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What are Microgreens?

Brooke Edmunds from the Benton County Extension Service says microgreens and sprouts can be started almost anywhere.

Brooke Edmunds from the Benton County Extension Service says microgreens and sprouts can be started almost anywhere. Dan Wise

Food fads seem to take up a large portion of today’s conversations about eating. There are trends seeking fusion cuisines, massive numbers of people taking photos of their food, and blogs discussing foods and fads.

Over the years, and through vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, sprouts have become one of those fads. But sprouts have come and gone — and come again; and often there are problems associated with them.

Too often, the high temperatures required to grow them, combined with the humid and wet growing mediums, create the ideal conditions for bacteria and other pathogens that create diseases for humans, says Brooke Edmunds, who represents the Oregon State University Extension for Linn, Benton and Lane counties. Sometimes even the seeds contain pathogens.

Edmunds holds a doctorate in plant pathology diseases of vegetables and ornamental plants.

One new trend, she says, uses the sprout idea without the problems. These are called microgreens. Sprouts take about three to five days to germinate and then are ready for eating.

But microgreens are young, tasty vegetables that take 10 to 14 days, can be grown at home or in a greenhouse, or bought at a grocery or specialty store. They are smaller, and contain more concentrated nutrients than their mature, older brothers, but typically aren’t used in large quantities.

Unlike sprouts, where the entire plant is used — including the root system and the greens – only the microgreens’ green growth is used.

Additionally, these nutritional vegetables offer diners taste, delicacy and distinctive flavors, according to Wiki-pedia. There also are a number of varieties from chard and amaranth to cabbage and kohlrabi, and from basil to beets, chia, cilantro and clover.

Also called vegetable confetti, microgreens are typically grown differently from sprouts. Much younger in usage than sprouts, microgreens began their trend in San Francisco in the 1980s, and started a growing trend in Southern California in the 1990s.

Since then, the small greens’ popularity has moved across the country and is grown on farms, in homes and commercially.

Early varieties consisted of arugula, basil, beets, kale and cilantro. These now include chard, two kinds of amaranth, mizuna, cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, chia, clover, tat soil, sunflower and peas. Spicier varieties include the greens from mustard, daikon radish, cress, pak choi and rutabaga. And, according to Edmunds, sunflower and pea microgreens are the easiest to grow.

Growing them shouldn’t be a problem, she says. But everything must be clean, from the containers to the soil. Using fresh potting soil is a good way to ensure the soil is without any pathogens or problems. Fresh seeds can be bought at various garden centers, health food stores or online, and Edmunds suggests using lots of seeds and planting them in yogurt or berry containers that have been thoroughly cleaned.

“You also can buy them already growing in containers in the grocery store, like the living lettuces you’ve seen there,” Edmunds says.

First, she suggests pre-soaking the seeds then planting them. Once the seeds are in the soil and watered, all that’s needed is a bright sunny space, a couple of weeks and, voilà, you have microgreens.

They may need to be rotated so they all get the same amount of sun. They are perishable though, so they need to be harvested with a scissors and eaten almost immediately.

Some seeds require a small soak, for example cilantro takes one to two hours; others, like beets, require longer soaks. Some of the problems associated with them are spacing, over or under watering, water pH and light sources. For example, not enough light yields pale or spindly plants.

If you need advice, or want to review the process, check with any local extension officer or a Master Gardener, “who know where the resources are,” Edmunds says.

Finally, these tasty greens can pack a punch in nutrients. These young plants have more concentrated nutrients and the tastes are subtler, she says.

Most, especially cilantro, have higher levels of carotenoids than mature plants. There also are higher volumes of vitamin C, especially in red cabbage, daikon radishes and garnet amaranth. The color is also useful in presenting a pretty salad or garnish.

The lowest levels of vitamins come in popcorn and golden pea shoots because these vegetables grow without chlorophyll.

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Photos by Dan Wise

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