While food companies scour the globe for the next big superfoods — goji berries, camu camu, lucuma and others — we can grow one of the most powerful superfoods indoors on our own countertops. Microgreens are among the most healthful and least expensive superfoods in the world. Although these tiny nutrient-packed greens have a short shelf life and aren’t available in many grocery stores, they are exceptionally easy to grow yourself.
Even the most novice gardener can keep a tray of microgreens alive because they only require about two weeks to reach maturity. Fortunately for us, microgreens can be grown indoors and year-round, which makes them a particularly appetizing option during winter months when backyard gardens are buried under snow and local greens can be hard to find.
According to research by the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Maryland, of the 25 types of microgreens tested, the top four most nutrient-dense were red cabbage, green daikon radish, cilantro and garnet amaranth. In a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, researchers found that microgreens contain anywhere from four to 40 times as many nutrients as their full-grown vegetable counterparts — including vitamin C, carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin) and vitamin E. In some cases, nutrient content is even higher. Red cabbage microgreens contain six times the vitamin C of their full-grown counterpart, and a whopping 69 times as much vitamin K. A study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry shows that when small amounts of microgreens are added to a daily diet, weight gain can halt while markers for heart disease plummet. Nutritional value is enough reason to eat more of these superfoods, but they’re also highly palatable for finicky eaters because they have a milder flavor than the mature vegetables.
How to Grow Microgreens Year-Round & Indoors
1. Although specialty microgreen seed mixes are available, you don’t need to spend the extra money. Instead, use seeds for regular vegetables, herbs or grains that have a reputation for making delicious microgreens. Examples include broccoli, amaranth, radish, beet and mustard.
2. After you have your seeds, choose a sunny spot, such as in a windowsill, and set out a shallow tray (1-inch-deep is sufficient).
3. Spread a thin layer of organic potting soil in the tray.
4. Scatter your selected seeds, and then add another thin layer of soil to cover them.
5. Using a bottle with a misting feature, mist the soil daily to keep seeds continuously moist.
6. Continue misting daily for 1 to 2 weeks. When microgreens have reached 2 to 3 inches in height, cut them just above the soil line. Rinse thoroughly before eating.
7. Repeat the process. To have a steady supply of fresh microgreens, consider starting a new tray each weekend and rotating them out.
6 Ways to Get More Microgreens into Your Diet
Because microgreens are so delicate, they’re not recommended for cooking and should instead be eaten raw after a very light rinse. Try them like this:
• On soups and stews
• In salads, smoothies and juices
• In sandwiches, wraps, tacos and burgers
• Inside an omelet or quiche filling
• As a garnish for any main course
• On flatbreads or pizzas, after cooking is complete
What About Sprouts?
Like microgreens, sprouts are simple to grow at home and are an excellent way to take advantage of a plant’s nutritional profile crammed into a tiny seedling. For example, one serving size of sprouted mung beans (1 cup) contains 43 percent of our recommended daily value of vitamin K and 23 percent of vitamin C. Raw, sprouted sunflower seeds are rich in lecithin and vitamin D, and clover sprouts are rich in isoflavones. Not bad for such tiny greens!
To grow your own, start with organic seeds of beans or legumes, such as alfalfa and mung beans. Cover 1/4 to 1/2 cup of seeds with water and soak them overnight before rinsing and transferring them to a quart-sized glass jar in the morning. Cover the jar with cheesecloth held in place with a canning ring or rubber band, and then find a spot out of direct sunlight to place the jar upside-down. (Keeping the jar upside-down and at an angle will help drain the water off the seeds.)
Over the course of the next 3 to 5 days, rinse the seeds with fresh water at least twice a day, taking a moment to swirl the water around and check for new growth. Eventually, tiny sprouts — hence the name — will pop out of the seeds and grow until the jar is nearly bursting with baby seedlings attached to their parent seed. When the majority of the sprouts have sprung, rinse them one final time and consume the entire batch raw — seeds and sprouts alike. Growing your own sprouts takes fewer days than growing a tray of microgreens; however, it involves much more hands-on time with the regular rinsing and draining.