Future Foods This Month Vol. 27 No. 03

Growing Microgreens, From Your Kitchen Counter to Outer Space


For an ingredient that is simply a plant harvested before reaching full maturity, microgreens get a lot of hype. These sprigs of vibrant green and deep purple elevate the most basic avocado toasts at a café, and grace the dishes at Michelin-starred establishments. 

Some microgreens, like arugula and mustard, offer a mild, spicy kick, while others, like amaranth and beet, have a more neutral flavor but provide bright colors. Typical dishes where microgreens are found include soups, salads, sandwiches, and on top of toasts and bagels. 

However, these fresh greens are popping up in unexpected places. They’re used as a garnish on high-end cocktails, and as a way to elevate carb-heavy comfort foods like a plate of nachos. Plates of seasonal fruit and yogurt bowls can be topped with a microgreen like sorrel to contribute to the visual presentation and provide a surprising vegetal pop. 

Besides adding to the aesthetic of a dish, microgreens pack an impressive amount of nutrients into a small volume. When compared to fully grown vegetables, microgreens actually boast 4-40% higher concentration of most micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Each type of microgreen offers a different nutritional makeup, but some of the common vitamins and minerals found across the board include vitamins A,B,C,D, E, iron, copper, manganese, and more. 

Due to their nutritional content, microgreens are currently a candidate for feeding astronauts in space. Every year, NASA hosts the Deep Space Food Challenge, where the goal is to find companies providing, “food for the next frontier”. This challenge offers a prize purse award, and NASA is looking for teams that are creating novel technologies that maximize nutritious and palatable food with minimal inputs for long-duration space missions. 

Out of the 300 teams from all over the world that submitted innovative food system designs, only 11 teams remain in Phase 2 of the challenge. One of these is Interstellar Lab, a company that produces fresh microgreens, as well as vegetables, mushrooms, and insects, to provide crucial nutrients for long-term space missions. The company’s modular bioregenerative system is called NUCLEUS, and it combines several autonomous phytotrons (enclosed greenhouses) that require minimal water, air, and nutrient inputs.

If I’ve convinced you of the value of microgreens, chances are you now probably want to incorporate them into some of your home creations. The one downside to microgreens is that they do have the potential to spoil quickly, but a company called InGarden has figured out a solution to that. The company has developed a mini hydroponic system that allows consumers to grow “foolproof” microgreens on their kitchen countertops. There is no soil involved, and the system comes with automated grow lights that allows you to harvest microgreens in just seven days with very little effort. 

Whether you are a diner, home chef, or astronaut, microgreens can provide the striking splash of color and impressive dose of nutrients to round out any dish.

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Ashlen is a food writer and author that covers the future of food and technology in restaurants. She is the founder of FutureFoodie.tech, and her first book, a travel cookbook, is called "Vegan in a Van: Healthy, Plant-Based Recipes on the Road".

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