Take it In: by Carol Bareuther
“Good things come in small packages.” It’s an old saying, and it certainly applies to microgreens. These tiny edibles tick three key boxes demanded by charter chefs, clients and crew alike.
First, they are tasty and on trend. When surveyed in the Washington, DC-headquartered National Restaurant Association’s ‘What’s Hot’ forecast for 2018, nearly 40 percent of American Culinary Federation member chefs named micro-vegetables/microgreens as a hot trend.
Secondly, these teeny-weeny veggies are truly nutritious. Research reveals that microgreens may have more nutrients per mouthful than the full-grown versions.
Third, although microgreens are highly perishable, they can be easily grown on a galley counter. That means these fresh nutrient-packed ingredients can be freshly harvested and enjoyed even in the middle of the ocean.
Microgreens are the miniature form of young edible greens grown from vegetables, as well as herbs and other plants. Though typically only 1 to 1 1/2 inches in height, these greens have intense flavors. This, as well as the artistic appeal of the different colors and configurations of these leaf-topped stems, is what’s made them popular with fine-dining chefs.
Some of the most popular microgreens are arugula, basil, beets, kale and cilantro. However, today there are many more varieties available, such as anise, buckwheat, carrot, cauliflower, celery, chard, collard, endive, parsley, pea, radish, scallion and turnip, to name a few.
Microgreens shouldn’t be confused with sprouts. This is an important distinction, since sprouts have been linked to several serious foodborne illness outbreaks. In fact, major U.S. retailers such as Kroger and Walmart have permanently taken sprouts off their shelves. The issue with sprouts is that they are produced in water. The warm, often dark, fluid environment ideal for sprouting is also perfect for potentially dangerous bacteria to grow.
Microgreens, on the other hand, are cultivated in soil or a soil substitute like peat moss rather than water. The seed density, sunshine and fresh air microgreens usually get while growing, along with their harvest above the soil and without roots, makes them less likely to harbor pathogens.
One of the first and still widely quoted studies of the nutrient content of microgreens was conducted by U.S. researchers at the University of Maryland and published in 2012. These scientists analyzed 25 commercially available microgreens for their level of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), carotenoids (plant forms of vitamin A), phylloquinone (vitamin K) and tocopherols (forms of vitamin E).
Results revealed that different microgreens provided extremely varying amounts of these vitamins. However, red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth and green daikon radish had the highest concentrations of all four of these nutrients, respectively.
Taking this one functional step further, these same U.S. researchers published an article in 2016 that showed rats fed a diet rich in red cabbage microgreens had lower levels of LDL (bad cholesterol). This suggests that these microgreens may be part of a healthful diet designed to lower the risk for heart disease.
The most popular ways microgreens are served is atop salads or as a side garnish. There are several other ways to enjoy these tasty treats. For example, use microgreens to top a pizza, sprinkle over avocado toast, make into pesto, scramble into or top eggs, spoon into salsa, stir into grain salads made with quinoa or brown rice, blend in green smoothies, tuck into tea sandwiches or use to garnish burgers, grilled chicken or baked salmon.
Finally, microgreens aren’t difficult to grow. Cultivation doesn’t take up much room. Tools are minimal: trays, soil, seeds are the basics. The internet is full of how-to’s in words, pictures and videos to help a galley gardener get started. The benefits can be mammoth.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.