Baby Carrots and Vegetables in a Cup

Baby vegetables, or "microgreens," find their way into salads and sides on a regular basis in the world of fine dining.  People who have their own gardens have also used them as a seasonal supplement.  After all, why thin the vegetable garden and throw all of those perfectly edible, if a little undersized, vegetables away?  Interestingly enough, it seems they do more than provide additional flavor.

How Does the Nutrition Stack Up?

For years, various people have claimed that microgreens are more nutritious than their adult counterparts are.  Since no studies had been done that suggested such a thing, the claims were baseless.  However, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in August 2012 looked at certain specific nutrients in 25 different microgreens:

  • Ascorbic acid, a form of Vitamin C
  • Carotenoids such as beta-carotene
  • Phylloquinone, which is also sometimes called Vitamin K
  • Tocopherols, which include Vitamin E

It was found that, when compared to mature vegetables in the same groups, most of them contained more of each nutritional compound.  The microgreens that had the biggest differences in concentrated nutrients were cilantro (coriander), garnet amaranth, green daikon radishes, and red cabbage.  Some, including the tendrils of golden peas and popcorn shoots, had just as much nutritional value as other mature vegetables, but they had the lowest nutrient concentrations compared with other microgreens.  Because they pack quite a big nutritional punch, they are a great source of the listed nutrients.  They are tiny though, so it is best to incorporate them in side dishes and salads or as components in entrees.

Not All Tiny Vegetables are Equal!

Do not confuse microgreens with sprouts.  While they both often come from the same seed sources, they are not the same thing.  The difference is the way the seed germinates.  A sprout is germinated and grown to whichever extent solely in water.  Microgreens are germinated and grown in soil.  Generally, sprouts are eaten at a point before they form leaves.

Microgreens, however, are allowed to grow to a certain extent.  Once they reach a size between 2 inches and 3 inches in length, they are cut above the soil directly before use in cooking.  The difference in appearance is that sprouts look like the beginnings of a plant while the microgreens look like miniature vegetables.

Moreover, in the case of carrots in their microgreen form, do not confuse them with "baby peeled carrots."  Baby peeled carrots are not baby carrots at all.  Rather, they are adult carrots that are peeled down to baby carrot size.  They do not have the same flavor profile as an actual microgreen carrot as a result, and if the recently published study is any indication, they certainly do not contain as many nutrients.

Are Microgreens Sustainable?

Though the one study has shown that microgreens are more nutritious alternatives, and many chefs and fine dining connoisseurs will agree that they offer wonderful flavor, more study is needed to ascertain just how much more nutritious they are.  That said, they take up less space than their full-grown versions do.  However, that is a little deceiving in terms of mass production.  To make a meal, more microgreens are needed than the mature vegetable, which means more space to produce them.

However, for people who do not mind growing some of their own food, microgreens are easy to cultivate in small crops outside during your local growing season or inside the house at any time of the year.  That is the most sustainable way to incorporate them into your diet, especially since they are very difficult to find in most supermarkets at prices that are reasonable.  Microgreens only take two to six weeks to reach the stage where they can be cut and used.

Last Updated: Sunday, June 23, 2013