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A microgreen is a tiny vegetable green that is used both as a visual and flavor component or ingredient primarily in fine dining restaurants. Fine dining chefs use microgreens to enhance the beauty, taste and freshness of their dishes with their delicate textures and distinctive flavors. Smaller than “baby greens,” and harvested later than “sprouts,” microgreens can provide a variety of leaf flavors, such as sweet and spicy. They are also known for their various colors and textures. Among upscale markets, they are now considered a specialty genre of greens that are good for garnishing salads, soups, plates, and sandwiches.
Edible young greens and grains are produced from various kinds of vegetables, herbs or other plants. They range in size from 1” to 3” including the stem and leaves. A microgreen has a single central stem which has been cut just above the soil line during harvesting. It has fully developed cotyledon leaves and usually has one pair of very small, partially developed true leaves. The average crop-time for most microgreens is 10–14 days from seeding to harvest.
Microgreens began showing up on chefs' menus as early as the 1980s, in San Francisco, California. In Southern California, microgreens have been grown since about the mid‑1990s. There were initially very few varieties offered. Those available were such as arugula, basil, beets, kale, cilantro and a mixture called Rainbow Mix. Having spread eastward from California, they are now being grown in most areas of the country with an increasing number of varieties being produced. Today, the U.S. microgreens industry consists of a variety of seed companies and growers.
Microgreens have three basic parts: a central stem, cotyledon leaf or leaves, and typically the first pair of very young true leaves. They vary in size depending upon the specific variety grown, with the typical size being 1 to 1.5 in (25 to 38 mm) in total length. When the green grows beyond this size, it should no longer be considered a microgreen. Larger sizes have been called petite greens. Microgreens are typically 2–4 weeks old from germination to harvest. Both baby greens and microgreens lack any legal definition. The terms "baby greens" and "microgreens" are marketing terms used to describe their respective categories. Sprouts are germinated seeds and are typically consumed as an entire plant (root, seed, and shoot), depending on the species. For example, sprouts from almond, pumpkin, and peanut reportedly have a preferred flavor when harvested prior to root development. Sprouts are legally defined, and have additional regulations concerning their production and marketing due to their relatively high risk of microbial contamination compared to other greens. Growers interested in producing sprouts for sale need to be aware of the risks and precautions summarized in the FDA publication Guidance for Industry: Reducing Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Sprouted Seeds (FDA 1999).
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