This is a story about how less can be more. It’s rather rare to come across such examples in these United States of America, where so many people believe more is usually better. Take the Big Gulp, or the other “super-sized” soft drinks or the large fries. Of course, there are instances when people agree that less is better –– less weight around the mid-section, for example.
And this story does relate to something that is healthful. We’re talking about microgreens, those little greens on top of your soup or salad or inside your gourmet sandwich. Amazingly, they have more concentrated vitamins and nutrients than full-sized versions, researchers report.
Generally, these are seedlings of spinach, lettuce, red cabbage and other vegetables, about 1-3 inches tall, picked within two weeks of germination. The microgreens have been a popular item in high-end markets and restaurants, but here is a slight problem: Microgreens are rather expensive. They cost from $30-$50 a pound in stores, usually sold in 4–8 oz. bunches or in 1-lb. containers. The good news is that some home gardeners are producing their own microgreens which, like the full-size veggies, are cheaper to grow than to buy in stores.
Overall, the mini-plants improve the color, texture and flavor of everything from soup to salads and sandwiches and other foods. Until recently, however, no scientists had compared their nutrients to the full-grown veggies.
Qin Wang, Gene E. Lester and the rest of their research team are the first to study vitamins and other chemical compounds that occur naturally in these mini-plants. They looked at 25 varieties of microgreens and found that they generally have higher concentrations of healthful vitamins and carotenoids (powerful antioxidants that may help prevent cancer and heart disease) than full-sized versions.
The scientists reported in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that they also discovered wide variations in nutrient levels among the plants tested in the study. Red cabbage microgreens, for example, had the highest concentration of vitamin C, while green daikon radish microgreens had the most vitamin E. Interestingly, they also found that microgreens grown under lights had a higher nutritional content. (The researchers will formally report these data later.)