's a pretty good shot of vitamins." ­- Gene Lester, USDA Researcher

Although so far it appears microgreens are scientifically superior in nutrition to mature plants, more research is needed and it is important to remember that microgreens are not typically consumed in large quantities. Instead, the greens are most commonly used in salads and to garnish small dishes. Still, the benefits seem undeniable.

3) Really, they only take one or two weeks to grow

Yeah, that’s right, a higher density of nutrients grown in one week. This also allows quick turnaround for farmers beneficial to everyone.

4) You don’t have to be a top chef to use them, or an experienced farmer to grow them

Really, it’s actually not that difficult and there are a lot of online resources like this one that have step by step instructions on how to grow many varieties of microgreens at almost any home.

5) Microgreens are not sprouts

Unlike sprouts, which can be harvested after germination in water after only 48 hours, microgreens have not been implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks.

Microgreens typically require soil and sunlight, although there are alternative methods such hydroponics and the use of artificial light. They also can only be harvested after one or two weeks. This means there is much less risk in consuming microgreens, although they are not risk free.

Will you be growing or using microgreens in your kitchen? Let us know how you're mixing these powerful greens into your diet. 

John Perrino is a senior majoring in Political Communication at The George Washington University. Julia Blakely is a senior majoring in Journalism at The George Washington University.

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