Since their introduction to the Californian restaurant scene in the 1980s, microgreens have steadily gained popularity.
These aromatic greens, also known as micro herbs or vegetable confetti, are rich in flavor and add a welcome splash of color to a variety of dishes.
Despite their small size, they pack a nutritional punch, often containing higher nutrient levels than more mature vegetable greens. This makes them a good addition to any diet.
This article reviews the potential health benefits of microgreens and provides a step-by-step guide on how to grow your own.
What Are Microgreens?
Microgreens are young vegetable greens that are approximately 1–3 inches (2.5–7.5 cm) tall.
They have an aromatic flavor and concentrated nutrient content and come in a variety of colors and textures ().
Microgreens are considered baby plants, falling somewhere between a sprout and baby green.
That said, they shouldn’t be confused with sprouts, which do not have leaves. Sprouts also have a much shorter growing cycle of 2–7 days, whereas microgreens are usually harvested 7–21 days after germination, once the plant’s first true leaves have emerged.
Microgreens are more similar to baby greens in that only their stems and leaves are considered edible. However, unlike baby greens, they are much smaller in size and can be sold before being harvested.
This means that the plants can be bought whole and cut at home, keeping them alive until they are consumed.
Microgreens are very convenient to grow, as they can be grown in a variety of locations, including outdoors, in greenhouses and even on your windowsill.
Summary Microgreens are young vegetable greens that fall somewhere between sprouts and baby leaf vegetables. They have an intense aromatic flavor and concentrated nutrient content and come in a variety of colors and textures.
Different Types of Microgreens
Microgreens can be grown from many different types of seeds.
The most popular varieties are produced using seeds from the following plant families ():
- Brassicaceae family: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radish and arugula
- Asteraceae family: Lettuce, endive, chicory and radicchio
- Apiaceae family: Dill, carrot, fennel and celery
- Amaryllidaceae family: Garlic, onion, leek
- Amaranthaceae family: Amaranth, quinoa swiss chard, beet and spinach
- Cucurbitaceae family: Melon, cucumber and squash
Cereals such as rice, oats, wheat, corn and barley, as well as legumes like chickpeas, beans and lentils, are also sometimes grown into microgreens ().
Microgreens vary in taste, which can range from neutral to spicy, slightly sour or even bitter, depending on the variety. Generally speaking, their flavor is considered strong and concentrated.
Summary Microgreens can be grown from various seeds. Their taste can vary greatly depending on the variety.
Microgreens Are Nutritious
Microgreens are packed with nutrients.
While their nutrient contents vary slightly, most varieties tend to be rich in potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium and copper (, ).
Microgreens are also a great source of beneficial plant compounds like antioxidants ().
What’s more, their nutrient content is concentrated, which means that they often contain higher vitamin, mineral and antioxidant levels than the same quantity of mature greens ().
In fact, research comparing microgreens to more mature greens reports that nutrient levels in microgreens can be up to nine times higher than those found in mature greens ().
Research also shows that they contain a wider variety of polyphenols and other antioxidants than their mature counterparts ().
One study measured vitamin and antioxidant concentrations in 25 commercially available microgreens. These levels were then compared to levels recorded in the USDA National Nutrient Database for mature leaves.
Although vitamin and antioxidant levels varied, levels measured in microgreens were up to 40 times higher than those recorded for more mature leaves ().
That said, not all studies report similar results.
For instance, one study compared nutrient levels in sprouts, microgreens and fully grown amaranth crops. It noted that the fully grown crops often contained as much, if not more, nutrients than the microgreens ().
Therefore, although microgreens generally appear to contain higher nutrient levels than more mature plants, this may vary based on the species at hand.
Summary Microgreens are rich in nutrients. They often contain larger amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than their more mature counterparts.
Health Benefits of Microgreens
Eating vegetables is linked to a lower risk of many diseases (, , ).
This is likely thanks to the high amounts of vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds they contain.
Microgreens contain similar and often greater amounts of these nutrients than mature greens. As such, they may similarly reduce the risk of the following diseases:
- Heart disease: Microgreens are a rich source of polyphenols, a class of antioxidants linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Animal studies show that microgreens may lower triglyceride and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels (, , ).
- Alzheimer’s disease: Antioxidant-rich foods, including those containing high amounts of polyphenols, may be linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (, ).
- Diabetes: Antioxidants may help reduce the type of stress that can prevent sugar from properly entering cells. In lab studies, fenugreek microgreens appeared to enhance cellular sugar uptake by 25–44% (, ).
- Certain cancers: Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in polyphenols, may lower the risk of various types of cancer. Polyphenol-rich microgreens may be expected to have similar effects ().
While this seems promising, note that the number of studies directly measuring the effect of microgreens on these medical conditions is limited, and none could be found in humans.
Therefore, more studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Summary Microgreens deliver a concentrated dose of nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. As a result, they may reduce the risk of certain diseases.
Is Eating Them Risky?
Eating microgreens is generally considered safe.
Nevertheless, one concern is the risk of food poisoning. However, the potential for bacteria growth is much smaller in microgreens than in sprouts.
Microgreens require slightly less warm and humid conditions than sprouts do, and only the leaf and stem, rather than the root and seed, are consumed.
That said, if you’re planning on growing microgreens at home, it’s important to buy seeds from a reputable company and choose growing mediums that are free of contamination with harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli ().
The most common growing mediums are peat, perlite and vermiculite. Single-use growing mats produced specifically for growing microgreens are considered very sanitary (, ).
Summary Microgreens are generally considered safe to eat. When growing them at home, pay special attention to the quality of the seeds and growing mediums used.
How to Include Microgreens in Your Diet
There are many ways to include microgreens in your diet.
They can be incorporated into a variety of dishes, including sandwiches, wraps and salads.
Microgreens may also be blended into smoothies or juiced. Wheatgrass juice is a popular example of a juiced microgreen.
Another option is to use them as garnishes on pizzas, soups, omelets, curries and other warm dishes.
Summary Microgreens may be eaten raw, juiced or blended and can be incorporated into a variety of cold and warm dishes.
How to Grow Your Own
Microgreens are easy and convenient to grow, as they don’t require much equipment or time. They can be grown year-round, both indoor or outdoors.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Good-quality seeds.
- A good growing medium, such as a container filled with potting soil or homemade compost. Alternatively, you can use a single-use growing mat specifically designed for growing microgreens.
- Proper lighting — either sunlight or ultraviolet lighting, ideally for 12–16 hours per day.
- Fill your container with soil, making sure you don’t over-compress it, and water lightly.
- Sprinkle the seed of your choice on top of the soil as evenly as possible.
- Lightly mist your seeds with water and cover your container with a plastic lid.
- Check on your tray daily and mist water as needed to keep the seeds moist.
- A couple of days after the seeds have germinated, you may remove the plastic lid to expose them to light.
- Water once a day while your microgreens grow and gain color.
- After 7–10 days, your microgreens should be ready to harvest.
Summary Microgreens can be conveniently grown at home. Those interested in harvesting their own microgreen crops can do so by following the simple steps above.
The Bottom Line
Microgreens are flavorful and can easily be incorporated into your diet in a variety of ways.
They're also generally very nutritious and may even reduce your risk of certain diseases.
Given that they're easy to grow at home, they're an especially cost-effective way to boost nutrient intake without having to purchase large quantities of vegetables.
As such, they’re a worthwhile addition to your diet.