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While they're not the most ubiquitous of the leafy green and cruciferous veggies, a close examination of your local grocery store produce aisle will probably yield a few packages of microgreens. From sunflower, broccoli and kale microgreens to spinach and arugula microgreens (word of warning—these are spicy!), the micro version of these greens typically look nothing like their full-grown counterpart, and they tend to be more expensive.
But what are microgreens, exactly, and how should we be incorporating them into our diets, if at all? We asked two nutritionists—here's what they had to say.
What Are Microgreens?
According to nutritionist Tamar Samuels, microgreens are the seedlings of various herbs and vegetables, or the baby versions of the full-grown vegetables we consume on a regular basis.
"Newly germinated seeds first become sprouts with embryonic leaves known as cotyledons," Samuels explains. "Once the cotyledons mature into fully-developed leaves the plant becomes a microgreen. Microgreens are typically harvested after one to three weeks, whereas sprouts are typically harvested after two to three days."
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Are They Healthier Than Other Greens?
The research on microgreens isn't super extensive, and we need more of it before we can link microgreens to important health benefits like disease prevention. But Samuels says there is some evidence to suggest that microgreens have higher amounts of antioxidants compared to mature herbs and vegetables, which could make them worth the higher price point. "Microgreens from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale are high in α-tocopherol or vitamin E, a potent phenolic antioxidant," she says. "Microgreens from chicory and lettuce plants are high in vitamin A, a carotenoid antioxidant. Microgreens from spinach seeds have been found to have higher levels of vitamin C, B9, K1 and carotenoids compared to mature spinach plants." And it makes sense if you think about it: According to nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto, the nutrient content of microgreens is concentrated, which means they often contain higher vitamin, mineral and antioxidant levels than the same quantity of mature greens.
While microgreens aren't necessarily an essential part of your diet and you certainly can get the nutrients you need from mature greens, if you're not the biggest vegetable lover, they do seem to be a way to get those essential nutrients more easily.
How to Prepare Microgreens
Truth be told, some microgreens are tastier than others. Sunflower microgreens are delicious—they have a rich, nutty flavor that makes them an excellent addition any meal, from a salad to a piece of toast. Then there are microgreens with stronger flavors, like arugula. Arugula is spicy when it's mature, and the microgreen version is extra spicy and bitter.
While different microgreens contain different vitamin and minerals, they're all pretty nutrient-dense for the most part. As is the case with any leafy green, your best bet is probably to find a type you love and load up on that. "You can add them to your salads," says Rissetto. "Think of them as vegetable confetti! They pack a flavorful punch and can help spice up an otherwise boring salad."
Other options? Add them to your guacamole (Cinco de Mayo is coming up, after all), or throw them in your smoothie. In addition to changing the flavor profile fo your smoothie (hopefully for the better) microgreens will make it more nutrient-dense.
If microgreens are out of your price range, don't worry about it—you can get similar health benefits from mature vegetables. But if you're looking for an extra punch of flavor and nutrients, microgreens are a great option. You may just find yourself grabbing them by the handful.