Microgreens are miniature versions of vegetables and herbs that are quickly gaining popularity amongst chefs and home cooks. Microgreens are considered baby plants, best described as small seedlings that fall somewhere in size between sprouts and baby greens.
These powerhouses of flavor are quick and easy to grow, adding to their acclaim. Discover our 5 favorite flavor packed microgreens and what they taste like, so you can start growing and enjoying them today.
Why are microgreens popular?
Microgreens first started gaining popularity within fine dining circles, being used as garnishes and flavor components by high-end chefs. As the general public became more familiar with microgreens these dynamos became popping up in seed trays on windowsills in homes and apartments.
They’re popular for a variety of reasons:
- First and foremost, these tiny plants are packed with flavor.
- They have a concentrated nutrient content, providing more health benefits than mature plants.
- Microgreens are really easy to grow. Within a couple of weeks of planting seeds, you have microgreens ready to harvest and enjoy.
- The short lifespan means less commitment than full plants.
5 of our favorite most flavorful microgreens
Almost any vegetable seed can be used to grow microgreens. Beginners typically start with easy to grow varieties such as broccoli, basil, beets, kale, cilantro, and radishes. If you’re looking for the most flavorful microgreens to grow try your hand at mustards, peas, beets, garden cress, and radishes. These tiny morsels are often zestier than their mature counterparts, packing a punch of flavor in a small morsel.
A staple in Southern cooking, mustard greens are an easy to grow, cool-season crop. Originating in the Himalayan region of India, they have been consumed for over 5000 years and are now grown in most parts of the northern hemisphere.
Mustard greens have extremely high levels of antioxidants, especially vitamin A (177% of recommended daily value) and vitamin C (59% of recommended daily value), making them an important superfood. They help to cleanse the liver and can pull toxins out of the bloodstream due to their chlorophyll content. High concentrations of phytonutrients and fiber help to lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Mustard microgreens exemplify these nutritional benefits.
Taste: Sweet-hot mustard flavor, zestier than regular mustard greens. Some varieties are akin to horseradish.
Varieties: Florida Broadleaf, Green Wave, Southern Giant Curled, Ruby Streaks, Red Giant, Osaka Purple
Days to Harvest: Ready for harvest in as little as 8 - 10 days, depending on the variety.
Uses: Accents in salads, pair with roast beef or even sushi.
Growing Tips: Prefers cooler temperatures, germinate seeds in the dark, and after germination use a growing light to keep plants compact.
The field pea was one of the first crops cultivated by man and has been a staple vegetable in gardens since then. Indigenous to northwest India through Afghanistan and adjacent areas the wild pea was first grown for its dry seed. Over time varieties came to fruition; by the 18th-century the garden peas familiar to gardeners now were finally common crops grown by peasants.
Green peas contain antioxidants and many anti-inflammatory benefits. They are packed with vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folic acid; they also contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are known to promote vision and eye health. As with other legumes, the fiber and protein in peas regulate the pace at which we break down the food we eat, steadying blood sugar levels. Case studies have shown that daily consumption of green peas along with other legumes also lowers the risk of gastric cancer (1) and colorectal cancer (2).
Taste: Sweet taste like young snow pea pods.
Varieties: Use any commonly grown variety of garden, snow or snap peas. Growing pea microgreens is a convenient way to use up leftover seeds from the previous gardening season.
Days to Harvest: 10 days to 2 weeks.
Uses: Use in salads, or with meat dishes, and stir fry.
Growing Tips: Presoak seeds for 24-hr before planting to soften the seed coat.
In ancient times, humans ate the large beet leaves and stalks from plants, but not the roots. It wasn’t until the mid-1500’s the root part of the beet began to be cultivated for consumption. By the end of the 16th century, the beet evolved into the bulbous form we are now familiar with.
While beets nor beet greens may not be a favorite vegetable in many homes, the leafy tops provide incredible health benefits and are the most nutritious part of the plant. Beet microgreens are grown commercially in many countries worldwide for use in salads. They are an excellent source of vitamin A and are rich in beta-carotene and lutein.
Taste: Slightly earthy flavor like the root, some varieties taste similarly to baby spinach.
Varieties: Bull’s Blood, Detroit Dark Red
Days to Harvest: Approximately 14 - 28 days after sowing seeds, depending on variety.
Uses: Adds visual appeal to salads, especially purple and red-stemmed varieties.
Growing Tips: Presoak seeds for 8 - 10 hours and then sow thickly. Keep seeds covered until the seedlings show leaves, then move to a sunny spot.
Fresh microgreen radish. Image: Aris
A great deal of uncertainty lies within the history and origin of the radish. Ancient writings dating back to about 3000BC mention the plant in China and Egypt, and it’s known radishes were important to the Greeks and Romans. But there is no archeological proof as to the definitive origin.
The word radish is derived from the Latin word ‘radix’, meaning ‘root’ and the Greek word ‘raphanus’ meaning ‘quickly appearing’ – radishes are one of the most quickly growing garden vegetables, and one of the quickest growing microgreens as well.
Radish is a rich source of ascorbic and folic acid, potassium, vitamin B6, riboflavin, magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, selenium, and calcium.
Taste: Peppery flavor like mature radish, zestier than regular radish greens/sprouts.
Varieties: Sango, Red Arrow, Japanese Daikon, and Triton are the most popular.
Days to Harvest: Ready in 10-12 days from planting date, one of the quickest microgreens to reach harvestable size.
Uses: Garnish cold soups, accent or mix into salad greens, add to sandwiches.
Growing Tips: Soak seeds for 5 - 8 hours before planting, and provide plenty of sunlight. Harvest microgreens when they are about 2 inches tall, consuming immediately.
5. Garden Cress
A relative to the more well-known watercress, garden cress is an annual herb thought to be native to the Middle East and Egypt. Historically it was used to prevent scurvy, as a stimulant, and to purify or detoxify the body.
Surprisingly, garden cress microgreens are more nutrient dense than kale microgreens. Garden cress is packed with vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, all of the essential amino acids, iron, calcium, and folic acid. Containing more vitamin C than an equivalent serving size of an orange, garden cress helps to keep your cardiovascular system healthy; carotenoids are good for your eye and vision health.
Taste: Peppery taste, slightly bitter with a touch of sweetness. Zestier than regular garden cress greens.
Varieties: Wrinkled, Crinkled, Crumpled, Persian, and Curly.
Days to Harvest: 8 - 12 days
Uses: Popular on sandwiches (English cuisine especially), in soups and salads. Can be added to smoothies or used in juicing.
Growing Tips: Barely cover seeds with growing media, keep seeds in a dark environment until they germinate, then move to a sunny location. Harvest when plants are about an inch or two tall.
Growing your own microgreens adds a quickly accessible, nutrient-packed, burst of flavor to your diet and dishes. These diminutive plants are easy to grow and within just a matter of a few days to a couple of short weeks go from seed to harvestable microgreen. The five most flavorful microgreens to try growing are mustard, pea, beet, garden cress, and radish.
- De Stefani, E., Correa, P., Boffetta, P., Deneo-Pellegrini, H., Ronco, A. L., Mendilaharsu, M. (2004). Dietary patterns and risk of gastric cancer: a case-control study in Uruguay. Gastric Cancer, 7, 211. doi: 10.1007/s10120-004-0295-2
- Zhu, B., Sun, Y., Qi, L., Zhong, R., & Miao, X. (2015). Dietary legume consumption reduces risk of colorectal cancer: evidence from a meta-analysis of cohort studies. Scientific reports, 5, 8797. doi: 10.1038/srep08797
Feature image: daveb