Microgreens (micro greens) are a tiny form of young edible greens produced from vegetables, herbs or other plants. They range in size from one to two inches long, including the stem and leaves. Microgreens can have surprisingly intense flavors considering their small size, though not as strong as mature greens and herbs.
Microgreens are used as a fresh flavor accent primarily in fine dining restaurants. These restaurants place a strong emphasis on both the creative presentation and flavor of their dishes. Microgreens’ delicate, fresh appearance adds beauty and dimension combined with a range of distinct flavor elements.
No longer a novelty item, microgreens have been popular in upscale culinary establishments for well over 15 years. Now that microgreens are a solid ingredient in our finest cuisines, Fresh Origins prides itself on regularly introducing new and exciting microgreen varieties to the culinary world.
Microgreens have been produced in the United States since about the mid 1990′s beginning in Southern California. Initially, there were very few varieties offered. The basic varieties are Arugula, Basil, Beets, Kale, Cilantro and a mixture called Rainbow Mix. They are now being grown in most areas of the country with an increasing number of varieties being produced.
A form of microgreens sold in a specialized growing medium, cellulose (paper) pulp, has been produced in Europe since about 2002. Recently, living microgreens have been offered for sale in the United States as well. There are a few reasons why this format has not been widely utilized. This method requires more packaging in terms of either boxing, or heavy plastic trays and growing medium resulting in a much higher cost for a relatively small yield. It is also more costly to deliver in this form. The product, may start out fresh and vibrant in the ideal growing conditions of a greenhouse, but once they are removed and put into a restaurant kitchen or cooler, the quality and flavor quickly declines. While they can still be considered alive and growing, once removed from the greenhouse, they rapidly begin to get soft, stretched, as they loose color and flavor.
Microgreens versus Sprouts
Microgreens are not the same as sprouts. Some articles about microgreens characterize them as being very much the same as sprouts. There are several important differences. Understanding the different production methods of each can help clear up any confusion between them.
Sprouts are simply germinated seeds. What is eaten consists of the seed, root, stem and pale, underdeveloped leaves. The FDA seeks to regulate all businesses that produce sprouts due to numerous outbreaks of food poisoning (11 recalls/alerts in the past year alone). In 2011, 52 people died and thousands got sick from consuming organic sprouts in Europe. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has now warned consumers against eating sprouts or sprouted seeds unless they are thoroughly cooked. Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 have been the major causes of sprout-associated illness outbreaks. Commercial sprout processors must follow rigorous FDA Guidelines for production that include multiple laboratory tests of each batch for the presence of pathogenic bacteria, to minimize the threat of food borne illness. Despite rigorous efforts to reduce foodborne illness caused by sprouts, more and more restaurants are no longer able to cope with the risk and have removed sprouts from their menus.