Microgreens are nutrient-rich vegetable greens that can even grow on a windowsill with access to sunlight. These micro herbs are often considered functional foods by scientists around the globe for their therapeutic properties. They also enhance the color, texture, and flavor of the food and are said to be more nutritious than sprouts. Besides, their rich antioxidant, carotenoid, and phytochemical components help prevent and treat several ailments, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.This article explores the health benefits of microgreens, their types, nutritional profile, potential risks, and how to grow them at home.
In This Article
What Are Microgreens?
Microgreens are edible young greens harvested just after the cotyledons (seed leaves) have developed. They range from 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 cm) in size, including the stem and leaves. They have an aromatic flavor, but their taste may vary — neutral, spicy, slightly sour, or even bitter — based on the variety. Besides, microgreens are rich in nutrients and are available in different colors and textures.
Microgreens can be grown from different types of seeds. Here is a list of the commonly available varieties of microgreens.
Types Of Microgreens
The most popular microgreen varieties are produced from the seeds of the following plant families:
- Cucurbitacacea Family: Squash, cucumber, and melon.
- Lamiaceae Family: Basil, rosemary, sage, and oregano.
- Apiaceae Family: Celery, dill, fennel, and carrot.
- Poaceae Family: Cereals and grasses like rice, oats, corn, barley, and wheatgrass. Legumes like lentils, chickpeas, and beans.
- Brassicaceae Family: Cabbage, broccoli, watercress, arugula, radish, and cauliflower.
- Amaranthaceae Family: Quinoa, Swiss chard, amaranths, spinach, and beet.
- Amaryllidaceae Family: Leek, garlic, and onion.
- Asteraceae Family: Radicchio, lettuce, endive, and chicory.
Did you know that microgreens offer a greater amount of nutrients than mature vegetables? What nutrients do they actually contain? Keep scrolling to know.
Microgreens Nutrient Content
Microgreens are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other plant compounds (1). A study by the University of Maryland (USA) found that microgreen leaves have higher nutritional values than mature leaves (2). They also contain significant levels of both microelements (iron and zinc) and macroelements (potassium and calcium) (3).
According to studies, growing broccoli microgreens requires 158-236 times less water than what it takes to grow a nutritionally equivalent mature vegetable (4).
The phytonutrient quantity of vegetables decreases as they mature. Therefore, they offer more health-promoting properties at the seedling stage (microgreens or sprouts) (5). Besides, microgreens also contain polyphenols with high antioxidant properties (6).
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of sunflower and basil microgreens contain (7):
Consuming these nutrient-dense microgreens is sure to offer many health benefits. Keep scrolling to find out what they are.
Health Benefits Of Microgreens
1. May Improve Heart Health
The antioxidant and carotenoid compounds in microgreens may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) (8). An animal study found that supplementing red cabbage microgreens had significantly lowered the LDL cholesterol levels and reduced CVD risk (9). Besides, the rich polyphenolic content in microgreens may help lower the inflammatory response. It may also improve endothelial function and prevent the clumping of platelets, contributing to a reduced CVD risk (10).
2. May Help Fight Cancer
A review published in Antioxidants suggests that four Brassicaceae (broccoli, kale, mustard, and radish) microgreens have an anti-proliferative effect. Hence, consuming them daily may help reduce the risk of colon cancer (11). Besides, all microgreen aqueous extracts of green pea, soybean, radish, Red Rambo radish, and rocket microgreens were found to have cancer-protective effects (12).
Most laboratory studies also suggest that polyphenols have anti-cancer effects. However, these effects vary for different compounds (13).
Note: Some polyphenols like genistein and daidzein may have adverse effects on hormone-related cancer. Therefore, the use of polyphenols for treating cancer should be dealt with caution.
3. May Have Anti-Diabetic Properties
Studies found that bioactive compounds in broccoli microgreens may help reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including type-2 diabetes (14). Another study by the Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences (Poland) found that microgreens have high carotenoid and chlorophyll content and exhibit higher anti-diabetic activity than sprouts (15).
Besides, aqueous fenugreek microgreen extract was found to inhibit α-amylase (an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates). This helps slow down carbohydrate metabolism and keeps blood sugar levels in control (16).
4. May Help Treat Alzheimer’s Disease
Microgreens are rich in plant polyphenols that help act against neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Their dietary intake may improve cognitive function and delay or prevent the onset of AD (17), (18). Additionally, microgreens have the potential to block the activity of cholinesterase (the enzymes present in the central nervous system), which helps in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease (8).
5. May Reduce Kidney Disease Risk
Eating potassium-rich foods may cause kidney diseases. However, a study by the University of Bari Aldo Moro (Italy) found that microgreens can be produced with a low potassium content using the hydroponic (grown without soil) system (19). These hydroponic microgreens can be an ideal dietary option for individuals with impaired kidney function (20).
6. May Promote Digestive Health
A review published in Gut Microbes suggests that taking dietary fiber and prebiotics helps promote microbiota in the colon and improves digestive health (21). Besides, dietary fiber intake can also increase stool frequency in people with constipation (22).
Microgreens are also rich in carotenoids that are essential for human vision. Beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A that helps protect the eyes by absorbing excess light intensity (23).
This way, microgreens greatly contribute to your overall health. However, these seedlings may cause adverse effects in some individuals. Read on to know what they are.
Risks Associated With Microgreens Intake
Consuming microgreens is generally considered safe. However, they carry a risk of contamination that may cause food poisoning. A study by the USDA Agricultural Research Service observed the growth of E. coli in microgreens produced from radish seeds (24). Hence, buy seeds from a reputed manufacturer to avoid contamination if you want to grow microgreens at home. Besides, disinfectants like chlorinated water can be used to prevent microbial contamination. Moreover, the medium of growing microgreens also plays an important role in getting a higher quality yield (25).
Note: Nightshade plants like peppers, eggplants, potatoes, and tomatoes should not be grown and taken as microgreens. They contain toxic compounds that cause adverse effects (26).
Microgreens enhance the flavor of the food besides adding texture and vibrancy. Moreover, including microgreens in your diet is simple. Here are a few ways to do it.
How To Include Microgreens In Your Diet?
- Add microgreens after you take your pizza out of the oven to keep them crunchy. You can also let them cook and wilt a bit.
- Include sunflower microgreens in the making of Pesto (a versatile sauce).
- Incorporate in your spring salad.
- Add to your favorite sushi.
- Add to a strawberry chocolate tart.
- Use to make an omelet or frittata to add flavor and color.
- Add to a grilled cheese sandwich.
- Make smoothies or juices with microgreens like wheatgrass.
- Add to your burger.
You can eat microgreens raw, juiced, or blended.
You need high-quality seeds, proper lighting, and a growing medium to grow microgreens. Here is a step-by-step guide to grow microgreens at home.
How To Grow Microgreens At Home?
1. Fill the tray/container with soil up to 3 to 4 inches high.
2. Sprinkle the seeds. The spacing between the seeds need not be even.
3. Cover the seeds with a very thin layer of soil and gently pat the surface to make the seeds settle well in the container.
4. Spray enough water to make the surface completely moist.
5. The container can be kept at room temperature for about two days until germination occurs.
6. Place the container in a sunny spot for at least 3 to 4 hours a day.
7. Sprinkle a little water over the growing greens once a day. You will see small leaves growing over the soil in 3 to 4 days.
8. Harvest when they grow 2 to 3 inches taller (after 7 to 10 days).
You need proper storage conditions to enhance the shelf life of microgreens. Let us discuss them in the following section.
How To Store Microgreens?
Microgreens have a long shelf life if you store and pack them properly. Moisture control and temperature are the two most key factors to enhance their shelf life. Here are a few steps to follow:
- Place harvested microgreens between two paper towels and gently dab to remove moisture.
- Store at 4°C or less temperature to minimize microbial growth
They last approximately 5 to 10 days with proper handling and storage.
Are microgreens and sprouts the same? If not, how do they compare? Keep reading to know.
Microgreens Vs. Sprouts
Arika Hoscheit, registered dietitian and nutritionist, says, “Microgreens are a bit different from sprouts. Microgreens grow in the soil whereas sprouts grow in water. Sprouts contain more amino acids, pectins, and sugars than microgreens.” She also adds, “Microgreens contain higher levels of carotenoids and chlorophylls without sugar and have also been shown to have better anti-diabetic effects than sprouts.”
Here are some other differences between microgreens and sprouts:
- Leaves and stems can be eaten.
- The ‘stem’ and seed can be eaten.
- Take around 1 to 3 weeks to grow, depending on the variety.
- Take 3 to 5 days to grow.
- Need light to grow.
- Do not need light to grow.
- Form leaves.
- Do not form leaves.
- Have higher nutrient and fiber values than sprouts.
- Have nutrients and fiber, but not as high as microgreens.
- Packed with flavor and are often used as garnishes.
- Great for crunch.
- Microgreens may improve heart health, help fight cancer, and treat Alzheimer’s disease.
- You can add it to sushi, burger, grilled cheese sandwich, spring salad, and strawberry chocolate tart.
- Always store it at 4°C or lower temperature to control microbial growth.
Microgreens are aromatic vegetable greens that can be eaten raw or included in your diet. These easy-to-grow edible greens are richer in plant nutrients than mature vegetables and sprouts. Hence, consuming them may help improve heart health, enhance your vision, reduce the risk of cancer, and manage type-2 diabetes. However, you must take some measures if you are growing them at home, to avoid microbial contamination.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which microgreen is the most nutritious?
All microgreens are beneficial in promoting overall health. However, broccoli microgreens are considered the most nutritious because of their exceptional nutritional profile.
How many microgreens should I eat in a day?
Consuming 25 grams of microgreens per day is generally considered safe.
Can you survive on microgreens?
Not for long because microgreens lack other major nutrients.
Can microgreens make you sick?
Yes, microgreens may make you feel sick if they are contaminated with harmful bacteria.
Which microgreens are good for skin?
Sunflower and pea shoot microgreens are good for the skin because of their high vitamin content.
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- Comparison between the mineral profile and nitrate content of microgreens and mature lettuces
- Assessment of vitamin and carotenoid concentrations of emerging food products: edible microgreens
- Microgreens of Brassicaceae: Mineral composition and content of 30 varieties
- Broccoli Microgreens: A Mineral-Rich Crop That Can Diversify Food Systems
- Amaranth sprouts and microgreens – a homestead vegetable production option to enhance food and nutrition security in the rural-urban continuum
- Profiling Polyphenols in Five Brassica species Microgreens by UHPLC-PDA-ESI/HRMS
- NEW DAY FARMS MICROGREENS SUNFLOWER & BASIL
- Sprouts vs. Microgreens as Novel Functional Foods: Variation of Nutritional and Phytochemical Profiles and Their In vitro Bioactive Properties
- Red Cabbage Microgreens Lower Circulating Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Liver Cholesterol and Inflammatory Cytokines in Mice Fed a High-Fat Diet
- The role of polyphenols in cardiovascular disease
- Antiproliferative Effect of Bioaccessible Fractions of Four Brassicaceae Microgreens on Human Colon Cancer Cells Linked to Their Phytochemical Composition
- Microgreens: Functional Food with Antiproliferative Cancer Properties Influenced by Light
- Natural Polyphenols for Prevention and Treatment of Cancer
- Bioactive Compounds and Bioactivities of Brassica oleracea L. var. Italica Sprouts and Microgreens: An Updated Overview from a Nutraceutical Perspective
- Sprouts vs. Microgreens as Novel Functional Foods: Variation of Nutritional and Phytochemical Profiles and Their In Vitro Bioactive Properties
- In vitro regulation of enzymatic release of glucose and its uptake by Fenugreek microgreen and Mint leaf extract
- Dietary polyphenols for treatment of Alzheimer\’s disease–future research and development
- Role of Plant Polyphenols in Alzheimer\’s Disease
- Microgreens Production with Low Potassium Content for Patients with Impaired Kidney Function
- Evaluation of the Bioaccessibility of Antioxidant Bioactive Compounds and Minerals of Four Genotypes of Brassicaceae Microgreens
- Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota
- Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: a meta analysis
- Microgreens as a Component of Space Life Support Systems: A Cornucopia of Functional Food
- Comparison of the growth of Escherichia coli O157: H7 and O104: H4 during sprouting and microgreen production from contaminated radish seeds
- Physicochemical agronomical and microbiological evaluation of alternative growing media for the production of rapini (Brassica rapa L.) microgreens
- Innovative Farming of Edible Micro Greens at Home and their Nutritional Composition