This Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of microgreens and an in-depth look at their possible health benefits.
The article also looks at how to incorporate more microgreens into the diet and any potential health risks of consuming microgreens.
What are microgreens?
Cilantro is a popular microgreen that is high in vitamins and carotenoids and may be found in Mexican and Latin American cuisine.
Microgreens are the seedlings of vegetables and herbs. Once the seed of an herb or vegetable begins to grow, it is considered a sprout. Once the sprout begins to grow, the baby plant is considered a microgreen.
Sprouts and microgreens are not one and the same. Sprouts are usually grown in water and harvested within 2-3 days while microgreens are grown in soil, require sunlight, and are harvested after 1-3 weeks of growing time, when they are about 2 inches tall. Baby greens are grown for longer periods and are usually around 3-4 inches tall when they are harvested.
The flavor of microgreens depends on the plant they comes from. It can range from mild to tangy, spicy, or peppery.
Microgreens can be grown from any herb or vegetable. Some of the most popularly consumed microgreens include:
Sprouts, such as beansprouts, are another popular and healthful food that can be grown at home. Sprouts are newly germinated seeds that are harvested before their leaves develop, while microgreens have leaves.
Possible health benefits
Studies suggest that microgreens may contain high concentrations of nutrients compared with mature vegetables and herbs.
Due to their high antioxidant content, microgreens are considered a functional food, a food that promotes health or prevents disease.
Consuming plant-based foods of all kinds has been linked to a reduced risk of many health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Plant-based foods also support a healthy complexion, increased energy, lower weight, and longer life expectancy.
Further research about using microgreens to treat or prevent specific diseases is not yet available.
Many people are not getting the recommended amount of vegetables and fruits per day for many reasons including access, cost, convenience, and taste preference. Microgreens can easily be grown at home in a small space with little cost and provide a huge return in terms of nutrients.
Scientific data on the nutritional content of microgreens is limited, but research has shown that microgreens do contain a higher concentration of many nutrients when compared with the mature, fully grown vegetables or herbs.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, micro kale greens contain approximately 29 calories per 100 grams.
Further data on nutrients, such as carbohydrates, protein, and fat content, have yet to be compiled. However, several studies have demonstrated the high level of phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that microgreens contain. Microgreens are also rich in enzymes, which enable them to be more easily digested.
The micronutrients contained in microgreens differ widely depending on type. Researchers at the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Maryland studied a total of 25 microgreens. The following microgreens had the highest concentrations of four different vitamins and carotenoids:
- red cabbage
- green daikon radish
- garnet amaranth
For example, red cabbage microgreens are rich in vitamin C, but low in vitamin E. Green daikon radish microgreens were rich in vitamin E but low in lutein when compared to the cabbage, cilantro, and amaranth.
How to grow microgreens
Microgreens are relatively easy to grow on a small scale and can even thrive indoors if sunlight is available. People wishing to grow their own microgreens can follow these steps to do so:
- Scatter seeds over an inch of potting soil in a planter dish or tray and cover with another thin layer of soil.
- Mist the soil with water and place near a source of sunlight or a grow light.
- Continue to mist the seeds daily to keep the soil moist.
The microgreens will be ready to harvest in 2-3 weeks. People should make sure to cut their greens above the soil line and rinse well before using.
Sprouts, in contrast are ready for consumption in a few days.
Microgreens can boost color, enhance flavor, and add texture to any dish, while delivering a nutritional boost as well.
Some tips for adding microgreens into meals include:
- using them as a topping for salads and soups
- tossing a small handful into a smoothie or juice before blending
- using them as a garnish alongside any main dish
- placing microgreens on top of a flatbread or pizza after cooking
- adding microgreens into an omelet or frittata
- replacing lettuce with microgreens on a burger, sandwich, or tacos
Bacteria growth in sprouts has been a major food safety concern, with several outbreaks of E.coli reported in the media in the past few years. The U.S. government has even gone so far as to recommend that people do not consume sprouts at all.
The potential for bacteria growth with microgreens is much smaller because they are not grown in water. Also, only the leaf and plant are eaten instead of the entire root and seed.