Have you ever wondered what the tiny and tasty greens are on your dinner plate? Those are microgreens, and they have a surprisingly unique history. Since we’re loving all the local microgreens growers here at Gold Leaf Technologies, we thought it would be fun to learn a bit more about where they come from – and what they’re good for!

What are microgreens?
Microgreens are essentially baby plants, often herb or lettuce varietals, that are harvested at first leafing. They’re often found as a garnish on dishes at upscale dining spots, and as the flavourful topping on your avo toast at your favourite coffee shop. While microgreens are seemingly everywhere right now, they were actually introduced as a gourmet ingredient at fine restaurants in the 1980s. Since then, microgreens have become a farmer’s market hero and grocery aisle staple. Plus they’re also fairly easy to grow right in your own kitchen or greenhouse.

But…aren’t these really just sprouts?
Not quite. But you might be asking what the difference is between microgreens and sprouts? Sprouts are commonly grown from alfalfa seeds, and although tasty, have had some issues over the years, notably from cases of food-borne illness due to the nature of their growing conditions. Since sprouts are grown hydroponically (their roots are in water), in warm, moist conditions, bacteria present on the seed has a hospitable environment to develop, and can occasionally cause illness if present when consumed.

So, how are microgreens grown?
Microgreens are varieties of kale, lettuce, and common kitchen herbs like coriander and parsley, and grown a little differently than sprouts. They are grown in climate-controlled environments, in soil, not water, under natural or artificial LED lighting, and in drier conditions. Once the greens have sprouted in the early leafing stage, they are harvested with small tools or scissors, to be sold and consumed for peak freshness and nutrition. Microgreens have become more popular in recent years as the preference for a delicate green garnish.

For naysayers who see microgreens as food floss, we would encourage them to continue to try all the different kinds of varietals out there. Personally, we’re huge fans of spicy microgreens like purple radish and green mustard on our favourite sandwiches.

What are the benefits of eating microgreens?
Besides tasting fantastic, and really jazzing up your meals, microgreens are extremely nutritious. They’re rich in vitamins and antioxidants; as much as nine times higher than their older, full-leafed counterparts. You’ll find key nutrients like iron, magnesium, and copper. Darker leafy greens tend to be high in potassium and iron, as well. Another healthy benefit of microgreens are the high levels of polyphenols they contain. Polyphenols are thought to protect the body against oxidative stress, and may reduce the risk of developing serious diseases like diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular problems.

Where can I find microgreens – or grow my own?
Microgreens are easy to find – and grow. Most local grocery stores and farmers’ markets are carrying microgreens in their produce section. Backyard Edibles can be found at local farmer’s markets in the Ottawa area and our friends at Microgreens Ottawa have a storefront location on Heron Road.

Microgreens can be grown at home at your kitchen window, or in a greenhouse environment, and they grow fast! You can expect to have your first crop ready for harvest within about two weeks from planting. Talk about instant gratification!

If you’re interested in trying to grow your own, check out the micro farmers for all the details on ordering a home growing kit. And for the more advanced growers out there who are interested in adding a microgreen crop to their rotation – we’d be happy to give you advice on getting started in this space! Just reach out to us at info@goldleaftech.com for our best tips and LED light recommendations.