Toi Degree: Microgreens

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 25, 2024

By Toi Degree

Microgreens are young, immature edible seedlings typically harvested seven to 14 days after germination. Most microgreens are started from vegetable and herb seeds. Unlike traditional gardens, microgreens are a quick crop requiring minimal investments in time and space. The main differences between microgreen cultivation and traditional gardening are that most microgreens are grown indoors or in climate-controlled environments and microgreens are densely planted, whereas vegetables and herbs in traditional gardens are spaced out for mature size and microgreens are harvested at a juvenile growing stage.

Sprouts, microgreens and baby greens are very young, tender plants, used as salads or garnishes on many types of dishes. Each of the names — sprouts, microgreens and baby greens — are all considered different products, as the plant is harvested for eating at different times. They can add color, texture and interesting flavors to meals. Microgreens are gaining popularity among chefs, and more farmers are growing them. They are easy to grow, and sprouts and microgreens can be grown indoors at home.

Microgreens are the next size up from sprouts. The first green leaf-like structures to emerge on a seedling are called the cotyledons. The seedling has one or two cotyledons, and they are not typically the same shape as the leaves on the mature plant. The leaf-life cotyledons may also be different colors such as purple or red. Microgreens are harvested for eating when the first leaf after the cotyledons, or the first true leaf, emerges. Many edible plants make excellent microgreens, including plants whose greens are not often consumed, such as carrots. Lettuces do not make good microgreens because they are too delicate. Common choices are broccoli, dill, basil, arugula, beets and mustards, but there are many others. They each add a unique flavor and texture to dishes. The flavors are often like the mature version of the plant but tend to be more subtle.

Microgreens can be used in the same context as traditional greens and make great additions to salads, wraps, sandwiches, smoothies and as garnishes. Microgreens serve as a great source of fiber, essential minerals, vitamins and antioxidant compounds. They also add color, texture and flavor to many dishes. Next time you’re out at a restaurant or farmers’ market, look for microgreens and give them a try! If you like them and enjoy growing things at home, consider growing a tray yourself to add variety to winter cuisine. For more information on sprout safety and growing, see: The Food Safety of Sprouts factsheet from Clemson Cooperative Extension. For more information on growing microgreens, see this factsheet on Microgreens from the University of Florida Gardening Solutions collection.

Toi N. Degree is associate family and consumer education agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Contact her at 704-216-8970 or

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