OFTEN CONFUSED WITH sprouts, microgreens are a markedly different product, and one that is rapidly gaining popularity. Sprouts (germinated or partially germinated seeds) are processed in water, not planted in soil, grown in the dark or under very low light conditions, and are ready for consumption after just a few days. Microgreens, on the other hand, are grown in soil, require high light levels and generally are harvested after one to two weeks.
Less than 2 inches tall, this pint-sized produce offers more than meets the eye. In a 2012 study, researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park, analyzed 25 varieties of microgreens and discovered that they are packed with 4 to 40 times higher nutrient levels than their fully developed counterparts. "We were really surprised," says one of the researchers on the University's website. "We thought it might have been a mistake, but we double-checked so many times and there were no mistakes."
While the seeds are often expensive and the supply inconsistent, Ron Hayward at Late Bloomer Farm, in Campbell Hall, believes that microgreens are worth the challenge. "It's not rocket science, but it's close," he notes. Hayward's microgreens grow year-round in an indoor facility. Although they require some heat, microgreens grow best under cooler conditions and thrive with natural sunlight.
Hayward grows microgreens primarily for their high nutritional content. "We should be eating them, not just looking at them," he says. "The perception is that they are for restaurants with chichi dishes, but that's only part of the picture." He recommends radishes, sunflower, pea shoots, broccoli and arugula. It's easy to add a handful of microgreens to a salad, but it's also possible to be a bit more creative by adding them to sandwiches, soups, smoothies, sushi and more.
Microgreens offer not only a big bite of nutrients, but also concentrated flavor, diverse texture and an opportunity for culinary creativity. "They have such a powerful flavor and they're a useful tool for chefs who want to enhance their repertoire," says Brandon Collins, executive chef at The Roundhouse at Beacon Falls. Collins uses micro celery or micro carrot tops to add a highly potent element to dishes at the restaurant, sometimes replacing the fully-grown veggies with their wee equivalents. "They're more of an actual component to a dish, rather than just a garnish," Collins says.