Nutrition is one of the pillars of health and without proper nutrition, our bodies will not function properly. Not only are microgreens trending in the culinary world due to their unique size, texture, color and immense flavor, but they are also making waves in the nutrition and wellness field now that there are ongoing studies and preliminary research showing promising findings regarding their health benefits and nutrient dense qualities.
In this post, we will discuss what microgreens are, the health benefits of microgreens, the different types of microgreens available on the market today, and a nutritional breakdown of one of the most popular microgreens in each plant family listed.
What Are Microgreens?
Microgreens are essentially young vegetables in their earliest stage of edible infancy, eaten immediately after the cotyledons have developed with one set of true leaves. The cotyledon is considered the “embryonic leaf” or the “seed leaves” in seed-bearing plants and helps supply a seedling with the necessary nutrients it needs to germinate.
Evidence suggests that these microgreens are very high in antioxidants and vitamins, which is causing an increase in their popularity in the nutrition field. In addition, their colors and textures have drawn attention to them in the culinary world as they make a visually appealing garnish and a tasty add-on to many dishes.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Eating Microgreens?
Microgreens are high in antioxidants, which means they can prevent various diseases. The specific type of antioxidant depends upon the plant.
One study conducted on 25 different types of microgreens found that although the nutritional value varies significantly between the different types, as a whole, their nutritional punch is much greater than their mature plant counterparts. Of all the varieties assessed, red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish had the highest concentrations of vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, and carotenoids (yellow, orange & red pigments produced by fruits and vegetables that help fight off diseases).
Microgreens are also being recognized in the functional medical world as being a functional food. In 2021 a study was done on the bioaccessibility of polyphenols and glucosinolates in the Brassicaceae microgreens kale, red cabbage, kohlrabi, and purple radish.
This study found that the highest percentage of these antioxidants came from kohlrabi and kale microgreens. The antioxidants were released after digestion creating anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antimicrobial, and anti-diabetic effects for the body.
The same study found that treating colon cancer cells with kale, radish, mustard, and broccoli microgreens stunted the cells’ growth. In addition, when cells were treated with the root extract of the licorice microgreen, anti-inflammatory effects were found.
Broccoli microgreens are high in a compound called sulforaphane which has been shown to reduce multiplying cancer cells. These greens are better eaten raw as sulforaphane breaks down in the heat.
As you can see, enough preliminary studies have been done showing microgreens’ high antioxidant, vitamin and mineral content, warranting further studies.
Another benefit I see as a nutrition coach & health coach is that many people don’t like vegetables. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend 3-4 cups of vegetable per day, but people are only consuming around .5 – 2 cups per day.
Because of the high nutrient content found in microgreens, including fiber, people don’t have to eat microgreens in the same quantity as they would have to eat of their regular size mature vegetables to get the same if not higher concentration of nutrients. This will make it easier to get more people to eat these young seedlings than it is their full-grown counterparts.
What Are The Different Types Of Microgreens?
Listed are six of the main plant families that produce microgreens, plus some of the popular vegetables people harvest from them.
➔Brassicaceae Plant Family
This family produces microgreens known for high levels of macroelements, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, sodium, potassium, and microelements including copper, iron, manganese, and zinc.
Popular microgreens coming from the edible vegetables of The Brassicaceae Family include…
- Red Cabbage
There are 2500 species of plants in this family that produce leaves with both red and green varieties. A fun fact about the popular variety of the beet microgreen is that it’s called bulls blood because its little plants turn a very pretty red color with a bit of green on the leaves.
Amaranthaceae Family includes
➔Lamiaceae (Mint) Family
This plant family has over 7,000 edible plant species widely used in the culinary field and is also known for its aromatic features.
There are many herbs in this family, including
This family is known for its fruits and vines. The edible plants are usually only grown in warmer climates as the mature plants’ fruits are susceptible to freezing.
Microgreens associated with this plant family are quite tasty like their mature counterparts and includes…
As we stated above, microgreens from this plant family have a flavorful taste, just like the big fruits these mature plants produce.
This plant family is known as the grasses family, and the full-grown plants are often used to provide staple foods to the world, such as wheat, barley, and rice.
The most popular microgreens coming out of this family are
What Is The Difference Between Sprouts And Microgreens?
Microgreens and sprouts are not the same things. Despite their similarities, there are some key differences between the two. The main difference between the two is the growth cycle length after the seeds germinate.
Harvest Time & Length
- Sprouts are germinated seeds that have not yet developed into full-fledged plants and have no mature leaves
- Microgreens are more mature than sprouts and develop true leaves.
- Sprouts are shorter, around 2-3 inches tall and microgreens are taller, about 4-7 inches tall
- Sprouts usually take 3-5 days to harvest vs. harvesting microgreens usually takes 7-14 days
Growth Medium & Requirements
- Sprouts are generally grown hydroponically (in water) because they don’t require any nutrients from the soil to grow, whereas microgreen seeds need extra nutrients from the soil to grow; therefore, microgreens grow better in soil.
- Sprouts need very little if any light to grow, whereas new seeds for microgreens need light to grow. Growing microgreens indoors is fine as long as the proper lighting is used.
- Ventilation is required for microgreens, whereas for sprouts, most people grow them in mason jars with only a vented lid which lets in very little airflow.
- A study done in 2020 concluded that both sprouts and microgreens should be a part of our diets, and both have health-promoting compounds making them superfoods.
- Sprouts have a higher sugar content than microgreens and have high levels of polyphenols, L-ascorbic acid, amino acids and pectins.
- Microgreens contain high levels of carotenoids, chlorophylls, and organic acids but are very low in sugars which makes microgreens’ benefits towards anti – diabetics much higher than sprouts.
- The root of microgreens is not eaten however, the whole sprout is eaten.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are The Disadvantages Of Microgreens?
The only disadvantage of microgreens that I can see is that you should not eat microgreens from the “nightshade” family. Microgreens from plants in this family include tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
Some toxins such as solanine and tropanes in these microgreens can cause digestive and neurological disorders.
Eating the roots of microgreens is also discouraged as the roots contain mold spores that will make you sick.
How Long Will Microgreens Last Once Harvested?
Microgreens will last for approximately 7-12 days if stored properly in the refrigerator. You do not want to leave your microgreens out of the fridge as they could mold, causing sickness if eaten.
How Do You Eat Microgreens?
Microgreens can be used in various dishes such as salads, on sandwiches, garnish for entrees and drinks, soups, juicing and stir fry.
My favorite way to eat microgreens is in a smoothie. Sometimes I struggle to get in all the veggies I need daily so blending up these baby greens into a smoothie really helps me reach my goals.
Most microgreens are very expensive in grocery stores and they can be grown indoors which is so much fun.
Studies on microgreens are increasing every day and all the evidence points toward these little plants as being very important to implement as part of living a healthy lifestyle. We would call them an emerging trend as not everybody knows what they are.
For people who don’t “like” vegetables they are also a great way to get all the nutrients you need from vegetables without having to eat so much volume.
Give microgreens a try today and see if they are an option for you and your family as part of a healthy habit you can incorporate into your lifestyle!