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Microgreens - Tiny Greens with a Huge Impact

Updated: Jan 5, 2021

What are Microgreens?

Microgreens are tiny greens of edible vegetables and herbs that are older than sprouts, but younger than baby greens. They can be grown from almost any plant variety that produces a mature, edible plant, such as radish, kale, spinach, or basil. An assortment of colors, visual textures, aromas, flavors, and nutrient profiles make microgreens appealing to not only restaurants, but also those that are health-conscious.

Superfoods that Can Save Your Health

Science indicates that microgreens are denser in nutrients than their mature counterparts. 1 ounce of microgreen broccoli contains the equivalent nutrition of 24 ounces of mature broccoli florets - that's a 24:1 ratio of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry recently published research from the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources' Department of Nutrition and Food Science stating that plants of microgreen age contain four to 40 times more nutrients - such as Vitamin C, E, K and beta carotene - than those plants do when they are mature.

Red cabbage microgreen supplementation had health-promoting effects in mice fed a high fat diet. Supplementation with microgreens attenuated body weight gain, lowered low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol levels, reduced hepatic cholesterol ester and triglyceride levels, and inflammatory cytokines (Huang et al. 2016). Red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish microgreens had the highest concentrations of ascorbic acid, carotenoids, phylloquinone, and tocopherols, respectively, with the levels of these bioactive components being significantly higher in microgreens than in their mature counterparts (Xiao et al. 2012). Radish and mustard were found to have the highest bioaccessable fraction (BF) for ascorbic acid, total carotenoids, and total isothiocyanates, while broccoli, kale, and radish all had comparably high BF for total polyphenols (de la Fuente et al. 2019). Microgreen lettuce had higher content of most minerals (Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Zn, Se, and Mo) than mature lettuce (Pinto et al. 2015).

Superfoods that Can Also Save the Environment

Traditional, large-scale farming is associated with significant adverse effects on air, soil, ground and surface water, as well as wildlife habitat. These operations often rely on monocropping, or 1 crop grown year after year on the same land. Monocultures are highly susceptible to pests and disease, which require constant and heavy use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. These chemicals are absorbed by crops, leach into groundwater supplies, and runoff into surface waters. Intensive agriculture also depletes fertile topsoils and increases the presence of harmful particulate matter in the air that can have serious respiratory implications. Additionally, the large swaths of land required to sustain these operations displace wildlife habitats and many small animals, such as mice, moles, and rabbits, are killed by tractors and harvesting machinery.

Population growth, shrinking arable land, and the need for food security have contributed to the movement towards indoor, controlled environmental agriculture (CEA) (Riggio, Jones, and Gibson 2019). CEAs offer many potential advantages including a clean and green source of food; along with biosecurity; freedom from pests, droughts, and reduced use of transportation and fossil fuels (Benke and Tompkins 2017). Microgreens are cultivated in controlled environments, thereby avoiding potential field sources of contamination (Bank and Schroeder 2012). Field sources of contamination include dirty water, dust, sewage, insects, rodents, etc. The short time to harvest for microgreens and high market values make microgreens important CEA crops (Wood 2019). Microgreens can diversify and bolster food production systems without the use of harmful chemicals and unsustainable practices.

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