Microgreens pack more nutrition than mature vegetables

Microgreens – plants that are 14 days old or younger – could be the next big ‘thing’ in fresh produce, with scientists at the US Department of Agriculture saying new research has found that the leaves of microgreens pack four to six times more nutrients than the leaves of mature adult leaves.

The baby-fication of vegetables – baby spinach, baby aubergine, and baby squash, for example – are prized for their tenderness and cute size and have staked out territory in the produce section of many a grocery store worldwide.

Now, says this report out of the US, growers (and a few inventive chefs) have decided that the better option is vegetables that are even more juvenile than babies — seedlings so small, and so young, they’re called microgreens.

The advantages of these tiny leaves less than 14 days old are many, their proponents say. They make vibrantly hued garnishes to salads, sandwiches and soups. And whether they’re spinach, pea, beet or purple mustard, microgreens are believed to pack even more nutrients that their adult versions, as new science has just verified.

Gene Lester, a researcher with the USDA, and his colleagues at University of Maryland, College Park, have conducted the first scientific analysis of nutrients in microgreens. The results, says Lester “totally knocked me over”.

The researchers looked at four groups of vitamins and other phytochemicals – including vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene — in 25 varieties of microgreens. They found that leaves from almost all of the microgreens had four to six times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plant. But there was variation among them – red cabbage was highest in vitamin C, for instance, while the green daikon radish microgreens had the most vitamin E.

The findings, which appear in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, “give us a new insight into plants, because these are little tiny seeds barely exposed to much light at all,” Lester says. “And yet those compounds are there ready to go.”

Bhimu Patil, a professor of horticulture and director of the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M University, agrees that microgreens may potentially have higher levels of nutrients than mature vegetables. But he says more studies are needed to compare the two side by side. “This is a very good start, but there can be a lot of variation in nutrients depending on where you grow it, when you harvest, and the soil medium,” Patil says.

Microgreens are not to be confused with sprouts; they’re not the same thing. Sprouts are seeds germinated in water just long enough (usually 48 hours) to grow roots, a stem and pale, underdeveloped leaves. Microgreens, on the other hand, need soil and sunlight and at least seven days to grow before you can harvest them.

This distinction is important for food safety, since sprouts have recently been implicated in a number foodborne illness outbreaks, like the one in Germany and France where more than 50 people died and thousands were sickened after eating fenugreek sprouts contaminated with E. Coli 0104……

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