Small but mighty: Microgreens go from trendy vegetables to functional food

Starting decades ago as fashionable, high-value gourmet greens, microgreens have recently gained popularity among consumers for their nutritional profile and high content of antioxidant compounds. Now, a new study suggests that these tiny plants have the potential to help provide global nutrition security.

As part of a project titled "Food Resilience in the Face of Catastrophic Global Events," an international team of researchers has found that these vegetables can be grown in a variety of soilless production systems in small spaces indoors, with or without artificial lighting. The findings are especially relevant amid a pandemic that has disrupted food supply chains.

With microgreens, people can produce fresh and nutritious vegetables even in areas that are considered food deserts, according to team leader Francesco Di Gioia, assistant professor of vegetable crop science, College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State.

"The current COVID-19 pandemic revealed the vulnerability of our food system and the need to address malnutrition issues and nutrition-security inequality, which could be exacerbated by potential future emergencies or catastrophes," he said. "Nutrient-dense microgreens have great potential as an efficient food-resilience resource."

Given all the characteristics of microgreens, scientists at NASA and the European Space Agency also have proposed them as a source of fresh food and essential nutrients for astronauts engaged in long-term space missions. And because microgreens may be used as a functional food to enhance nutrition security under current conditions and during future emergencies or catastrophes, Di Gioia suggested that microgreen production kits including seeds could be prepared and stored, then made available when needed.

"Under such circumstances, a variety of fresh and nutrient-rich microgreens could be grown, providing a source of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants in a relatively short time," he said. "Or alternatively, kits could be distributed to vulnerable segments of the population as a short-term nutrition-security resource."

Read the complete article at

F. Di Gioia, S.A. Petropoulos, I.C.F.R. Ferreira, E.N. Rosskopf. Microgreens: from trendy vegetables to functional food and potential nutrition security resource. Acta Horticulturae, 2021; (1321): 235 DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2021.1321.31 

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