Microgreens have been making their way into grocery stores, restaurants, and into the recipes of some of your favorite foods. These little leafy greens are filled with high levels of vitamins and minerals and make a great addition to any diet as well as a beautiful garnish to any dish. You might be wondering about all of the details surrounding these newly popular vegetables before you’re ready to dive into them. Continue reading this article to find the answers to all your questions regarding microgreens, how to grow them yourselves, and how to incorporate them into your daily lifestyles.
What are Microgreens?
Microgreens (micro greens) are more than just the microscopic servings of green veggies you see garnishing your dishes. If you’ve ever wondered what microgreens are or if they’re similar to the day-to-day greens you regularly have, you won’t be surprised to find that they are basically mini-versions of vegetables and herbs. These baby greens are harvested when they are around 1” to 1 1/2” in length. This just means that microgreens are the edible seedling form of many fully grown greens with true leaves.
History of Microgreens
Microgreens have been used in dishes since the 1980s when they were first used on chef menus in San Francisco. These plants became popular throughout the ’90s and have since grown in variety and use. Originally this group of small vegetables consisted of arugula, basil, beets, kale, and cilantro. Today,there are over 25 different varieties of microgreens.
Beyond just visual appeal, microgreens pack a punch when it comes to nutrients. While small in size, microgreens as mature plants, have concentrated amounts of vitamins such as vitamins C, E, and K as well as lutein and beta-carotene. While they can not substitute vegetables in your diet, these baby greens are great for filling in gaps when looking to get all of your nutrients in your meals.
What Are the Different Types of Microgreens?
Seeds used to grow mature vegetables with true leaves are the same seeds used to make microgreens grow. Microgreens come in many varieties, but here is a list of some of the most popular types and the plant family that they belong to:
- Brassicaceae: cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage microgreens, red cabbage microgreens, watercress, radish microgreens, arugula
- Asteraceae: lettuce, endive, chicory, radicchio
- Apiaceae: dill, carrot, fennel, celery, cilantro
- Amaryllidaceae: garlic, onion, leek
- Amaranthaceae: amaranth, quinoa, swiss chard, beet, spinach
- Cannabaceae: hemp
- Cucurbitaceae: melon, cucumber, squash
- Lamiaceae: chia
How Often Should I Water My Microgreens?
Microgreens should be watered about every other day. Depending on sun exposure and soil mixture you may need to water every day. It’s best to use a sprayer when watering to ensure seedlings are evenly watered.
What Are Health Benefits of Microgreens?
Microgreens provide a variety of health benefits. Not only are these mini leaves great for adding flavor, but they are also known to carry high levels of vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals that may play a role in keeping your body healthy as well as fighting off various diseases and illnesses. Research has shown that they hold up to nine times more nutrient levels than mature greens.
Common vitamins you will find in microgreens include:
- Vitamin K. Microgreen seedlings begin producing massive amounts of this vitamin as soon as they are exposed to sunlight. It works to help the chlorophyll in these plants absorb nutrients. Vitamin K is beneficial for human bodies because they help in the blood clot process and maintain healthy bones and teeth.
- Vitamin C. Microgreens are known for the abundant amounts of vitamin C they offer. This vitamin is essential in helping your body eliminate free radicals. You can find up to 20 mg per 100 g of this vitamin in the smallest microgreen seedling. Compare this to the 10 mg of vitamin C you find in full-grown tomatoes.
- Vitamin E. This vitamin is made up of alpha and gamma-tocopherol. This essential vitamin helps protect your body from damage caused by free radicals formed when we convert food to energy. A small serving of vitamin E rich microgreens like daikon radishes is more than enough to hit your daily requirement of this vitamin.
- Beta Carotene. Beta carotene is a carotenoid compound that helps to reduce the risk of various diseases. Microgreens are filled with high beta carotene levels, which is why they make such a useful addition to anyone’s diet.
Overall, these nutrients may be beneficial to the eyes, skin, weight management, physical and mental health, and fighting cancer, on top of all the benefits associated with their antioxidant properties. Polyphenols are commonly found in microgreens and may have many benefits such as a reduced risk of heart diseases, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. Microgreens are a rich source of polyphenols and provide your body with powerful antioxidants.
Additional minerals you will commonly find in microgreens include:
- Potassium. This mineral helps the body in many ways, from regulating fluid to muscle contractions and nerve signaling. Many people also take potassium to control blood pressure.
- Iron. Iron helps the body with many vital functions it performs daily. Having adequate iron levels leads to good energy and focus, better immune system, and body temperature regulation.
- Zinc. Zinc is an essential mineral your body needs to maintain healthy skin. This mineral is excellent, especially for its anti-inflammatory effects. It may be beneficial in healing acne and scarring related to acne.
- Magnesium. Hundreds of reactions in your body require magnesium. Not only that, it has benefits associated with bone and cardiovascular health and can also treat diabetes, migraines, premenstrual symptoms, and anxiety.
- Copper. This mineral is considered an essential nutrient for the body. It works with other minerals like iron to help the body create red blood cells. Copper is a critical mineral to incorporate to build immune function and iron absorption. Those that have sufficient levels of copper intake will find that it may prevent cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
What Are the Healthiest Microgreens?
The level of nutrients across various microgreens that are grown differs depending on the microgreen itself. While they cannot match the fiber level that mature, true leaves provide, each microgreen still contains many nutrients that your body needs.
Different microgreens can be considered the “healthiest” depending on the vitamins and minerals you are trying to get out of them. Here are some examples of the healthiest microgreens based on the variety of nutrients they provide:
Arugula is known to have glucosinolates, vitamin C, and phenols, which help our body defend against toxins and environmental stress. This vegetable can easily be added to smoothies, salads, or sandwiches.
Pea shoots are delicious and mild in flavor; they are well known for their high beta carotene levels. Beta carotene is used in our bodies to produce vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate. These vitamins are essential building blocks for our bodies and fiber, filling in the gap for dietary needs.
Radish sprouts come with a wide array of nutritional benefits. These vegetables deliver vitamins A, B, C, E, and K to the body. In addition, they provide essential minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. You’d think that’s the end of the list, but these mini leaves are powerful vegetables to include in our diets. They are also rich in amino acids, which may benefit our health like aiding in digestion or fighting off cancer.
Wheatgrass has been a popular microgreen for a good reason. These greens are rich in many vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, B, C, and E and iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and selenium. Many of these minerals are potent antioxidants that may provide a wide range of health benefits.
Sunflower shoots are well known for the vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients they provide. These crunchy microgreens are high in folate, selenium, vitamin B, C, and E. Sunflower shoots contain essential amino acids the body needs and can be easily added to salads.
Kale is a mature leafy green and microgreen that has an immense amount of vitamin C. This crucial vitamin plays many essential functions like protecting your cells and keeping blood vessels, bones, and skin healthy.
Chia is not only a great way to incorporate protein into your diet without all the red meat; these microgreens also offer lots of holistic benefits due to the unsaturated fats and fiber content the shoots hold.
Microgreens can be expensive to consistently supply for a household, especially living microgreens. But, growing microgreens is quick and easy, and those who plan on taking care of these indoors can expect to have microgreens at your fingertips year-round. Microgreens grow in about one to two weeks, meaning you will have homegrown greens in no time.
How to Grow Microgreens at Home
It is easy to grow many different types of greens as microgreens. All you need is a seed mix of your choosing or pre-packaged mixes of specific microgreens. Popular varieties include kale, arugula, beet greens, spinach, red cabbage, basil, and watercress.
Your microgreens grow outside in your garden or inside your kitchen right on your windowsill. If you plan on growing microgreens in your garden, make sure you loosen the soil before scattering your seeds into the garden bed. You will harvest microgreens very early on in their growth process, so you do not need a lot of room.
Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil after planting the seeds and watering them gently. Make sure to keep the soil moist and remove weeds as the microgreens start to come in.
Microgreens will also need plenty of sunlight in order to grow, so try to have them face the direction of the sun, if possible.
Usually, pests are not a big issue for microgreen growers because they are not developed for long. However, if you do encounter bugs or diseases on your microgreens, you may spread a floating row cover over the greens.
How to Grow Microgreens Indoors
For those planning on growing microgreens indoors, make sure you pick containers that are at least an inch to two inches deep. Fill it with an organic potting mix and loosen the potting soil. Scatter the seeds across the container and cover with a thin layer of soil.
Keep the potting soil moist with consistent rounds of water and ensure the seeds get at least 4 hours of sunlight (more in the winter months). South-facing windows work best for indoor growing, but eastern or western-facing windows work well also. Add some organic fertilizer to the potting soil before each round of planting to help the seedlings grow. Sprouts will appear soon after. You should notice that the true leaves grow and are ready to be used between 10 days to 2 weeks.
How to Grow Microgreens Without Soil
If you want to avoid using soil in your microgreens growing, you can look into hydroponic planting. This system of planting involves growing microgreens in a completely water-based environment. They will absorb nutrients and oxygen from the water instead of the soil. There are many microgreen kits available for those looking to get some help in setting up their systems.
To grow your microgreens in hydroponic units at home, you will need plastic growing trays, seeds, nutrients, and a growing medium that gives the roots of your microgreen plants something to grab onto while they are growing.
You want to begin by soaking your grow mat with water or nutrient solution and then fitting them into your growing trays. Once this step is done, you can start to scatter your seeds across the growing mat. Mist the seeds and cover them so they are not receiving any light. This gives them time to germinate and sprout. You will only need to uncover the seeds to mist them twice a day.
After five days, the microgreens will have produced sprouts, and you can place them under a light. These microgreens can now be watered directly rather than with a misting bottle. After around one to two weeks, you will be able to start harvesting your microgreens.
There are a variety of microgreens that may be grown in your house. To find resources on how to grow some of the most popular types of microgreens, you can visit this resource. It provides information on gardening microgreens such as amaranth, arugula, basil, barley, beets, and many more.
When are Microgreens Ready to Harvest?
Microgreens are generally ready to harvest around week two of growth but may also be ready as early as 10 days into the growing process. You will know when they are ready to be harvest once they have developed the first set of mature leaves. Another indicator of fully grown microgreens is to measure the height of your plant. Microgreens get to about 1-1 1/2” in height before they are ready for harvest.
To harvest your microgreens, use a sterile blade to cut the microgreen right above the soil. This allows you to utilize the entire growing microgreen for dishes from the stem to the mature leaves. You may leave the roots behind if you like as they will become useful in your next microgreen growing cycle. The shelf life of your harvested microgreens is 10 to 14 days after you’ve cut them.
Do Microgreens Regrow After Cutting?
Microgreens are harvested very early on in the growing stage, which means the plants cannot generate new growth. When you cut off your microgreens for use, you are cutting off everything the plant has developed beside the stem, which gives it no way to regrow.
Luckily, these microgreen grow easily and quickly from new seeds. You can scatter other seeds into your soil after harvesting, and these will grow just as quickly as the previous batch. You can leave the roots of the harvested greens in the soil. This becomes a great source of organic material for the new microgreen seeds to use.
Thanks to the nutrients leftover from your previous harvest, you will find that your growing container sprouts microgreens within a few days after resowing seeds. This makes these easy to grow plants capable of providing a variety of vegetables for your table throughout the year.
How to Eat Microgreens
Microgreens can be added to a variety of dishes as garnishes or to add intense flavors to a recipe. These greens are delicious additions to any meal you are making. Each type of green has a complex flavor profile and adds nice textural contrasts to the foods you already have on your plate. You may also use a variety of microgreens that can be mixed to create different tastes and textures.
Microgreens in Salads
These leafy vegetables can make up the base of some delicious tasting salads. Like many of their mature forms, microgreens can be eaten raw and taste exceptionally flavorful and crisp when mixed into a salad. What is even better is that raw microgreens maintain all of their nutrition. Mix some beet tops, pea shoots, and arugula together to create a colorful salad.
Microgreens in Sandwiches
Add microgreens to your sandwiches and wraps to take advantage of another way to use them in their raw form. These leaves will add extra flavor to your favorite dishes. You can combine them with tortillas or pitas to make a delicious and nutritious meal.
Microgreens can be incorporated into cooked meals as well. While they lose a bit of their nutrients when cooked, they still add exquisite flavors to the dish. You will want to look into the specific microgreen you’re planning on cooking before adding it to a dish. Some only need a few minutes on the stove and can be added at the very last second of the cooking process. Others can withstand the heat a bit longer and, therefore, and be left to infuse their flavors a bit longer. You can add microgreens to a variety of dishes, from stir-fry dishes to pasta and pizza, or pancetta, among many others.
Microgreens in Smoothies
Microgreens are great additions to smoothies that help energize your day and help you get your vitamins and nutrients. Wheatgrass is by far one of the most popular options for smoothies or juices. It is not only a significant nutrient boost to any drink, but it also helps to cut the green flavor that most vegetable juices come with. Other ways to incorporate microgreen leaves into your smoothies and juices is with shots of different greens, for example, a shot of broccoli shoots to your daily drink.
Microgreens can easily be substituted into baking and there are plenty of ways to be creative with your cooking. For example, you can replace spinach leaves in quiches with sunflower sprouts. Not only do they change up the flavor of a standard pastry, but they also add an extra level of nutrition and beauty to your baking. Feel free to experiment with microgreens that add hints of spice to your baking as well.
For those looking for more recipes and ideas for using microgreens in your dishes, there are plenty of resources available like this list of 30 recipes.
What Is the Difference Between Sprouts and Microgreens?
While microgreens and sprouts can look similar, they are different in how they are grown and eaten. Sprouts are germinated seeds that produce greens that are entirely eaten from the roots to seeds to shoots. These are younger versions of microgreens. Sprouts are usually germinated and wholly grown in water and are harvested earlier on in the growing process than microgreens.
Unlike a baby micro green, they are mild in flavor and used in dishes mostly for their texture. There is also an added risk of food poisoning due to the growing conditions of these seeds. Bacteria can quickly develop in the dark and wet growing conditions of these baby greens. This is why the FDA is seeking to regulate the use of these plants being used as vegetables.
Microgreens, on the other hand, take slightly longer to grow and are usually grown in soil or substitute rather than water. There is plenty of variety in microgreens, and each seed sprouts microgreens in one to two weeks.
These greens also carry a significant amount of flavor compared to sprouts and provide nutritional value to dishes. Many chefs will use them to garnish plates as well as core ingredients in their recipes.
Can Microgreens Make You Sick?
Microgreens themselves do not have a high chance of making you sick. Many microgreens may be eaten raw to take advantage of their intense flavors and high levels of vitamins and minerals.
What can make you sick, however, is if the microgreen contains bad bacteria. If you consume microgreen that has been infected with bacteria, you will get sick within a few days of consumption. Fear of bacteria is why most people stick with soil because damp and lowlight environments that sprouts grow in or that hydroponic units have to promote bacteria and fungus growth. Conditions that are ideal for growing microgreens do not encourage harmful bacteria to grow.
Where to Buy Microgreens?
Microgreens can be purchased as leaves from your local grocery store in small packages as well as seeds on the internet or through a local plant nursery. Many locations will carry a variety of microgreen mixes that may be stored in the fridge and are ready to use whenever you need them.