Oprah Loves Microgreens, Should You?

Call them “microgreens” or “babygreens” or even “vegetable confetti.” But whatever the name, these itsy-bitsy salad fixin’s are loaded with nutrients and are tantalizing the taste buds of such celebs as Oprah Winfrey, who recently posted a picture of herself nibbling mustard lettuce microgreens. The post got almost 56,000 “likes” and over 1,100 comments.

(Photo: Instagram/Oprah)

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Microgreens are vegetables harvested when they’re just a couple of inches tall and just out of the sprouts stage. These nano veggies, some say, are more tender, colorful and flavorful than more mature veggies. Best of all, microgreens can pack a nutritional wallop.

“Microgreens have condensed nutrients – many of them two to six times higher than mature greens,” says Qin Wang, professor of food science at the University of Maryland and a co-author of a 2012 study of microgreens nutrient levels. Some microgreens, like red cabbage, have 40 times higher levels of some nutrients than larger greens, although some are on par with their mature cousins.

Wang told Yahoo Health that science suggests that the nutrients in greens start in seeds and eventually spread out over leaves; the smaller the leaf, the more concentrated the nutrients. Her study showed that maximum levels of vitamin C, vitamin K and vitamin E were found in red cabbage, garnet amaranth and green daikon radish microgreens; cilantro microgreens showed the highest concentration of carotenoids, which act as antioxidants that fight cancer cells in humans.

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Microgreens, which is a marketing term with no legal definition, are generally considered young seedlings harvested less than 14 days after germination. Microradish leaves, which taste just like radishes, can be harvested a week after seed germination.

“The smaller the plant, the more nutrient value and flavor,” Sal Gilbertie, who farms microgreens in Easton, Connecticut, told Yahoo Health. “They’re more delicate. You’re eating little babies.”

Expensive babies. Farmers must use many more pounds of seeds to grow a salad bowl of microgreens than mature greens; and the microgreens shelf life typically is five to seven days, compared to two to four weeks for mature vegetables. Accordingly, the infant plants typically sell for three times the price of mature greens. Microbasil, which chefs use as a garnish, can sell for $48 per pound.

(Photo: Instagram/Oprah)

“Chefs can be very creative with micros,” says Gilbertie, author of “Cooking with Microgreens: The Grow-Your-Own Superfood.”

“The favor is stronger, and it’s a nice presentation. These guys are really serious about their microgreens.”

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However, nutritionists say that replacing all greens with microgreens is a bad idea. The little guys have less fiber, are less available, and usually served in smaller portions than more mature greens.

“They should not necessarily substitute for traditional vegetables but can be an addition,” says Mindy Haar, a certified dietitian nutritionist who oversees the New York Institute of Technology’s masters in clinical nutrition program.

If you can’t spend a week’s pay on tiny veggies, you can grow them yourself in your garden or under a grow light indoors. Gilbertie says radishes, cresses and mustard greens are the easiest to grow.