Microgreens: more than just a pretty face

Microgreens are certainly trendy – they’re found increasingly in upscale eateries and food shops everywhere these days.  Much of the appeal of the seedlings of  vegetables and herbs compared to traditional greens, up until now, has been due to the visual and taste sensations they provide.

I can still remember when, years ago, David Cohlmeyer, formerly of  Cookstown Greens, handed me a little yellowish shoot or seedling to taste. The explosion of  the flavour of corn in my mouth was simply astonishing.

Beet greens, cilantro, radish, arugula and even grains such as amaranth are now being harvested at the seedling stage and according to the latest research, they provide a greater nutritional punch than do their fully grown counterparts.

A study, conducted at the University of Maryland and published in August in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry,  was the first to look at the nutritional value of  these intensely flavoured greens.  When you look at nutrition data, the information always provided has been for the fully matured plant.

In the investigation, the scientists assessed nutrients such as vitamins C, K and E and carotenoids – the pigments that provide colour to the vegetables and fruits – in 25 commercially available microgreens.  These seedlings provided about four to six times the nutrients when compared to their mature counterpart.

It’s hardly surprising when you think about it. The seedlings contain all the ingredients necessary for the plant to grow, in other words, concentrated sources of  life-promoting goodness.

But don’t be confused between these microgreens and sprouts such as those from alfalfa seeds. The greens have been exposed to light and are little seedlings while sprouts are simply germinated seeds – those which are mainly kept in the dark.

Eating sprouts, including alfalfa,  mung bean, onion, radish, mustard and broccoli,  can be a risky proposition.

They continue to be implicated as carriers of foodborne illness such as Salmonella and E. coli. According to Health Canada, between 1995 and 2011, approximately 1,000 cases of sprout-borne illness were reported in eight outbreaks from five provinces across the country.

Consequently the government agency recommends  that raw or undercooked sprouts should not be eaten by young children, older adults, pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems. For healthy adults, precautions on how to eat them are suggested.

My suggestion is to avoid eating raw sprouts. There are plenty of other ways to add crunch to your meals without taking a risk to your health.

But the next time, you come across that microgreen garnish in a restaurant dish, don’t put it aside. Gobble it up for all its worth.

Do you eat the microgreen garnish or leave it on your plate? Please share below in the comments section.

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Categories: Superfoods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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