Microgreens sound pretty cute and healthy, right? Greens are great, and everything is better when you make a tiny version of it. But you might also wonder, what are microgreens, actually? So here’s what you need to know about what microgreens are, exactly. Plus, why people like them, what they taste like, their nutritional benefits, how to use them, how to grow them, and where to buy them.
“Microgreens are an innovative category of vegetables harvested as tender immature greens,” Francesco Di Gioia, Ph. D., assistant professor of Vegetable Crop Science at the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, tells SELF. These teeny-tiny greens are the seedlings produced by sprouting the seeds of plants like vegetables, herbs, and some pseudograins (like amaranth and buckwheat), including wild edible species, Di Gioia says.
Somewhere between a sprout and a baby veggie, microgreens are essentially the same plant you’d buy at the grocery store (like a veggie or herb), at a much earlier stage of growth, Tyler Matchett, cofounder of Splash of Greens, an urban microgreens farm in New Brunswick, Canada, tells SELF. “If left to grow, they would become a full-grown vegetable,” Matchett explains. But microgreens are typically harvested just one or two weeks after germination—and up to four, Di Gioia says, depending on the species—when the plant is just one to three inches tall. You snip off the portion of the seedling above the root, which includes the cotyledon (the initial leaf that sprouts out of the seed embryo), the stem, and the first “true leaves” of the plant. Bam, you’ve got a microgreen.
“Microgreens are also called ‘vegetable confetti’ because they are tiny, beautiful greens characterized by a variety of colors and shapes, as well as by very different and intense, sometimes surprising, flavors,” Di Gioia says. There are hundreds of different varieties of microgreens. Pea, sunflower, broccoli, and radish microgreens are some of the most popular varieties among Matchett’s customers. Other varieties include beets, Swiss chard, cucumber, sweet pea, endive, savoy, Brussels sprouts, mustards, cauliflower, tatsoi, spinach, kohlrabi, mint, basil, sorrel, cauliflower, arugula, collard, fenugreek, carrot, mizuna, corn, turnip, chervil, celery, scallions, and komatsuna.
You might be wondering what’s so fantastic about these itty-bitty greens. A few things, actually.
1. They’re yummy.
First and foremost, these little guys can contribute a surprising amount of taste and texture to a dish. “A handful of microgreens can enrich very simple dishes, adding color, volume, and flavor at the same time,” Di Gioia says. “Chefs love them, and have been using them for years as garnish or a unique way to add flavor accents to a dish,” Matchett adds, noting they’re especially prized for their delicate texture and wide array of flavor notes.
What they taste like, exactly, totally depends on the plant. “Microgreens can be mild, sweet, bitter, sour, or can generate more complex flavors in our mouths [like] spicy, peppery, or licorice,” Di Gioia says.
“The flavor can almost be described as a more concentrated form of the vegetable,” Matchett explains. “A spicy radish, for example, will normally be spicier in its microgreen form. And you will get a wider taste profile, but you’ll still know it is radish—it's just the tastiest radish you've ever eaten.”
2. They’re nutritious.
Microgreens can also add an extra dose of plant goodness to your meal. “Over the last few years, several studies have suggested that microgreens are nutrient-dense, being a good source of essential minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants,” Di Gioia says. While “there is a lot of variability between species and growing conditions,” as Di Gioia points out, generally speaking microgreens often have a greater concentration of these micronutrients than their full-grown counterparts, pound for pound. Many microgreens are four to six times higher in vitamins and antioxidants than the fully grown plant, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.