During your last trip to your local farmers market, you probably saw a farmer sharing samples of little, tiny green leaves, which were surprisingly tasty. They are microgreens. Do you know what makes them so different (and so good) when compared to baby greens and full-grown salad greens?
Microgreen is the universal name for almost any vegetable or herb that has edible leaves and is harvested at the coteleydon growth stage — the stage when the first set of true leaves sprout. This growth stage comes after the germination and sprouting stages but before a plant fully develops its root and leaf structures. When the next set of leaves — anywhere between two to four — are produced, the plant actually enters the coteleydon stage. If the plant is allowed to grow, it becomes a seedling and eventually a full grown vegetable.
A U.S. study looked at nutrient levels of 25 different microgreens and compared them to published information on full-sized leafy vegetables and herbs. Nutrient levels in different microgreens varied, but they typically had higher levels per gram of vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids (plant compounds, some used to make vitamin A and others help maintain eye health) than mature crops. A 2012 study on microgreens reported that even the microgreen sample that had the lowest levels of vitamin C contained a whopping 20 milligrams of vitamin C per 100 grams – that’s almost twice the amount of vitamin C found in tomatoes!
Let’s examine some of the most commonly grown microgreens and compare their nutritional values.
Arugula, or Eruca sativa, is from the Brassicaceae family. It is also known as Rucola, Roquette, or Rocket. It has a unique, serrated leaf shape with a signature peppery flavor and is packed with folic acid and Vitamins A, C and K. It also contains glucosinolates (GSLs) and phenols that are believed to help fend off toxins and stave off environmental stress. It is delicious in salads and as an accent to seafood dishes. Very low in calories, with 100 grams of the vegetable having just 25 calories and 3.7 grams of carbohydrates, arugula also is a great weight loss food.
Kale, or leaf cabbage, refers to vegetable cultivars of the plant species Brassica oleracea. Kale has green or purple leaves with deep, earthy, slightly bitter flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked and is high in Vitamins A, C, K, all of which boost vision, help ward of colds, and keep your skin clear and healthy. One cup of kale has only 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber and 0 grams of fat. It is great for aiding in digestion and elimination with its great fiber content. Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef. Iron is essential for good health, such as the formation of hemoglobin and enzymes, transporting oxygen to various parts of the body, cell growth, proper liver function and more.
Harvested at about two inches tall, these peppery seedlings are great in salads and cold soups. Their small size also makes them a great raw garnish to dishes that can benefit from a peppery element. Radish microgreens are a very good source of vitamin C – 25% of the daily recommended value – helping to rebuild tissues and blood vessels and keeping bones and teeth strong. Vitamin C fights disease and rescues the cells from an onslaught of destructive free radicals that cause all kinds of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Known for providing essential amino acids, crunchy sprouted sunflower greens contain high levels of folate, B complex vitamins and vitamins C, E and selenium. Both sunflower seeds and their sprouts contain high amounts of zinc, is a well-researched mineral that is essential for the development of sperm, which is why it is especially important for men. Sunflower sprouts are high in folate, a necessary B vitamin for pregnant women to ensure proper development of the baby’s nervous system. The combination of B vitamins also assists in the mother’s circulation as well as aids in stress relief. Sunflower seed sprouts are a great vegetarian source of protein, which is well known for its ability to repair muscle tissue and aid in enzymatic functions in the body. But protein is also important in bone development and the prevention of osteoporosis, acting as the fundamental framework for the development of the bone matrix and continuing to support bone strength throughout life.
The health benefits of microgreens are obvious, and what could be a more delicious way to add some healthy food to your diet? Instead of spending your money on expensive vitamins and detox kits, experience the flavorful delights of microgreens by adding them to whatever you’re eating. Your body, and your taste buds, will thank you.