Remember those lovely green sprigs garnishing a dish at a fancy hotel complimenting your dip or soup? These are microgreens which contrary to the popular belief are not exotic or expensive but the tiny version of our everyday food.
A Google search for superfoods includes microgreens. Our mothers and grandmothers have been pestering us to eat the tiny greens. The fresh coriander leaves that adorn our poha, upma, vegetables and dals and chutneys that spice our meals are microgreens.
Growing microgreens in the lockdown suddenly became a craze. A casual search on Instagram underlines the fact. Today, many people are growing these greens which are getting increasingly popular. Chefs and home cooks equally love them.
What are Microgreens?
Microgreens are small greens of vegetables and herbs grown just in a week. These are seedlings that have formed roots, stems, and leaves. The stems and leaves are eaten. They add crunch, taste, colour, and nutrition to your food.
There are many kinds of microgreens. Some popular microgreens are produced from the following plant families:
Amaranthaceae family: Amaranth, quinoa swiss chard, beet, and spinach
Amaryllidaceae family: Garlic, onion, leek
Apiaceae family: Dill, carrot, fennel, and celery
Asteraceae family: Lettuce, endive, chicory, and radicchio
Brassicaceae family: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radish, and arugula
Cucurbitaceae family: Melon, cucumber, and squash
Why Include Microgreens?
According to scientists microgreens provide key nutrients in a practical way and therefore are called superfoods. If you are looking for a healthy dosage of required nutrients, including microgreens would be the best solution.
“These tiny greens packed with antioxidants and healthy nutrients are about 40 times more nutritious than the matured vegetables”, shares Microgreens activist and founder of The First Leaf, Swati Jain. They are a rich source of Vitamin A, B, C, E and K and abundant in phytonutrients that help to keep diseases and infections at bay, she adds.
Commenting on why microgreens are considered super or miracle food, Swati explains,
“Any seed goes through various stages of growth. The 'microgreen' stage is characterised by rapid growth when the seed coded with nature's intelligence gathers nutrients to grow into a mature plant and hence is a very concentrated source of nutrients."
Microgreens can be bought from the market. Buy fresh and organic produce without pesticides and chemicals from shops that do not compromise on quality. As microgreens are often eaten raw you need to be cautious. Wash them thoroughly in running water before consuming. The pleasure of adding freshly plucked greens in your salad is ultimate. Growing microgreens is easy and inexpensive. You do not need a huge garden or direct sunlight. The greens can grow on windowsills in your kitchen if it is bright. Daylight is adequate. In fact, these pots can become great centrepiece on the dining table. “I place the microgreens on the dining table with a pair of scissors and clip and eat”, shares Swati.
Things You Need
Shallow containers that can be easily pierced like take-away food boxes or plastic containers.
Good quality seeds, potting soil, homemade compost
Something to cover the container. Pierced aluminium Foil/ cardboard to cover the seeds as a lid can be used.
There are two kinds of seeds. Some need to be soaked and some sprouted, explains Swati.
Mustard, coriander, and fennel need to be soaked for 7-8 hours before sowing. While mung, kala chana, chola, horse, gram, moth, fenugreek, sesame, and alfalfa should be soaked and sprouted before sowing.
Preparing Seeds that Require Soaking
Take 1 teaspoon of the chosen seeds
Add them to 1/4th glass of warm water.
Stir and let them soak for 7-8 hours
Preparing Seeds that Require Soaking and Sprouting
Take the chosen seed and Add them to 1/4th glass of warm water.
Stir and let them soak for 7-8 hours
Next morning, tie them in a muslin/cotton cloth
Keep the cloth and seeds remain moist
Within 24 hours, the seeds will sprout and get ready for sowing
Preparing the Pot
Dig some holes in the pot for drainage.
Fill the pot completely with soil. Don’t compress the soil too much.
Let it be loosely packed for the seeds to take roots easily.
Sowing the Seeds
Remove the seeds from water and spread them evenly on soil with the backside of a spoon.
Avoid too much of overlapping.
Mist the seeds thoroughly with water. The soil should be damp but not soggy.
In case you overwater, remove excess water by putting a tissue paper above the seeds.
Cover the pot with a perforated lid/aluminium foil and keep it in a well-ventilated area of the house.
Uncover the pot every 7-8 hours and mist the seeds again with the spray bottle.
In 3 days, the seeds would have completely sprouted. You can remove the lid and place the pot in the balcony.
Do not mist the seeds with the spray bottle. But bottom-water instead.
Take a tub/tray and fill it with a little water. Keep the pot in for about a minute. Do this twice daily. The roots will absorb water.
Clip the microgreens with a pair of scissors when greens are 1-3 inches tall.
Start growing one variety and gradually move on to experiment with more.
Mung, kala chana sesame, mustard, basil chickpea can be grown in summers and Moth, kala chana, chola mustard chia, basil alfalfa and fennel in winters. Fennel takes longer to grow but is delicious and totally worth the effort. Kala chana has a unique taste and goes well with Indian food.
Rumana Shankar, from Victoria (Canada), shares her experience about how the pandemic encouraged her to try growing microgreens.
“What started off as a simple sprouting experiment for my children, led to the beginning of my beautiful gardening journey.”Rumana Shankar
Observing, the sprouting seeds every day and documenting the progress with her kids motivated her. When she started sowing, she realised that the growing pace of each seed varies. “Each plant, like children is different from each other. Each takes their own pace to grow, some need extra care, and some need you to back off as a plant parent to nurture.” Start with easy seeds likes fenugreek, coriander, and mustard, she suggests, as it is easy to get demotivated as a beginner.
How to Include Microgreens In Your Diet?
The best way to consume microgreens is by eating them fresh and raw. "When you’re consuming microgreens, simply follow the principle of CLIPPING-WASHING-EATING a live crop," explains Swati. Microgreens are extremely delicate and exposing them to heat reduces their vitality and nutrition.
Add freshly chopped greens to salads, dips, sandwiches.
Blend the greens into smoothies, chutneys, dips, juices, or raitas.
Wheatgrass can be juiced.
Garnish your dals, subzis, curries, burgers, pizzas, scramble, and omelettes.
Add to the chillas, idlis, dosas, rotis, parathas
Facts You Should Know
Growing microgreens can be easy but it is crucial to know these facts to do it correctly:
1. Select organic untreated seeds. Adulterated seeds would give toxic microgreens
2. Avoid soaking mucilaginous seeds like basil and chia. These seeds develop a gel-like coating when exposed to water which makes the process difficult.
3. Sprinkle them on the top of the soil. If packed too closely the seeds can clump catch mould.
4. Non-mucilaginous seeds need to be soaked otherwise the crop takes longer to grow.
5. When ready, clip microgreens with scissors. Plucking may damage the whole pot.
6. Rajma, quinoa, brinjals, potatoes, chillies should be strictly avoided as these are extremely toxic.
The pandemic has underlined the need to go back to a sustainable lifestyle. Growing your food may not be possible for everyone but a small patch or pots of edible greens is possible.
This can be a great family activity. “It has taught me to find joy in the tiniest of things be it a small seed that has sprouted or my son jumping with joy when he sees the first flower of the season.” shares Rumana happily.
Start with one variety and gradually experiment with more varieties. Gardening teaches patience, humility, and mindfulness. “It is a very therapeutic activity and a great fix for impatient farmers. sow, grow and consume in a weeks’ time,” shares Swati.
(Nupur Roopa is a freelance writer and a life coach for mothers. She writes articles on environment, food, history, parenting, and travel.)