Small but mighty: Mini greens add big flavor, color

“Baby” lettuces and micro greens have been showing up on chefs’ menus since the 1980s when visionary California chefs took notice that the miniature versions of their much larger selves delivered a punch of color and flavor to the plate. The lean toward smaller lettuces, herbs and greens began in restaurants but the love spilled over into grocery stores and farmers markets and cooks wanted them for their own kitchens.

In Ohio alone, more than a half-dozen farms produce petite greens with flavor profiles from mild to bold, spicy to sweet and reportedly more nutritious than if left to double in size. Growing methods range from field sown to hoop houses, grow tunnels, greenhouses and hydroponics and they can be grown seasonally or year round. Regardless of how they arrive at the table cooks and their audiences love the flavor, tender bite and vibrancy.

There is no legal definition for “micro” or “baby” when it comes to greens. The difference is that micro greens are typically vegetable or herb seed that germinates and grows quickly such as cabbage, beet, mizuna, mustard, radish, basil, Swiss chard and amaranth. Chefs and cooks value them as a visual or flavor accent for a dish or salad. They can be harvested within 15 to 30 days of sowing when they form their cotyledon, a tiny shoot or leaves that sprout from the seed.

Spinach, kale, arugula and leaf lettuces typically harvested at a month to 45 days are bite-sized “baby” varieties. These petite versions have formed their first true set of leaves and are harvested while the stem is tender and edible. For spinach and kale, this welcomes a lighter flavor and texture over the stronger flavored, studier nature of a fully mature plant.

Whether it’s a sprout or micro, baby or mature, or any stage in between, any way to get more greens into the diet has to be a good thing.

Check out the mini greens and many other recipes.


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