There is a lot of hype surrounding the foods we eat and how they affect our bodies- so much so it can become very overwhelming and easy to simply ignore the many health benefits the knowledge can bring. But if you would like to provide some health benefits to your meals, and enjoy gardening, microgreens are an easy and simple way to do so.
Explore the health benefits of microgreens below as we explain what they are, popular choices, and how to best cultivate them for year-round use. You don’t need a green thumb to enjoy these little sprouts, just some basic knowledge of plant care and a place to put them!
By definition, microgreens are immature vegetable and herb plants. When plants begin to grow they go through various stages before they are considered mature. The first stage is seedling and is defined by the initial breakthrough and growth of vegetation. Once this seedling puts forth new growth it is considered a sprout, and THAT is what a microgreen is defined by a vegetable or herb sprout of growth.
Also known as micro herbs and vegetable confetti, these young shoots pack a nutritional punch as they hold all the energy they need to begin leafing out and maturing. Most microgreens are harvested between 1 and 3 inches of height as they begin to show their first leaves. This is when the initiation of the next phase of growth, often called the ‘baby green stage’, occurs- where they begin to look like a miniature version of their more mature self.
Some people argue that microgreens are not sprouts because they are grown in soil rather than water and that sprouts must grow hydroponically to be defined as such. However, this does not negate the growth stages of plants. And the nuances in growth mediums seem to surround the growing verbiage associated with restaurant snobbery rather than the lifecycle of your plants.
In short- your microgreens are vegetables and herbs sprouting towards maturity when they are harvested. No matter how they are grown.
Types of Microgreens
There are many different types of plants that are popularly used for this purpose. The most popular comes from the following vegetative families due to their strong aromatics and flavors that are lent to the dishes they are used within. This highlight some of the most popular, although many others can also be included.
These include squash, cucumbers, and melon and are harvested while still young and tender.
Often the most popular, these are defined by leafy green lettuces, endive, radicchio, and chicories.
Broccoli, kale, mustards, cabbages (red and green), cauliflower, radish, watercress, and arugula are packed full of flavor and antioxidants in their immature state.
Loved for their strong aromatics and flavors, the strength of garlic, leeks, and onions is only slightly decreased when harvesting immaturely.
Fennel, celery, dill, cilantro, and carrots are well loved for the addition of flavor they provide as mature growth, but in their immature state they are equally as flavorful, if not more so!
Another family of leafy greens, the beet, spinach, quinoa, swiss chard, and amaranth found here pack a nutrient punch.
Legumes like beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils are also easy to grow, as are cereals- such as wheat, rice, and barely. Sunflower and flax are also commonly grown. If you are considering growing your own you can mix and match plants to find the flavors you most enjoy. Young sprouts can range in taste and provide fresh, clean bursts of flavor or fall into a more spicy, bitter, or even sour ranges of the palette.
Nutritional Value of Microgreens
As mentioned, microgreens are loaded with the nutrients they would otherwise use to feed their maturing growth. When harvested as sprouts they are full of vitamins and nutrients your body can most definitely take advantage of. They also are very easy for your body to digest due to the high enzyme content which allows your body to process them for body advantage. And at only approximately 29 calories per 100 grams of weight, they are a low-calorie addition to any meal.
Although our body can benefit from a wide range of various vitamins, there are a few essential vitamins our body depends on for overall function. These include Vitamins A, C, E and K1 and are found in abundance in most microgreens alongside other healthy concentration of other various nutrients. Antioxidants, carotenoids, and phytonutrients are also found in high numbers, all which aid in nutrient uptake and whole body support.
All these nutrient concentrations mean a whole lot of body benefits for you. Anytime you are getting the ‘food’ your body needs from a natural source, you are making it easier to be used by your system to feed energy and growth. Antioxidants help strengthen the body against disease, support essential organ function, and allow faster recovery time. For example, they are especially sought after for cancer prevention and treatment to help lower risk factors and support remission.
The high concentrations microgreens provide can be incredibly efficient for various ailments as well. High cholesterol and heart disease is controlled by rich sources of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant found in microgreens- and have not only been proven to lower levels but also keep them in check.
These rich sources of antioxidants also support brain function and blood flow to the brain and maybe a way to help stave off and support Alzheimer’s. Diabetics may also see results as it helps reduce the stress that keeps sugar from properly being used by the body through cellular uptake.
Where Do I Get Them?
Microgreens, unfortunately, can be difficult to find in markets and grocery stores and are usually limited in their variety. They also have a very short shelf life, and therefore are pretty expensive to purchase overall. They do exist though and can be bought if that is how you want to begin incorporating them into your diet.
They are incredibly easy to grow on your own, however, and don’t require much space. Since one pound of seeds can yield up to 8 pounds of greens- you can grow a decent variety on your own. They also germinate and grow quickly (within one to two weeks), and can be grown year-round in sunny windows or under grow lights.
Your Micro Grow Guide
Warm sunny windows are best for getting started with your microgreen cultivation. As mentioned, you can also substitute a grow light – just be sure to get one that uses a light spectrum for germination and early plant growth opposed to maturity and harvest. You can grow in just about any shallow container. Upcycle take out boxes and disposable pie plates or look for reusable plastic bins that you can fill with a potting soil mix.
- Fill your planting container with potting soil and gently tap down and smooth out.
- Moisten the soil completely but do not have any standing water. If you water along the edge of the container this can allow it to soak up from the bottom.
- Spread the seeds evenly across the top of the soil and gently press into the surface.
- Gently sprinkle soil over the top so they are barely covered. Moisten with a spray mister to avoid disrupting the seeds. You can also cover with clear plastic as well.
- Mist once or twice a day until sprouts appear (usually within 3 to 7 days depending on the plant).
- Remove plastic once sprouted (if used) and continue to water gently using misters and watering from the bottom until ready for harvest.
- Harvest when plants show their first ‘true leaves’ and are between 1 and 3 inches in height. Simply cut off along soil level, rinse and store in a cool place- like your refrigerator crisper. Use within a week, or before they begin to wilt.
How to Eat Them
These nutrient-packed micro plants are incredibly versatile and can be used in a wide variety of ways in your current diet. Because you can constantly rotate fresh greens through the year, they are easy to keep on hand, and also quick to grab to add to your favorite dishes. Consider some of the following favorite ways they are used:
- Add a handful to a sandwich, wrap or pita
- Mix into your coleslaw- either homemade or store-bought
- Add into hummus and bean dips for an unexpected crunch and texture
- Roll into homemade California rolls
- Top your favorite soups, stews, and hot dips with them
- Put a handful in a smoothie before blending, or juice them with your favorite vegetables and fruits
- Mix into ANY salad
- Use as an edible garnish
- Sprinkle over pizza
- Bake into omelets, frittatas, quiches, and egg bites
- Use them as a lettuce replacement on a burger and in tacos
Honestly, there are literally hundreds of ways you can incorporate them into your current eating schedule. And when you have them a hand, it makes them easy to include.
Many sprouts are grown in hydroponic systems when mass produced for consumer use. These can easily harbor salmonella and e.coli bacterias which spread due to the growing process. Many concerns about sprout consumption have made some pretty sensational media headlines over the past few years.
Luckily, growing in soil drastically cuts these risks, as does exposure to harmful bacterias when grown in your own controlled, home environment. Unfortunately, most issues stem from the seed, so if you are concerned, you can take the following precautions:
- Young children, the elderly, and those with a compromised immune system are the most affected by bacterial contamination.
- Cooking sprouts kill bacteria
If you have heard the term microgreens being dropped at a favorite restaurant, or have scrolled past articles about them and wondered what they were – then hopefully this article has helped explain a few things. These nutrient-packed greens bring a ton of benefits to the table (literally!) and are incredibly easy to grow on your own. They also taste great and add a variety of flavor and texture to your favorite dishes.
As a quick overview, use this infographic for an easy visual reminder!
If you have any questions or comments or want to share your favorite microgreen recipe with us, please do so below! And, as always, please share!