What Are Microgreens and Are They Healthy?

Cress, Beet, Raddish and Rocket Microgreens.
  The Picture Pantry/Getty Images

Microgreens are little seedlings of edible plants that are often used to add color and flavor to meals. They're much smaller than regular greens, even "baby" greens, and have grown in popularity, especially in fine dining circles.

The term "microgreen" isn't specific to any one plant. Common microgreens include radish, cabbage, mustard, parsley, beet leaves, celery, and cilantro. Microgreens often have good nutrition—although people don't often eat them in large quantities, they're still high in vitamins and minerals.

In fact, they have a much higher concentration of nutrients compared to fully mature plants.

How Are Microgreens Grown?

Microgreen seeds are planted in flats or small pots and harvested two to four weeks later. They can be grown indoors or out. The little plants are ready to harvest as soon as they produce little true leaves. The microgreens are either pulled from the soil and rinsed or the stems are cut just above the soil. The plants are packaged and delivered to restaurants and a few specialty grocery stores.

You might be able to find microgreens at farmers' markets or some grocery stores, but they only last a week under the best of conditions, so they're not going to be shipped far and wide and you'll need to use them right away. Maybe a better solution is growing them at home.

Gardeners can easily grow microgreens right at home in their backyard or in a house, as long as there is a sunny window or lighting meant for growing plants.

Microgreens don't take up much space and only require a couple of inches of potting soil. Plant the seeds a little more densely than you would for full-growing plants and mist the soil and microgreens regular to keep the soil damp.

Sprouts Are Not Microgreens

Edible sprouts, such as alfalfa sprouts and bean sprouts, have been around for a long time (although it's harder to find raw sprouts these days due to outbreaks of foodborne illness due to consumption of uncooked sprouts).

Microgreens and sprouts may look similar but there are some differences between the two.

One big difference is how they're grown. Microgreen seeds are planted and grown in soil, just like their grown-up garden counterparts. For sprouts, the seeds are germinated in water or wet bags for a couple of days, usually in warm dark places, until they sprout. At that point, they're ready to be packaged and shipped to stores.

The problem is that the growing conditions for sprouts increase the risk of bacterial contamination that causes foodborne illnesses. Since microgreens aren't grown the same way as sprouts, they don't have the same risk. Of course, they still need to be handled properly with food safety in mind, just like any raw veggie or green.

Another difference between the two is that when they're packaged, sprouts include the seed, roots, stems, and tiny undeveloped leaves. Microgreens aren't ready to harvest until they grow their first set of true leaves, and serving them with their roots is optional. It's usually easier to snip them off at the stem.

Microgreens Nutrition

In generalmicrogreens contain much higher concentrations of vitamins than fully grown versions of the same plants.

One study examined 25 different varieties of microgreens and found that red cabbage had the most vitamin C, garnet amaranth had the most vitamin K1, and green daikon radish microgreens had the most vitamin D. In addition, the researchers discovered that cilantro microgreens had the highest concentration of two carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin.

Another study compared mineral content for fully grown green lettuce and lettuce microgreens and found the tiny greens had more calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and manganese than the fully mature plants.

Although more research is needed to know the full nutritional content of microgreens, a few brands are listed on the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Composition Databases.

For example, one ounce of New Day Farms sunflower and basil microgreen mix has 25 calories, 2 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 80 milligrams calcium, and almost 14 milligrams of iron.

Potential Health Benefits of Microgreens

There really isn't much research available for microgreens beyond the nutritional content, so it's hard to say for sure that eating any particular microgreen will produce any specific health benefits. While there are no studies that look at microgreen consumption in humans, one laboratory study found that overweight mice that were fed a high-fat diet and red cabbage microgreens had lower LDL-cholesterol (the bad kind) and didn't gain as much weight as mice fed high-fat diets alone or with mature red cabbage.

Of course, it's a long stretch from animal studies to humans, but it makes sense that microgreens from plants high in healthful phytochemicals, such as those found in red cabbage, could have similar health benefits. In fact, another study found microgreens from the Brassica species, including red cabbage, red mustard, purple mustard, and purple kohlrabi, actually have more complex and more varieties of polyphenols compared to mature plants.

How to Use Microgreens at Home

If you're lucky, you may be able to find microgreens in specialty grocery stores or farmers' markets. But be warned, they're probably quite expensive, right around 30 dollars a pound (makes that kitchen microgreen garden seem like a great idea). Some of the more common varieties include arugula, beet greens, basil, chard, carrot, cress, amaranth, spinach, and mustard. They have stronger flavors so only a little is needed to perk up your favorite dish. Choose microgreens that are fresh looking and store them in the refrigerator. Remember, they won't last long so use them up within a few days.

Microgreens can be used a number of different ways depending on the meal you are cooking. Use microgreens that have the colors and flavors that fit your taste buds. For example, arugula microgreens have a sharp pepper-like flavor. Beet microgreens have a bitter flavor but add a lovely reddish color to a dish. Carrot microgreens are slightly sweet and chard is both beautiful and has a milder flavor.

Add microgreens to a sandwich or wrap in place of regular lettuce. They can be used in place of, or in addition to, some of your favorite herbs, or you can make a salad with a cup or two of microgreens, some shredded carrots, chopped nuts, and a tangy vinaigrette. Microgreens can also be added to the top of a hot freshly baked pizza or roasted vegetables.

A Word From ​Verywell

Serving microgreens alongside (or on top) of any dish is a great way to add a few more vitamins and minerals to your balanced diet. However, since they have so much flavor, only a small amount of microgreens are usually needed. A tiny microgreen salad may not replace a big healthy garden salad for fiber content and volume, but it still packs a nutritional punch.


Huang H, Jiang X, Xiao Z, Yu L, Pham Q, Sun J, Chen P, Yokoyama W, Yu LL, Luo YS, Wang TT. "Red Cabbage Microgreens Lower Circulating Low-density Lipoprotein (Ldl), Liver Cholesterol, and Inflammatory Cytokines in Mice Fed a High-fat Diet." J Agric Food Chem. 2016 Dec 7;64(48):9161-9171.

Mir SA, Shah MA, Mir MM. "Microgreens: Production, Shelf Life, and Bioactive Components." Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Aug 13;57(12):2730-2736.

Pinto E, Almeida AA, Aguiar AA, Ferreira I. "Comparison Between the Mineral Profile and Nitrate Concentration of Microgreens and Mature Lettuces." J Food Compos Anal (2015) 37:38–43.

Sun J, Xiao Z, Lin LZ, Lester GE, Wang Q, Harnly JM, Chen P. "Profiling Polyphenols in Five Brassica Species by UHPLC-ESI/HRMS(n.)." J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Nov 20;61(46):10960-70.

Xiao Z, Lester GE, Luo Y, Wang Q. "Assessment of Vitamin and Carotenoid Concentrations of Emerging Food Products: Edible Microgreens." J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Aug 8;60(31):7644-51.