Bigger isn’t always better.
Your first encounter with microgreens was likely at the farmers’ market, where there’s always at least one stand full of bins of tiny green leaves. The signs scattered across the table read “kale,” “broccoli,” “cilantro,” and “cabbage,” but the little leaves look nothing like the broccoli and cabbage you’re familiar with.
Microgreens are the baby leaves of plants, better known as seedlings. There’s no one type of microgreen; it’s an umbrella term for all the edible leaves of different plant seedlings, including grains like amaranth.
Kind of like herbs, microgreens pack incredible flavor. That’s because the flavor is more concentrated in its younger days, so you get an intense burst of flavor with each bite. And aesthetically, the microgreens add a pop of green (and sometimes red) to whatever you want to add ‘em to. (Here are more plating tips to make your dinner look amazing.)
That brings us to our next point: You can add microgreens to just about anything. Sprinkle some on top of your lasagna before serving, use as a garnish on your tacos, or mix them into your salad.
A downfall of microgreens is that they have a short shelf-life, which is why you mostly only see them at farmers’ markets. Once cut, they need to be eaten ASAP. One way around this is by growing them yourself. If you want to get into gardening, start with microgreens. These baby plants only take a week or so, whereas growing a mature adult plant could take months (if the squirrels don’t eat it before that).
But all of that is nothing compared to the real benefit of microgreens: Their nutritional value. Just like the flavor of microgreens is more concentrated, so is the phytonutrients, according to a 2012 study from the University of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Here are a couple examples:
Broccoli microgreens have higher amounts of magnesium, manganese, and zinc than mature broccoli.
Red cabbage microgreens have 2.5 times the amount of vitamin C as the adult red cabbage.
Cilantro microgreens have 20 times (!!!) the amount of vitamin E as adult cilantro leaves. (Sorry, cilantro haters.)
Cabbage, red, raw. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on August 6, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/11112.)
Coriander (cilantro) leaves, raw. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on August 6, 2018 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/11165.)
Mir SA, Shah MA, Mir MM. Microgreens: production, shelf life, and bioactive components. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Aug 13;57(12):2730-6.
Weber CF. Broccoli microgreens: a mineral-rich crop that can diversify food systems. Front Nutr. 2017;4:7.
Xiao Z, Lester GE, Luo Y, Wang Q. Assessment of vitamin and carotenoid concentrations of emerging food products: edible microgreens. J Agric Food Chem. 2012:60(31):7644-51.