Microgreens are baby vegetables that have become all the rage in salads ordered in upscale restaurants. Touted for their tender, tangy taste, microgreens have also been advertised as more nutritious, that was just a rumor until now. A new study has found that microgreens actually do have more vitamins and other essential nutrients than mature vegetables.
A culinary trend
Diners usually encounter microgreens, one of the latest culinary trends, in the form of spinach, lettuce, cabbage, pea, beet or purple mustard seedlings. Microgreens are harvested within two weeks after germination when the seedlings grow about 1 to 3 inches high. Chefs in upscale restaurants used the multi-hued seedlings as a garnish for salads, sandwiches and soups.
No research has supported widespread claims that microgreens pack an extra nutritional punch. But a new study by researchers at the Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland is the first scientific evaluation of microgreen nutrition. They were surprised at just how healthy microgreens really are.
The researchers analyzed 25 varieties of microgreens for essential nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin E and the phytochemical beta carotene. They found that microgreens had concentrations of these nutrients from four to 40 times higher than mature leaves from the same plant.
In their report, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, red cabbage microgreens topped the list with 40 times more vitamin E and six times more vitamin C than the mature plant. Cilantro microgreens were the richest in lutein and had 3 times more beta carotene. The highest levels of vitamins, C, K and E were found in red cabbage, garnet amaranth and green diakon radish microgreens.
Lead author Gene Lester of the USDA said the findings “give us a new insight into plants, because these are little tiny seeds barely exposed to much light at all, yet those compounds are there ready to go.”
Co-author Qin Wang said that could explain the high nutrient content of microgreens. “Because microgreens are harvested right after germination, all the nutrients they need to grow are there,” he said. “If they are harvested at the right time they are very concentrated with nutrients, and the flavor and texture is also good.”
You can find microgreens at most farmers markets and upscale grocery stores at a premium price. The more intense the color, the more nutritious they are. They’re full of flavor so it doesn’t take much to enhance a meal. Perhaps the best thing about microgreens is that they’re so easy to grow in a box on your kitchen windowsill.