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Evaluation of Microgreens
One of my many hats besides coordinating breeding efforts at liseed is
helping to run the Eastern Campus Botanical Center in Riverhead.
Part of Suffolk County Community College, the Center is a resource for
horticultural and natural science information and training on the East
End of Long Island and we teach ecological land care, identification of
native plants and in association with the Culinary Center which is also
part of the Eastern Campus, some courses related to that
discipline. Because of the off-season demand for micro-greens
among the upscale restaurants we did an extensive trial and evaluation
run to see what the potential might be.
By definition micro-greens are seedlings harvested when the first true
leaves appear (just after the cotyledon or seed leaf stage). They
are appearing in upscale markets and restaurants and locally command a
luxtury item price of up to $3 to $5/ounce (that is "per ounce").
Those who sing the praises of micro-greens point to their nutritional
benefits. Like sprouts, some types of young seedlings have
remarkably high levels of vitamins, minerals and other health-giving
phytochemicals. Chefs look at their sometimes intense flavor or
the color and texture that they offer as dish confetti,
brightening up main dishes or salads. I don't know, I think of
them mostly as a kind of fad but we'll see. They probably said
that about parsley.
Some "greens" are well suited for sale and consumption at the cotyledon
or micro-green stage, others kinds of greens are best harvested at the
"petite stage" or the larger "baby stage" where the plant has developed
clustered leaves. Harvesting at these extremely young stages
consumes the entire plant just as the growth is about to become
exponential. For many farmers and growers of "greens" it seems
counter-intuitive that one would harvest plants just as they were
reaching their potential. Most growers of microgreens are indeed
not farmers but "sprouters" who don't work in the field; but instead,
grow in hoop houses or warehouses using hydroponic techniques.
Farmers generally wait to the "young stage" to harvest immature leaves
are blended together to make up a mesclun. In shearing the young
leaves, they leave the plant's crown that can provide additional
"flushes" of leaves to harvest.
As an experiment; students, faculty and visitors evaluated over
50 kinds of microgreens which were grown at he Botanical Center to
learn about their potential, care and requirements. These were
sown on Jan 18 and Jan 29. Earlier sowings were grown at lower
night temperatures (45-50°F), later sowings at slightly higher
night temperatures (60-65°F). They were grown in a polyhouse
environment until the last two weeks, then moved into a glass house
(70°F) for evaluation and display purposes. All seeds were
thickly sown in half flats with either a peat/perlite mix or compost
mix fortified with a dry organic fertilizer. Once transfered to
the glasshouse they received a weak water soluable fertilizer
solution. While available literature describes micro-greens as a
14 day crop, winter sun angle at 40°N latitude and further decrease
in light due to growth under plastic as well as lower growing
temperatures extended this time dramatically. Photos were taken
on March 12.
Although the common genovese basil took a long time to grow to
microgreen size and required warmer temperatures to germinate well, it
was appealing from both the flavor and attractiveness as a
garnish. Genovese basil can be sown quite thick, is available and
economical in large seed quantities. 40 days from January
sowing. Rated very highly as a micro-green.
Curled Cress is available in large seed quantities for low cost and
develops into an attractive microgreen. It can be grown slower at
lower temperatures. Ours fared well at moderate
temperatures. Crinkled Cress from Frank Morton's breeding program
and available from FEDCO seeds had a better texture. The greens
are pungent, hot with a strong mustard like flavor, (maybe a bit like
horseradish) that is pleasing and could complement a number of foods.
Favored as a "petite" green, harvested with several small leaves when
it is most attractive. 40 day harvest.
At the young 50 day stage, chard and red beet (right) develop into
nearly identical microgreens. We didn't notice much coloration
with the rainbow chards except for the red stems of some. Some
kinds of beet such as Bull's Blood produced darker, attractive
micro-greens (no photo). Both beet and chard produces crisp and
juicy microgreens with a pleasant light spinach flavor.
Micro-greens can grow quite thick since each fruit (corky seed ball)
can produce two or more plants. We favored the "petite" stage
Celery seed is small and a slow finicky germinator which requires some
care at it's early stages. Seed is available at low cost.
Even at 50 days, it would probably be better to figure 10 additional
days for harvest in line with the other micro-greens here. Celery
tolerates lower night temperatures well but was probably delayed by
those temperatures. On the other hand, it has a refreshing strong
celery flavor and is complementary to many kinds of dishes. I was
rated highly as a micro-green.
Chervil produces an attractive "petite" green, developing a pleasant
mild anise flavor with some complexity at latter stages. The
carrot-like leaves are more delicate in flavor and of a finer quality
than parsley. Possible garnish for fish, young steamed
vegetables. Well liked by most evaluators. 40 day maturity.
Purple and green orach produce large leaves on tall seedlings;
tender baby greens of substance. Mild spinach flavor. Frank
Morton of Wild Garden Seed has collected, maintained and developed new
strains of Orach in an exciting color range. Orach is probably
best in this stage.
Clayona also known as miner's lettuce was pleasant and mild, some say
buttery texture, the many basal leaves of the "baby" stage plants are
very novel and atractive in their tiny bunches. Most people
preferred over "baby" lettuce. Definitely worth growing as a
salad, highly rated. 50 days.
Cilantro is mild and has a pleasant coriander flavor (the seed is
coriander spice), described as parsley-like with citrus
overtones. It's a very attractive and very usable "petite"
green. Delfino Coriander was more pleasing in flavor; Santo
Coriander was somewhat astringent even though grown under similar
conditions. Delfino would be prefered over parsley as a garnish
by many tasters.
Garland Chrysanthemum cv: Tiger Ear, from Evergreen Seeds
produces quite a bit of biomass from a few seeds and in a short
time. We found the microgreens crisp and juicy, mild and
pleasant; toward later "baby" stages there is an interesting hint
of mum leaf or aromaic field daisy which adds considerably to
interest. There are many kinds of edible chrysanthemum that are
popular in Eastern Asia, this is a fine one. We prefer this stage
for the succulent tasty leaves over harvesting from more mature plants.
Fennel had a cooling delicate anise like flavor, attractive cut
leaves. A good complement to fruit salads, yogurt sauces, poached
fish, cheeses; very nice garnish and flavor as a "baby" green. We
used the Italian or Florence Fennel for producing "greens" but there
are other kinds available including a bronze foliage type. You
either love it or hate it as demonstrated by taste tests. I find
that a little really brightens a salad.
Parsley is always considered a fine garnish and flavoring
ingrediant. As a microgreen, the parsley flavor is more
mild. Gigante and plain leaved varieties were trialed- Gigante
had excellent, quick germination which does not always happen with
parsley; curled kinds would probably produce attractive
microgreens. Favored in trial perhaps due to familiarity.
The color is the main attribute to Dark Opal Basil, slow growing,
requires warmth. A fine micro-green addition but not all that
tasty. Most evaluators would opt out.
Onion, chives, garlic chives and leek are all similar in requirements
and provide nice microgreens which are rich in flavor and quite
different from one another. We evaluated a number of edible,
common alliums, all have potential use at young stages. They need
time to develop and can be sown quite heavily. 50 days.
As a "baby" green, Chicory is tender with a pleasant flavor some
describe as flowery but with a slightly bitter aftertaste that is
always appreciated in salads with a vinegarette dressing. Leaf
chicory or endives are similar in flavor and growth as microgreens.
Lemon Basil like all basils require warmth for good
germinaion. Very fine lemon flavor, ideal garnish for many items
as well as salad. Evaluators find it outstanding at the "petite:
stage and enjoyed the refreshing flavor.
Tatsoi had attractive, glossy round leaves of substance. The
flavor was mustard like but very mild. A nice quick growing crop.
Vitamin greens were mild and pleasant. This is a mizuna-type
mustard. Johnny's Seeds is a good source for seeds for Vitamin
Greens as well as other micro-greens and "baby" greens since they have
done extensive work to commercialize this salad niche.
Ruby Streak is another mustard introduction from Evergreen Seeds.
Attractive, quick growing "greens", can tolerate lower temperatures.
Hot with a slight bitterness. Visually, a nice garnish.
Orient Golden Frill is an introduction from Evergreen Seeds into the
"petite" green arena. Very pretty, hot mustard flavor. Just
like the condiment at a Nathan's stand. Evoked some discussion of
potential uses on the plate.
Rapid growth, this open pollinated tall white stem pak choi (a low cost
seed) was an easy bolter under short days and the cold, crowded growth
conditions which may actually add to it's desirability. It had a
very mild flavor, no mustard heat and had a pleasant crispness
especially as the bolting stem develops as a "baby" green.
Large leaves, light purple stems and leaf petioles, common purple
kohlrabi had a mild raw broccoli flavor, so does broccoli (just use the
lower cost non hybrids).
Red Russian Kale was a particularly nice "green" with frilled leaves
and purple overtones. White Russian is a green counterpart.
Other "greens" that were grown as part of this investigation but not
photographed were: carrot greens (received high marks for flavor at
"petite" stage), amaranth, corn salad, various lettuces, turnip greens,
broccoli raab, broccoli, red cabbage, purple mustard, flaxseed,
arugula, and radish.
This was a preliminary grow out of many kinds of seeds. More work
is required to develop techniques of economical production and
marketing of these greens under traditional and organic systems.
It does seem to be possible for home gardeners to grow these in simple
soil flats or even ground culture under protective cloche or cold frame
to experience these gourmet greens early in the season. I would
like to thank Paul Anderson, Eva Skolak and students in my Botany Class
and continuing education "Sprouts and Microgreens Course" for
assistance with the evaluation.
Last Modified: June, 2008