Tiny microgreens are a huge trend. In fact, almost half (48 percent) of the nearly 1,300 American Culinary Federation chefs questioned by the National Restaurant Association for its annual “What’s Hot in 2015” survey named micro-vegetables/micro-greens “hot” and 14 percent more called these vibrantly colored, crisp-textured, intensely flavored veggies a “perennial favorite”.
Microgreens are much more than a palate pleaser and eye candy to a plate. They also contain mucho nutrients.
Microgreens are the edible seedlings grown from a variety of vegetables and herbs. These include beet greens, radish greens, kale, chard, bok choy and arugula as well as parsley, chervil, cilantro, chives and basil. They are harvested at the tender age of 10 days to two weeks or right after the first leaves sprout.
These greens are usually 1 to 3 inches long when harvested and they come in a crayon box of colors. A key point on the nutritional front is that since microgreens are harvested so young, they still contain all the nutrients needed to grow an adult plant. Plus, at this stage, they offer a flavor akin to the parent vegetable or herb only in a more concentrated form.
Microgreens are smaller than baby greens and they are harvested later than sprouts. Different from sprouts, too, microgreens are grown in nutrient-rich soil while sprouts grow using only water.
There have been many claims across the Internet that call microgreens a powerhouse of nutrients. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture put this premise to the test back in 2012 and came up with the same conclusion. Specifically, these food scientists tested the concentration of four nutrients: ascorbic acid (vitamin C), carotenoids (vitamin A), phylloquinone (vitamin K) and tocopherols (vitamin E) in 25 commercially available varieties of microgreens. These nutrients are especially important in promoting the health of eyes and skin as well as serving as a cancer preventative.
In general, results showed that the microgreens contained from five to 40 times higher levels of vitamins and carotenoids than their grown-up plant counterparts.
The USDA testing also revealed that different microgreens provided widely varying amounts of vitamins and carotenoids. Specifically, red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth and green daikon radish rated the highest in concentrations of vitamin C, A, K and E as well as other phytonutrient carotenoids.
Individually, red cabbage microgreens had the richest concentrations of vitamin C, green daikon radish microgreens provided the most vitamin E, and cilantro microgreens were highest in lutein and beta-carotene. This shows that eating a variety of microgreens is best.
Microgreens were once only available to chefs. Today, they’re for sale at farmer’s markets and upscale supermarkets. When choosing microgreens for their nutrition, look for the ones that are the deepest in color. Research has shown that storing delicate microgreens in a dark part of the refrigerator in a damp paper towel tucked into a resealable plastic bag or covered container assures the best shelf life. Wash just before eating rather than before storing to maintain the best quality for up to five days.
The best ways to use microgreens is as a color and flavor burst to a dish. Like herbs and spices, the pungent flavor of microgreens means a small amount can add a huge burst of flavor to a dish.
The flavor of these greens are akin to the parent plant, only stronger. For example, radish microgreens are really peppery in taste. This is why some chefs will use a mixture of many varieties of microgreens in a salad in order to get the perfectly balanced taste.
Chefs also use microgreens as garnishes on soups, sandwiches and salads – ranging from green salads and classic tomato-and-mozzarella salads to the more traditional egg, macaroni and potato salads. They taste great, too, sprinkled on a warm pizza straight out of the oven, as a topping for risotto, in savory omelets, and as an ingredient and decoration atop smoothies.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at email@example.com.