Specialty greens pack a nutritional punch

January 24, 2014 by Rosalie Marion Bliss
Visiting scientist Liping Kou (left) and technician Ellen Turner harvest different types of microgreens for shelf-life studies and nutrient analyses. Credit: Peggy Greb.

"Microgreens" is a marketing term used to describe edible greens which germinate from the seeds of vegetables and herbs and are harvested without roots at the seedling stage. The plants at the seedling stage have two fully expanded cotyledons, or seed leaves. They are considered a specialty genre of colorful greens that are good for garnishing salads, soups, plates and sandwiches.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researcher has led a team of scientists who analyzed the key nutrients in 25 different varieties of vegetable microgreens. The study results could be used to estimate levels of vitamins and nutrients in microgreens, according to the scientists.

The study was led by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant physiologist and national program leader Gene Lester at Beltsville, Md. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

The team determined the concentration of essential vitamins and carotenoids in the microgreens. Key nutrients measured were ascorbic acid (vitamin C), tocopherols (vitamin E), phylloquinone (vitamin K), and beta-carotene (a vitamin A precursor), plus other related carotenoids in the cotyledons that are critical for human health and function.

The team showed that different microgreens contained widely differing amounts of vitamins and carotenoids. Total vitamin C content ranged from 20 to 147 milligrams (mg) per 100 grams of cotyledon fresh weight, depending on which plant species was being tested. The amounts of the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein/zeaxanthin, and violaxanthin ranged from about 0.6 mg to 12.1 mg per 100 grams of fresh weight. For comparison, an average apple weighs 100-150 grams. In general, microgreens contained considerably higher levels of vitamins and carotenoids—about five times greater—than their mature plant counterparts.

Among the 25 microgreens tested, red cabbage, cilantro, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish had the highest concentrations of vitamin C, , vitamin K and E, respectively. Growing, harvesting, and handling conditions may have a considerable effect on nutrient content. Additional studies are being conducted to evaluate the effect of agricultural practices on nutrient retention.

Explore further: Many trendy 'microgreens' are more nutritious than their mature counterparts

More information: Read more about this research in the January 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Related Stories

Microgreens: Tiny, but powerful

September 11, 2012

Researchers with the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently completed a study to determine the level of nutrients in microgreens ...

Breeding better broccoli

November 4, 2009

Carotenoids—fat-soluble plant compounds found in some vegetables—are essential to the human diet and reportedly offer important health benefits to consumers. Plant carotenoids are the most important source of vitamin ...

Recommended for you

Ants need work-life balance, research suggests

January 16, 2017

As humans, we constantly strive for a good work-life balance. New findings by researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology suggest that ants, long perceived as the workaholics of the insect world, do the same.

New tools will drive greater understanding of wheat genes

January 16, 2017

Howard Hughes Medical Institute scientists have developed a much-needed genetic resource that will greatly accelerate the study of gene functions in wheat. The resource, a collection of wheat seeds with more than 10 million ...

How China is poised for marine fisheries reform

January 16, 2017

As global fish stocks continue sinking to alarmingly low levels, a joint study by marine fisheries experts from within and outside of China concluded that the country's most recent fisheries conservation plan can achieve ...

SMiLE-seq: A new technique speeds up genetics

January 16, 2017

Scientists at EPFL have developed a technique that can be a game-changer for genetics by making the characterization of DNA-binding proteins much faster, more accurate, and efficient.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.