Tiny microgreens produce abundance of nutrients

Published 10:30 am Friday, June 17, 2022

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Microgreens may be tiny, but they contain a large quantity of essential vitamins and minerals.

Microgreens are broadly defined as vegetable greens that are grown and harvested before the sprout stage, or after the plant has developed its first leaves. Generally, it takes between two to three weeks for microgreens to reach this phase.

Much like their mature counterparts, microgreens contain some of the same nutritional properties as brassicas like arugula, broccoli and kale.

However, microgreens differ because the seedlings are much younger than mature vegetables and their biochemical composition contrasts slightly.

“A lot of enzymes and nutrients that are packed into the seed and occur during the sprouting process are still there when microgreens are harvested,” explained Chris Mullins, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist.

“The plant is still living off the nutrients in the seed and the enzymes that are produced, and minerals and even some antioxidant chemicals are very much there in early stages,” he added. “They don’t necessarily go away as the plant matures, but that small little plant is going to be more densely packed with nutrients.”

To better grasp the extent of microgreens’ nutrient content, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources conducted a study of 25 crop varieties. The resulting data revealed microgreens can contain four to six times the amounts of vitamins C, E and K and beta carotene compared to mature plants of the same variety. In addition, microgreens taste similar to the mature crop.

Mullins said these characteristics place microgreens in the category of what many refer to as “superfoods,” which are revered for their nutritional and overall health benefits.

He also said microgreens are generally easy to produce and require little more than containers with soilless media, grow lights, water and a dedicated space to grow.

This simplicity has encouraged growers from all walks of life to raise their own microgreens. Mullins noted growers often sell their products at local farmers markets, which in turn generates interest in locally grown food.

“There really aren’t a lot of barriers for entry into growing microgreens,” Mullins said. “You just need a few things to get started, there’s no huge capital expense to get into it, and it’s quick. You can put seeds down, and in 10 to 20 days you can have your production done and harvest.”

To locate a microgreen grower or a farmers market near you, visit Virginia Grown.