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What are Microgreens?

Microgreens are the seedlings of edible vegetables and herbs that have been allowed to grow past the cotyledon stage until the first two true leaves appear. They’re the latest culinary trend and they’re still mostly available in speciality stores and upmarket restaurants. With their vivid colours, microgreens are attractive to look at and they have an intensive smell and taste. They’re used as a garnish or as an ingredient in salads, soups or sandwiches.

Researching microgreens

A study carried out by researchers at the University of Maryland (USA) and a state research institute found that the mini plants have a far higher nutrient density than their mature counterparts. The research material was a selection of 25 types of microgreen produced by a California grower.

Research conditions

The test plants were chosen from a range of herb and vegetable seedlings – red cabbage, radish, rucola, spinach, beetroot, peas, maize, amaranth, dill, coriander and basil. Most of them were grown in an unheated greenhouse under normal daylight. The exception were garden peas where one batch were grown in daylight and produced green leaves and another batch was grown in the dark and produced yellow leaves. Maize was also grown in the dark and produced yellow leaves. All the other microgreens developed intensive colours, from dark and pale green to violet, dark red and bright red. Some seedlings even produced variegated leaves.

Microgreens with high vitamin content

The researchers evaluated the water content and the levels of four vitamins – ascorbic acid (vitamin C), tocopherols (vitamin E), carotinoids (incl. provitamin A) and phylloquinone (vitamin K). In comparison with nutritional concentrations in mature leaves (USDA National Nutrient Database), the microgreen cotyledon leaves had much higher nutritional densities. Among the 25 microgreens evaluated, red cabbage, coriander, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish had the highest vitamin concentrations. The water content was much the same as in mature plants.

Light plays an important role

Microgreens of maize and peas grown in the dark had very low vitamin levels. Peas cultivated in daylight synthesised larger amounts of vitamins, confirming the great importance of sunlight for biosynthesis of nutrients. The phytonutrient data may provide a first scientific basis for evaluating nutritional values of microgreens and as a reference for health agency recommendations and consumer choice in adding these plants to diet plans.

 

Source: Susanne Großmann-Kühnau, www.aid.de