Microgreens no longer just for fine dining
Tuesday, Dec 23, 2014 10:33 am
The growing popularity of organic vegetables is nothing new, but the rise in popularity for homegrown herbs and microgreens is turning a lot of heads and not just at the chef’s table.
People are not only catching on to the robust flavour microgreens can add to your meals, but also to the fact the little gifts of nature are rich in vitamins and nutrients.
Surrey, B.C.’s Urban Cultivator is leading the growing demand for both commercial and residential indoor growing units. Urban Cultivator is currently working with the University of Alberta on a study to see just how nutritious microgreens are.
What they have found out so far is “red cabbage contains six times more vitamin C in the microgreen version compared to the mature counterpart, cilantro contains three times more beta-carotene when in microgreen form and sunflower sprouts contain a whopping 24 to 30 per cent of protein.”
Former Banff Centre executive chef Beat Hegnauer has been a longtime proponent of the benefits of microgreens – so much so, he initiated using an Urban Cultivator commercial unit at The Banff Centre, and has now brought a unit to Mountain Lady’s Greenhouse in Canmore to offer fresh, organic microgreens to the community.
“I heard about it actually through one of my suppliers and I saw it and we talked about it and I thought it was an awesome idea,” he said. “It’s local, it’s fresh and first of all, the price,” Hegnauer said on first discovering Urban Cultivator.
One of the reasons chefs are such advocates of growing your own herbs and microgreens is the savings in cost. Hegnauer says a full sheet tray of herbs or greens can cost anywhere between $35 and $40 dollars from an outside supplier, which can easily add up when numerous kitchens are using the small but powerful greens.
“I used a tray, tray and half a day for sandwiches, garnishes and in Three Ravens (Restaurant). And all the banquet menus use The Banff Centre-grown microgreens and there is no (chemical) fertilizer, so it’s as organic as it can get; the seeds are, everything is; so it’s fresh and fantastic,” Hegnauer said.
After hearing about Urban Cultivator commercial units, he was intrigued from the start. “We bought one of the first models roughly four years ago and then we soon needed a second one because we weren’t able to catch up and grow enough,” Hegnauer said.
On average, it takes eight to 10 days for a cycle of pea shoots, with nasturtiums taking about two weeks. According to Hegnauer, most microgreens can be harvested within eight days.
“When we got a second one we displayed it in Vistas (dining room) so people could see it and I tell you it is a conversation piece,” Hegnauer said. “When I was there over lunch and such people would always come look and I would talk to them and they couldn’t believe that it’s there and so fresh.
“Just think of a boring egg salad sandwich. I mean, I like an egg salad sandwich, but when you add fresh mustard and watercress and you eat it, it gives it such a boost – the radish and basil are just awesome too.”
Some of the most popular microgreens you can grow in a personal cultivator include: Arugula, beet tops, parsley, cilantro, chervil, kale, corn shoots, purple radish, sunflower, broccoli and pea shoots.
At Mountain Lady’s Green House, some of the microgreens Hegnauer currently has available include: mustard, crests, cilantro, pea shoots, radish, broccoli, arugula, caraway, carrot, red beet and chard.
“Everything is edible, all you have to do is take a pair of scissors and cut them and you can use them as a single garnish or sprinkle onto your soups or really whatever you’re making,” Hegnauer said.
“I really like the idea of being able to promote it because it’s fresh, it’s local, it’s nutritious and Wendy (Manahan) and I knew each other when she was selling us mushrooms at The Banff Centre and we kept in touch and I said, ‘Wendy we have to do something together,’ I talked with Urban Cultivator in promoting the unit and knew I was transitioning to a new life and now I’m kind of the local go-to person.”
“Wendy has organic vegetables and people come for that so the word of mouth, that’s the most important thing, and to get people to know about it. To be honest, a lot of people don’t know about microgreens.”
Along with the commercial-sized Urban Cultivator, Hegnauer also has a smaller residential unit running at Mountain Lady’s Green House.
“It’s also self contained and it can fit into the space of a dishwasher and then you can plant it and add water and that’s all you need,” Hegnauer said. “The cultivator system waters the microgreens from the bottom and they’re all timed to water – once a day, twice a day whatever you wish.”
Hegnauer recommends newcomers to microgreens start with a hardy option such as radish, arugula, cress or mustard.