Our Microgreen Knowledge Base
Aren’t microgreens basically sprouts?
Not exactly. Microgreens have three parts: a central stem, the cotyledon, and sometimes the first pair of very young true leaves. Sprouts are all of that, plus the root and the seed coat.
Sprouts pose a greater risk of bacterial contamination because they still include the part of the plant that touched the soil. Microgreens, on the other hand, are harvested above the soil. While any food product bears the risk of contamination from water and airborne bacteria, plants are exposed to bacteria mostly from the soil. Most soil bacteria are not harmful, but some are, and all it takes is one to cause trouble!
Are they actually more nutritious than regular sized vegetables?
No simple question comes without a complicated answer! Many microgreens contain noticably larger quantities of phytochemicals as well as Vitamin A, E, C, and K compared with their mature counterparts, while some microgreens are not as impressive. This is actually a relatively new and growing area of research as scientists race to publish data on how these gourmet crops stack up. The nutrition information we know depends on which specific varieties they grew and under what conditions. Growth conditions like temperature, light levels, water quality, soil quality, harvesting, handling, and storage can all cause changes in nutrient levels of fresh produce.
But we will not leave you hanging. Here is a table of the information that we DO know.
Why can’t I just eat kale? It’s cheaper!
You can most certainly eat kale! While we never want to stop anyone from eating their vegetables, here are a few factors to consider.
Dark leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, and chard (not to mention a lot of other vegetables) contain a compound called oxalic acid (or oxalate). Oxalic acid is a sneaky molecule – it latches onto minerals like iron and calcium in your digestive tract, from the greens and other foods you are eating, and prevents them from being absorbed by the body. Ingesting large quantities of oxalic acid can even cause kidney stones! Keeping that in mind, you would need to eat several pounds of leafy greens at once in order to get enough oxalic acid to make you sick. But why eat that much kale when you can get the same nutrition in a handful of kale microgreens, without all that pesky kidney stone and mineral loss business?
What are the advantages to using micro herbs, like Basil and Cilantro, instead of the full size?
Aside from the nutritional stuff, micro herbs do give certain culinary benefits. Cilantro is particularly time consuming to process in the kitchen, since the stems are woody and nobody likes sticks in their salsa. Imagine not having to pluck the leaves off…instead you can just grab a handful of delicate cilantro microgreens and toss them in! Done!
Micro basil is very fragile and needs to be grown with extra care, which is not altogether different from full size basil. For both basil and micro basil, the shelf life is short and the price tag is high. The biggest benefit of the microgreen for chefs is the strong flavor. Micro basil is much stronger and more noticeable in foods compared to full size basil leaves. A little goes a very long way! Take your basil greens to the next level with a powerful pesto or go crazy putting basil where you never imagined you’d find it.
Fact Sheets and Fliers
- How Do Microgreens Stack Up Against Full Sized Vegetables? by GreenSpace
- Microgreen Nutrient Comparison Table by GreenSpace
- Yield and quality of basil, Swiss chard, and rocket microgreens grown in a hydroponic system
- Effect of different cooking methods on vegetable oxalate content
- Naturally Occurring Food Toxins
- Postharvest biology, quality and shelf life of buckwheat microgreens
- Xiao, Z., Codling, E.E., Luo, Y., Nou, X., Lester, G.E., Wang, Q., 2016. Microgreens of Brassicaceae: Mineral composition and content of 30 varieties. J. Food Compos. Anal. 49, 87–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfca.2016.04.006
- Weber, C.F., 2016. Nutrient Content of Cabbage and Lettuce Microgreens Grown on Vermicompost and Hydroponic Growing Pads. J. Hortic. 03. https://doi.org/10.4172/2376-0354.1000190
- Xiao, Z., Lester, G.E., Luo, Y., Wang, Q., 2012. Assessment of vitamin and carotenoid concentrations of emerging food products: Edible microgreens. J. Agric. Food Chem. 60, 7644–7651. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf300459b
- Sun, J., Xiao, Z., Lin, L., Lester, G.E., Wang, Q., Harnly, J.M., Chen, P., 2013. Profiling Polyphenols in Five Brassica species Microgreens by UHPLC-PDA-ESI/HRMS. J Agric Food Chem 61, 1–23. https://doi.org/10.1088/1367-2630/15/1/015008.Fluid
- Høyen, B.E., 2017. Light and Temperature Effects on Metabolite Concentration in Selected Herbs and Microgreens. Nor. Univ. Sci. Technol.
- Baenas, N., Gómez-Jodar, I., Moreno, D.A., García-Viguera, C., Periago, P.M., 2017. Broccoli and radish sprouts are safe and rich in bioactive phytochemicals. Postharvest Biol. Technol. 127, 60–67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.postharvbio.2017.01.010
- Gerovac, J.R., Craver, J.K., Boldt, J.K., Lopez, R.G., 2016. Light Intensity and Quality from Sole-source Light-emitting Diodes Impact Growth, Morphology, and Nutrient Content of Brassica Microgreens. HortScience 51, 497–503.
- Samuoliene, G., Brazaityte, A., Vir??ile, A., Jankauskiene, J., Sakalauskiene, S., Duchovskis, P., 2016. Red light-dose or wavelength-dependent photoresponse of antioxidants in herb microgreens. PLoS One 11, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0163405
- Brazaitytė, A., Sakalauskienė, S., Viršilė, A., Jankauskienė, J., Samuolienė, G., Sirtautas, R., Vaštakaitė, V., Miliauskienė, J., Duchovskis, P., Novičkovas, A., Dabašinskas, L., 2016. The effect of short-term red lighting on Brassicaceae microgreens grown indoors. Acta Hortic. 177–184. https://doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.2016.1123.25
At GreenSpace we are committed to sustainability practices that reduce our ecological footprint. Below are some of the measures we are taking to be sustainable, and we are always striving to improve these practices.
Our product containers are made of polylactic acid (PLA) which is a resin left over from processing corn. Corn is a renewable resource that is carbon neutral. Corn can be regrown year after year to make more PLA, and because it is a plant, it takes up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere when it grows. This is more than anyone can say for petroleum, which is what typical plastic containers are made from. The containers are also fully biodegradable, meaning they will break down in your trash or compost and will not accumulate in landfills. Here’s a great Smithsonian Magazine article if you want to learn more about PLA!
Our carbon footprint is approximately 33 metric tons of CO2 per year. For this measurement, we used the Farm Carbon Calculator. For context, each American is responsible for 17 tons of carbon dioxide per year (Source: World Bank) and a regular passenger vehicle emits approximately 4.7 metric tons of CO2 per year(Source: EPA). We strive to find ways to reduce this footprint whenever possible. Right now our biggest carbon emission sources are driving and shipping. We assess this figure each year as our business grows in order to be aware of how we are contributing to the rise of atmospheric CO2.
Our lighting system includes compact fluorescent and low power LED lamps, which draw much less power compared to high pressure sodium or metal halide grow lights. The lighting power usage makes up a tiny portion of our total power consumption. While they aren’t as energy efficient as simply using the sun, growing indoors provides many other advantages such as providing fresh produce year round and efficient use of space.
GreenSpace has recently added 2,000 new friends to our facility – Red Wigglers! Vermiculture is a form of composting that makes use of worms to hasten the breakdown of carbon-based matter like vegetables and grains. Our worms eat only the best organic produce and cornmeal to give us organic worm castings that we use to fertilize our microgreens. GreenSpace has developed a partnership with Wholesome Living Marketplace, an organic grocer and health food store in Bedford, PA to take their vegetable refuse and waste produce that is past it’s prime for human consumption and feed it to our worms, closing another waste loop. The worms and worm tower are from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.
Aquaponics is a portmanteau of “hydroponics” and “aquaculture.” Basically, instead of purchasing hydroponic nutrients, which provide plants with nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus that they need to grow, we obtain those essentials from fish waste. That’s right. The fish pee and poop in the water and we pipe it through a grow bed, delivering that juicy stuff directly to the plants’ roots.
Aquaponics is not only an emerging hobby. It is also growing into it’s own as an indoor farming technique and as a field of scientific research. GreenSpace is in on all of it. We currently have two experimental aquaponics units at our site in Delaware. One is a variation on the deep water raft culture method, and the other system is based on the Dutch bucket method. The DWC system houses neon tetras and produces Swiss chard. The Dutch bucket system houses zebra cichlids and produces peas. Both of these systems are still in development – working out the kinks takes time. When the Dutch bucket system was first starting up, we kept a blog about building up the nitrogen cycle which you can check out here. (It hasn’t been updated in a while.)
We are also interested in the ethics of aquaculture and aquaponics. Specifically, we are interested in the trade-offs between animal welfare, economic productivity, environmental effects, and human health implications of sustainable food production systems. There is no perfect system, so our research energy goes into trying to make the best decisions we can.
We at GreenSpace are committed to pushing the frontiers of knowledge to improve our understanding of plant growth, agriculture techniques, renewable energy, vermiculture, aquaculture, and systems automation. We make every effort to ensure that our growing practices and nutritional information are consistent with the latest scientific research.
We also engage in our own basic research by using our efficient growing system to conduct experimental scientific studies for publication in peer-reviewed journals. We are particularly interested in how variations in growing conditions for various plant species–including everything from soil consistency to light attenuation–can advance our knowledge about topics ranging from sustainable strategies for civilization’s future to improved methods for growing food for astronauts on space stations.
Recent advances in LED and Microchip technologies allow us to research and develop new practices for sustainable farming. Currently we are working on a computer controlled LED light system to ensure optimal, yet energy efficient growth of our crops. It is our belief that the use of easily accessible and Open Source technology is vital to achieving global sustainability. We are designing experiments to investigate the importance of light and color cycles for crop yield and quality.
The sun provides the main source of energy for plants on Earth, but planets orbiting other stars will experience difference distributions of spectral energy. We are developing customized lighting in order to investigate the effect of the type of starlight on plant growth and quality, and we are particularly interested in recreating the light distribution from smaller orange and red dwarf stars that are targets for upcoming astronomical planet-finding missions.
Earth System Science Research
The Blue Marble Space Institute of Science is a research institute with an interdisciplinary approach to studying the relationship between Earth system science, space exploration, and the future of humanity. Proceeds from GreenSpace help to support the research and outreach efforts of BMSIS scientists.
SAGANet.org is a social and collaborative space for those interested in space sciences, astrobiology, space exploration, Earth system science, sustainability, science communication, and science (STEM) mentoring. Proceeds from GreenSpace help to support the outreach and mentoring programs of SAGANet.