Microgreens are young plants that are collected before the plant has reached its maturity stage, after the appearance of the cotyledons and just before the development of true leaves.
Cotyledons are the first set of leaves that form when the seed begins to germinate/sprout. They are responsible for providing the plant, through photosynthesis, with the energy it needs to start offering its first leaves until it can extract energy and nutrition from the soil. The life of these first leaves is short since when the plant begins to develop definitive leaves to be able to carry out photosynthesis, the cotyledons fall.
Some of the varieties of microgreens that are grown include broccoli, amaranth, arugula, beet, basil, cabbage, onion, celery, chard, chervil, coriander, watercress, fennel, kale, mustard and white radish. In effect, they are selected for their appearance and distinctive flavors. Microgreens can be sown in combination to achieve a mixture of flavor, colors, and textures that will give your dishes a unique and original feature.
They are used as a garnish and to accentuate flavors in dishes or salads, in addition to being a decorative element in gourmet gastronomy it also provides high-quality nutrients. This delicate and fresh appearance that microgreens offer to any dish has given a twist to how meals are cooked, and they have a significant contribution to the kitchen, being considered as an essential element of international haute cuisine dishes.
Microgreens greens are often confused with sprouts, which isn’t how things should actually be. Sprouts are different from microgreens in a lot of areas and provide different nutritional values than microgreens.
In the sprouts, the seed passes from an inactive state to an intense metabolic activity in which the embryo will give rise to a new plant. Enzymes are activated inside the seed, and it hatches to give life. When the seed is developed, it generates vitamins, enzymes, fatty acids, amino acids and other nutrients necessary for the seed to continue growing and become a small plant.
The microgreen, or micro-plant, is the next phase in the development of the vegetable. It is at this time that the plant begins to generate chlorophyll and other phytonutrients that, together with those generated in previous states, will help the development of the plant until it can extract them from the soil.
Advantages of microgreens
Microgreens have a high nutritional value since they have a higher nutrient content than in the mature plant. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) published various studies in 2014 in which the main nutrients were measured. Among them, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), tocopherol (vitamin E), phylloquinone (vitamin k), beta-carotene (precursor to vitamin A) in addition to other carotenes in the cotyledons were found. It was found that in general, microgreens contain on average five times more vitamins and carotenes than the same adult plant.
So, coming back to our main topic…what are the true leaves on microgreens? It’s not that complex to understand. Just keep reading, and you will find out.
Microgreen sellers go on talking about microgreens such as harvest them during the cotyledon stage or wait until the true leave appears before you harvest the microgreens. After this we move on into the details and benefits of microgreens, which, in all honesty, should not be the case.
Statements like these tend to confuse people who are new to growing or consuming microgreens. It all appears to be too technical and people often tend to avoid microgreens because of them.
This photograph shows purple wave mustard microgreens with both cotyledons and true leaves.
Still wondering which leaves are the true leaves? Don’t worry, we’ll explain it to you.
The first true leaves of a plant are miniature versions of what the adult leaves would look like. Which means true leaves are the ones that have a vascular structure and frilly edges. Remember, not all true leaves have frilly edges, it’s just the mustard. What they actually look like is the mature leaves of the plant.
Cotyledons, on the other hand, are generally plain looking and smooth with a generic shape such as oval or if we consider the case of the mustard (as in the picture), heart-shaped.
With the appearance of the first true leaves, a plant starts generating its own food through photosynthesis. The fact that cotyledons also photosynthesize is highly debated, and most sources claim that cotyledons do not photosynthesize. This means that first true leaves are primarily responsible for energy generation in a plant.
Should we Harvest Before or After the Appearance of the First True Leaves?
The answer to this question is totally dependent on the microgreen. Microgreens such as broccoli, turnips, kohlrabi and radishes can be harvested before the formation of the first true leaves. While others like mustard should only be harvested after the appearance of their first true leaves.
Why do we Wait for the First True Leaves?
Moreover, the most significant reason for waiting for the appearance of the first true leaves is the flavor. The flavor becomes much more delightful after the formation of the first true leaves, and you can enjoy both nutrition and taste at the same time.
Now that we understand what microgreens are and have answers to some of the most basic and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about this topic, we truly believe it is high time that you start growing them in your garden or simply get some from the nearest grocery store. Finally, this rich source of nutrients is not only good for health but also tastes amazing when it is added to various dishes.
So, what are you waiting for? Start eating healthy and delicious today!