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Microgreens: The Emerald Gems of the Plant Kingdom

This post is not sponsored by anyone, but INSPIRED by the botanical geniuses at Strathcona Microgreens in southeast Edmonton.

As a dietitian, I'm constantly on the lookout for nutrient-rich foods that can elevate our meals and support our overall health. In recent years, microgreens have been gaining popularity for their impressive nutritional profile and culinary versatility. But what exactly are microgreens, and how do they differ from sprouts? Let's delve into the world of these tiny greens and explore their benefits for both our bodies and our taste buds.

Microgreens vs. Sprouts: Understanding the Difference

While microgreens and sprouts may look similar at first glance, they are distinct in terms of how they are grown and harvested, as well as their nutritional content.

Sprouts are young plants that are harvested just as they begin to germinate. They are typically grown in water and are consumed in their entirety—the seed, root, stem, and underdeveloped leaves. Common types of sprouts include alfalfa, mung bean, and broccoli sprouts.

Microgreens, on the other hand, are slightly older than sprouts and are harvested after the first true leaves have emerged. Unlike sprouts, microgreens are grown in soil or a soil substitute, allowing them to develop more complex flavors and a higher concentration of nutrients. Microgreens are harvested by snipping off the stems just above the soil line, leaving behind the roots.

Nutritional Powerhouses: The Benefits of Microgreens

Despite their small size, microgreens pack a powerful nutritional punch. Research has shown that microgreens often contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants compared to their mature counterparts. For example, studies have found that microgreens such as red cabbage, cilantro, and radish can be particularly rich in vitamins C, K, and E, as well as carotenoids and polyphenols.

Incorporating microgreens into your diet can help boost your intake of essential nutrients and provide a burst of flavor and freshness to your meals. Whether sprinkled on top of salads, sandwiches, or soups, or blended into smoothies and pestos, microgreens add a vibrant touch to any dish.

Safety Considerations: Choosing Microgreens Over Sprouts

While both microgreens and sprouts offer nutritional benefits, there are important safety considerations to keep in mind, especially when it comes to sprouts.

Sprouts have been associated with foodborne illness outbreaks due to their ideal growing conditions for bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. Because sprouts are typically grown in warm, humid environments, these bacteria can thrive and multiply, posing a risk to consumers, especially those with weakened immune systems.

Microgreens, on the other hand, are grown in soil or soil substitutes, which reduces the risk of contamination. Additionally, because microgreens are harvested at a slightly older stage of growth, they are less susceptible to bacterial contamination compared to sprouts.

Grow your own or purchase local??

Navigating the choice between purchasing microgreens from a local grower or growing your own involves weighing the benefits of freshness, variety, and supporting local agriculture against the cost, time, and effort required for home cultivation. Buying from local growers offers maximum freshness, variety, and support for the community economy but may be more costly and seasonally limited. On the other hand, growing your own microgreens allows for cost savings, control over growing conditions, and an educational experience but requires time, effort, and space considerations. Ultimately, the decision depends on individual preferences, resources, and lifestyle, with both options contributing to a sustainable and nourishing food system.

Ready to purchase online and skip the waiting period and "hard labour"?

Use coupon code BRIANNA for a massive 20% off discount at Strathcona Microgreens if you are in the Edmonton area (south of the river, so that they can keep up with deliveries) - and get free delivery for you order over $20! I have set my $20+ delivery for a biweekly recurrence, which serves my personal usage just fine.

Want to grow your own?

Let's dive into the world of microgreen cultivation, including how to grow them in high-quality vermiculite soil for optimal results.

Choosing the Right Soil: The Role of Vermiculite

When it comes to growing microgreens, selecting the right growing medium is essential for success.

The best soil to grow microgreens in is typically a lightweight, well-draining medium such as potting mix or a soilless blend made specifically for seed starting. These soils provide the necessary support for root development while allowing for proper aeration and moisture retention. Additionally, some growers opt for hydroponic or aeroponic systems, which use water-based mediums like perlite or coconut coir instead of soil.

Seed-starting soil provides several benefits for microgreens cultivation. Adding perlite or vermiculite promotes proper drainage and aeration, preventing the risk of overwatering and root rot. (I recommend against peat due to its environmental impact, and looking for worm castings or compost or coconut coir to enhance your soil.)

How to Grow Microgreens in Soil: A Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Select Your Seeds: Choose high-quality seeds for your microgreens. Popular options include broccoli, radish, kale, and mustard greens, but feel free to experiment with different varieties to suit your taste preferences.

  2. Prepare Your Growing Containers: Use shallow trays or containers with drainage holes to plant your microgreens. Fill the containers with a thin layer of moistened vermiculite soil, ensuring that it is evenly spread across the surface.

  3. Sow Your Seeds: Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the surface of the soil, gently pressing them down to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. Avoid overcrowding the seeds, as this can inhibit airflow and promote mold growth.

  4. Water and Cover: Lightly water the seeds using a spray bottle, being careful not to dislodge them from the soil. Cover the containers with a clear plastic lid or plastic wrap to create a mini greenhouse effect, which helps to retain moisture and promote germination.

  5. Provide Light and Air: Place the containers in a bright, sunny location or under grow lights to provide adequate light for your microgreens. Additionally, ensure proper airflow by removing the plastic cover once the seeds have germinated.

  6. Monitor and Water: Keep a close eye on your microgreens as they grow, watering them as needed to keep the soil evenly moist. Avoid overwatering, as this can lead to fungal issues and root rot.

  7. Harvest: Once your microgreens have reached the desired height (usually 1-3 inches), they are ready to harvest. Use clean scissors to snip the greens just above the soil line, taking care not to disturb the roots.

Enjoying Your Homegrown Bounty

Congratulations! You've successfully grown your own batch of nutrient-rich microgreens in high-quality seed-starting soil. Now it's time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Add your freshly harvested microgreens to salads, sandwiches, smoothies, and more for a burst of flavor and nutrition that you can feel good about.

In Conclusion: Embracing Microgreens for Health and Flavor

As a dietitian, I highly recommend incorporating microgreens into your diet as a delicious and nutritious addition to your meals. With their vibrant colors, delicate textures, and concentrated nutrients, microgreens are a simple yet impactful way to elevate your culinary creations and support your overall health.

By understanding the difference between microgreens and sprouts and prioritizing safety when choosing your greens, you can enjoy the myriad benefits that microgreens have to offer. So go ahead, explore the world of microgreens, and let these tiny nutritional powerhouses take center stage on your plate!

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