“Microgreens” is a marketing term used to describe tiny, tender, edible greens that germinate in soil or a soil substitute from the seeds of vegetables and herbs. Smaller than “baby greens,” and harvested later than “sprouts,” microgreens can provide a variety of leaf flavors, such as sweet and spicy. They are also known for their various colors and textures. Among upscale markets, they are now considered a specialty genre of greens that are good for garnishing salads, soups, plates, and sandwiches.
A microgreen has a single central stem, which has been cut just above the soil during harvesting—in fact, home gardeners often snip them with scissors. The seedlings are well suited for local growers because microgreens are harvested just 7 to 14 days after germination when the seed leaves (cotyledons) have fully developed and before the true leaves have expanded.
Now, a team of Agricultural Research Service scientists and colleagues has published several studies that shed light not only on microgreens’ nutritional benefits, but also on their complex shelf-life requirements.

Tiny, But Mighty Produce
Microgreens are usually harvested at 1 to 3 inches tall and, depending on the species, are sold with the stem attached to the seed leaves. Crops that germinate easily and grow quickly are good candidates for growing as microgreens. Researchers determined the concentration of essential vitamins and carotenoids in 25 commercially available varieties of microgreens. Key nutrients measured were vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K and beta-carotene.
Among the 25 microgreens tested, red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish had the highest concentrations of vitamin C, carotenoids, vitamin K, and vitamin E, respectively. In general, microgreens contained considerably higher levels of vitamins and carotenoids—about five times greater—than their mature plant counterparts, an indication that microgreens may be worth the trouble of delivering them fresh during their short lives. Growing, harvesting, and handling conditions may have a considerable effect on nutrient content.
Due to their short shelf life and growing requirements, bringing safe, high-quality microgreens to market can be relatively complex and labor-intensive. More studies are needed to understand their postharvest processing requirements. Studies on individual plant species grown and harvested as microgreens are helping to fill the dearth of information on this budding industry, which will ultimately assist growers, grocers, and chefs.
I haven’t seen microgreens on the market in SE Kansas, but when they are, we’ll all know what they are and how to use them. If you want more information, you can go to http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/jan14/greens0114.htm . Since I haven’t seen microgreens on the market, I just selected a favorite recipe of mine that uses spring greens and fruit. Happy Spring to all!
For additional information, contact the Wildcat Extension District, Crawford County, 620-724-8233, Labette County, 620-784-5337, Montgomery County, 620-331-2690, Pittsburg Office, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education (EFNEP), 620-232-1930.