What Exactly Are Microgreens? (And, Why You Should Grow Them)

So what exactly are microgreens? I’ve got answers for you. You’ve probably noticed that I write about peppers (a lot), but I also grow other kinds of foods — especially the ones that don’t take much effort. 

Here’s everything you’d probably want to know about these curious little plants (microgreens) and why they are worth growing at home.

Microgreens are young plants (seedlings) that are eaten before they are ever fully mature. These tiny greens include all kinds of varieties such as veggies, herbs and legumes. They’re also packed with nutrition, easy to grow and are usually ready to eat in a couple of weeks.

what exactly are microgreens, red beetroot

Now that you know what microgreens are, you may be wondering how they differ from other young vegetables like baby greens. 

What Are Microgreens Vs Baby Greens?

The main difference is the growth stage at which microgreens and baby greens are harvested. 

Specifically, baby greens are eaten after a few weeks. Microgreens, on the other hand, are typically harvested within a couple of weeks.

Also, this harvest date changes how these plants grow. Baby greens can grow back after a cutting because they’re around long enough to develop an established root system. Most microgreens won’t grow back again because they are collected after their first “true” leaves appear.

Finally, baby greens are enjoyed for their bite-size, tender leaves. One of the many appeals of microgreens is that you’ll find lots of different flavor profiles and textures in these 2 to 4-inch plants.

microgreens vs baby greens, 6 bowls of microgreens
Bowls of Microgreens

What Are the Different Types of Microgreens?

Microgreen varieties are endless. For instance, they can span a range of leafy greens, herbs, grains, legumes, grasses, edible flowers and root veggies.

Here are some of the different types of microgreens broken down into families and categories.

Microgreens Examples

  • Amaranthaceae (Amaranth) Family: Plants include beet greens, amaranth, rainbow chard and quinoa
  • Apiaceae (Parsley) Family: Plants include carrot, celery, cilantro, fennel and dill
  • Lamiaceae (Mint) Family: Plants include Genovese basil, lemon balm, red shiso, oregano and mint
  • Basellaceae Family: Includes red Malabar spinach
  • Brassicaceae (Mustard) Family: Plants include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, collard greens and daikon radish
  • Compositae (Aster) Family: Plants include dandelion and sunflower shoots
  • Leguminosae (Legume) Family: Plants include chickpea and pea tendril
  • Poaceae (Grasses) Family: Plants include wheatgrass and corn
  • Polygonaceae (Buckwheat) Family: Plants include buckwheat and sorrel
  • Portulacaceae (Purslane) Family: Includes purslanes
  • Tropaeolaceae (Nasturtium) Family: Includes nasturtiums
different types of microgreens, red beet microgreens
Red Beet Microgreens

Types Of Micro Herbs

Here are some popular varieties that have incredible flavor and grow well as microgreen herbs.

  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Dill
  • Lemon balm
  • Shiso
  • Oregano
  • Cilantro
  • Sorrel
  • Fennel
  • Anise
types of micro herbs, basil microgreens
Basil Microgreens

Microgreen Green Leafy Vegetables

Love green leafy veggies? You can also eat them as microgreens. 

Microgreens vegetables examples:

  • Collard greens
  • Red cabbage
  • Watercress
  • Beet greens
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Bok Choy 
  • Lettuces
  • Arugula
microgreen green leafy vegetables, red cabbage microgreens
Red Cabbage Microgreens

As you can see, many plants can grow as microgreens. They also have incredible nutrition. (More on that below.)

Microgreens Benefits

To say microgreens are healthy is an understatement. In fact, they’re very nutrient-dense.

The University of Maryland’s Department of Food and Nutrition Science (NFSC) did a study that looked at the nutrient content in 25 various types of microgreens. 

The results? 

The NFSC found that microgreens can give you four to 40 times the amount of vitamins, such as Vitamins C and E, as compared to mature plants [source].

Further, this study measured five Brassica microgreens and found them to be great sources of polyphenols. These micronutrients (polyphenols) have notable antioxidant properties and offer many benefits including the potential to improve heart health, lower blood sugar and promote brain function.

Besides that, all of these little plants excel at having an abundance of certain vitamins. 

For instance:

Broccoli Microgreens Nutrition

Sulforaphane — a powerful compound thought to fight cancer — is very potent in broccoli microgreens. 

The nutritional value of broccoli microgreens also includes vitamins like C, A, E, B and K as well as certain elements like calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and zinc.

microgreens benefits, broccoli microgreens
Broccoli Microgreens

Microgreens Nutrition Chart 

The microgreens nutrition comparison below shows how most varieties stack up when compared to mature vegetables.

microgreens nutrition chart

So are microgreens good for you? Yes! Are microgreens a superfood? Yes, again!

More Advantages of Microgreens

Besides nutritional benefits, microgreens offer a lot of perks when it comes to growing food.

For one thing, they are beginner-friendly. 

Even more:

  • Microgreens are very inexpensive to grow.
  • You can grow them indoors or outdoors.
  • Microgreens can grow any time of the year.
  • You can grow microgreens with or without soil. (For example, you can grow them hydroponically or in coconut coir.)
  • You don’t need a lot of space. (A small countertop works.)
  • You’ll have your food ready in about 2 weeks. (Yep, that’s from seed to harvested plant.)
advantages of microgreens, growing microgreens hydroponically
Growing Microgreens Without Soil

Are Microgreens Safer Than Sprouts?

This concern comes from the fact that sprouts grow in water, which can encourage harmful bacteria. (By the way, if you use clean seed and rinse regularly, you can grow sprouts safely.)

Microgreens don’t have the same worry because the growing environment is different. And, this  environment doesn’t give bacteria the same opportunity to take over.

Like sprouts, your best bet is to source clean microgreen seed to avoid problems.

How Do You Eat Microgreens?

As you’ve read, microgreens are very versatile and using them in food is no exception. 

The one caveat? Most microgreens are best eaten raw. (You don’t want to cook away that flavor and nutrition.)

Here are some ways to eat microgreens:

  • One option is to use microgreens in a salad. You can mix them in with other veggies, or make them the whole salad by combining different types of microgreens. 
  • Another choice is to drink them. For example, add microgreens to smoothies, or juice varieties like broccoli and wheatgrass.
  • You can also use microgreens as toppings. They work well added to foods like wraps, pasta, tacos, pizza and omelets.

Microgreens lend themselves to experimentation. You can create your own microgreens recipes, according to your tastes.  

how do you eat microgreens
Microgreens on Bruschetta

(By the way, here’s a microgreens cookbook that has some creative ways to use microgreens if you want more ideas. Or, if you just want to get fancy. 😉 )


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What Do Microgreens Taste Like?

Below are some examples of popular edible microgreens that have distinctive flavors.

Spicy:

  • Radish
  • Arugula
  • Mustards
  • Flax

Mild:

  • Lettuce
  • Chard
  • Pea shoots
  • Pak choy

Nutty:

  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Clover
  • Fava bean
  • Sunflower shoots
pea shoots microgreens
Pea Shoots

How To Grow Microgreens

As I mentioned earlier, microgreens are one of the easier plants to grow. They don’t have a huge learning curve or require lots of expense and time.

Here’s a detailed, step-by-step guide for growing homegrown microgreens. If you’d prefer the short version, below is a summary of the microgreens growing process.

General Growing Supplies:

  • Seeds (certified organic, non-GMO)
  • 2 planting trays (One tray holds growing medium, and the other acts as a lid to create a dark, humid environment.)
  • Potting soil or soil-free growing media like coco coir 
  • Grow light (if you don’t have a sunny windowsill or outdoor space)
  • Plant Heat Mat (if the room temperature is below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, or 21 degrees Celsius)

Steps Using Potting Soil:

  1. Fill a tray with damp soil.
  2. Sprinkle your microgreen seeds densely over the top.
  3. Use a spray bottle to mist your seeds and help them settle in.
  4. Cover the tray with the second tray to create a blackout environment.
  5. Mist your seeds daily to keep them hydrated.
  6. Position your tray under a grow light or in a sunny area after germination.
  7. Harvest around 10 days. (This time may be longer or shorter, depending on the microgreen variety.)
how to grow microgreens
Growing Microgreens in Trays

What Are Microgreens Seeds?

Just to clarify, you can use any seeds you would normally use to grow other foods. Microgreen seeds packets offer special advantages.

For example:

  • The varieties of seeds, such as herbs or veggies, are known to grow successfully as a microgreen.
  • Microgreen seeds often come in special blends that offer intense flavor profiles or color combinations.
  • These seeds are typically beginner-friendly options.
  • Microgreen seeds often come in larger quantities. Keep in mind that microgreens are not spaced out like traditional plantings. If you grow in larger trays, you’ll likely need more seeds at a time.

Again, you don’t need special seeds for microgreens. Convenience and experimentation are some main reasons that you would opt for specific microgreens seeds. 

Healthiest Microgreens To Grow

We went over the many benefits of microgreens, but you might be looking for the top-tier varieties when it comes to nutrition.

Well, all microgreens are going to come with a nutritional punch. Some varieties are known for certain vitamins and minerals. 

For instance:

  • Pea microgreens: includes beta-carotene and folate, vitamins C and A
  • Kale microgreens: includes vitamin K, vitamin C, high in antioxidants
  • Sunflower microgreens: includes vitamins A, B complex, E and D, a good source of minerals like calcium, potassium and iron
  • Cilantro microgreens: includes vitamin K and vitamin C, high levels of beta-carotene, lutein and violaxanthin
  • Beet microgreens: contains manganese and folate, contains vitamins A and C

(This microgreens list doesn’t include every vitamin or mineral that variety contains. It’s just to give you an idea of what these specific microgreens are known for.)

healthiest microgreens to grow, sunflower microgreens
Sunflower Microgreens

In Summary

As you’ve read, microgreens are seedlings that offer incredible nutrition in tiny packages. If you’re not ready to grow them, you can buy microgreens at farmer’s markets, health food stores and enjoy them in some restaurants.

And, if you do start growing your own microgreens, enjoy! You’re about to have an endless supply of your favorite microgreen varieties fresh from your countertop. 🙂

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