The first time I saw microgreens, I thought, “How adorable!” And while they are cute, new research shows that they’re also quite nutritious. Microgreens are essentially greens that have been harvested in their seedling stage from plants such as spinach, lettuce, and cabbage. They’ve been wildly popular with chefs in recent years, but until now, nobody had studied their nutritional value in comparison to fully developed, "regular size" greens.
In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists looked at the vitamin and antioxidant levels in 25 varieties of microgreens and discovered that the nutrient levels varied from plant to plant. For example, red cabbage microgreens had the most vitamin C, while green daikon radish micros packed the most vitamin E. However, overall micros generally contained higher levels of vitamins and carotenoids than their mature counterparts.
If you've never had microgreens, you may be wondering how they taste. Like the full-size plants you're used to, the flavors vary by variety, from the spiciness of radish and arugula microgreens to the nuttiness of clover or sunflower micros. There are many varieties to try, including micro versions of broccoli, curly cress, flax, mustard, watercress, wasabi, and even cilantro and mint. Look for them at your local farmer’s market or the produce section of your grocer. Here are five easy ways to enjoy them:
- Dress microgreens with a simple vinaigrette made from extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, minced garlic, and cracked black pepper. Serve as a side dish or a bed for a serving of salmon, beans, or another lean protein.
- Toss microgreens with pesto (anything from the traditional basil type to roasted red pepper or sundried tomato varieties works) and use as a topping for an open-faced sandwich.
- Add microgreens to an organic omelet or tofu scramble with other veggies such as mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, and bell pepper.
- Use raw microgreens as a garnish on a hearty bean or lentil soup, pizza, or in place of lettuce in tacos.
- For a simple chilled entrée, combine microgreens with vinaigrette, a small scoop of cooled whole grains (I like quinoa or wild rice), and a lean protein (try drained, water-packed tuna, diced organic chicken breast, or cubed tofu).
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.