Many of us germinated cress seeds on a damp cloth in elementary school, giving us our first glimpse of edible microgreens. Recent interest in more diverse ways to incorporate flavor and nutrients into the plant-based components of our diet has increased focus on the potential of these crops.
There are now a growing number of horticultural businesses bringing a wide variety of microgreens to market on a large scale. In most cases, sales are to the restaurant industry rather than retail, meaning you’ll likely find them in your sandwich or as a side to a restaurant dish. Microgreens are simply the cotyledons or seed leaves that emerge first when a seed germinates. If the seedlings were allowed to mature, they would eventually become full-fledged leafy vegetable and herb plants.
These miniature leafy salads pack lots of nutritional and tasty goodness into a small space. Seedlings of plants such as beetroot, radish, arugula, basil and cilantro come in many shades of red and green. They add real spice to a dish with their distinctive taste and contain biologically active compounds such as glucosinolates and polyphenols, which are known to reduce the risk of esophagitis some cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
Recent research has shown that “bioavailability,” or the ease with which the human body can access all of the nutrients contained in the plants we eat Some microgreens are better than others. Red radish sprouts had higher bioavailability of polyphenols than red cabbage, broccoli and white mustard, although the concentrations in the radish were lower. These results show how important it is for us to understand the digestibility of the foods we eat, and not just the concentration of various compounds in them.
Although microgreens are more nutrient rich than their full-grown relatives, the portion sizes offered still tend to be very small. While microgreens are still viewed as a side dish rather than a valuable part of a diet, people are not reaping the nutritional benefits they could.
Microgreens can be easily grown indoors and do not require a lot of space. Growing indoors comes with its challenges, as energy requirements are often high to provide the lighting and temperatures the plants need. However, if the energy used comes from renewable sources, indoor growing becomes sustainable.
Researchers in Canada also found that the use of continuous LED lighting both increased the yield of microgreens and reduced the energy costs associated with production compared to using traditional light/dark cycles.
Microgreens are harvested within a few days of germination, meaning they require no additional fertilizer and have very few pest and disease problems affecting plants grown to greater maturity because they are grown in such clean indoor environments be grown. All they need is some water to sustain themselves.
However, the indoor growing environment also offers the potential for enrichment of microgreen plants, ensuring that they are even richer sources of the nutrients we often lack. A 2022 study by the Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra showed that there is a range of different microgreen varieties that could be more than 100-fold enriched with selenium by incorporating it into the growing medium. Selenium is an essential nutrient that reduces the risk of cancer.
The biggest remaining challenge is to improve the durability of these seedlings. Many of the things that make them attractive as crops, such as: Some factors, such as their delicate texture and being grown in a highly protected environment, make them unable to cope with the conditions they are exposed to after harvest. The increasing popularity of these crops will encourage plant breeders to invest in developing varieties specifically suitable for growing as microgreens.
The indoor-friendly, low-effort production of microgreens offers the opportunity to grow leafy vegetables in cities or even in your own home. These short supply chains ensure that the product reaches your plate fresh and of good quality.
When production is more local to the point of consumption, people feel more connected to their food supply and are more likely to include these sustainable, healthy and delicious little leaves in their diet.