Microgreens, about a week old.

Those delicate, miniature greens decorating your chef-prepared restaurant meal may not only look beautiful and taste delicious, they could be an unexpected source of important nutrients.

A recent study reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that microgreen cotyledons, or seed leaves, have higher nutritional densities when compared to those of mature leaves.

Grow Your Own

Go from seed to harvest in about two weeks. Learn how in the article How to Grow Microgreens.

Microgreens are easy to grow under lights or on a sunny windowsill. Learn how in the article How to Grow Microgreens.

Microgreens is the name given to a variety of edible immature greens that are harvested with scissors between 10 and 14 days after germination, when the plants are about 2 inches tall. The stem, cotyledons and first set of true leaves are all edible and are appealing to chefs and anyone looking to add beauty, texture and flavor to their favorite foods. Microgreens are often used as fancy garnishes for soups and main courses, salad ingredients and sandwich toppings.

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland-College Park tested 25 commercially available microgreen varieties, from arugula to wasabi. They measured each variety’s concentrations of certain phytonutrients, natural chemicals found in plant foods, and carotenoids, natural plant pigments that are vital for good human health.

What they found in those tiny plants was a big surprise.

“In general, microgreens contain considerably higher concentrations of vitamins and carotenoids than their mature plant counterparts, although large variations were found among the 25 species tested,” the study authors wrote. Leaves from nearly every microgreen variety tested 4 to 40 times more concentrated with certain nutrients than leaves from their full-grown counterparts. Red cabbage, garnet amaranth and green daikon radish microgreens tested highest in vitamins C, K and E, while cilantro microgreens measured highest in lutein and beta-carotene.

The verdict is still out on exactly why microgreens deliver this burst of nutrition, but more research is sure to come. Until then, toss a bunch of microgreens on your next meal and enjoy some healthy benefits.

—Aimee Diehl
Aimee Diehl writes from her home in rural Cornwall, VT,
where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and a dog.