You might be surprised to learn that the benefits of the crops that we grow is starting to generate rumours that these little plants are in fact superfoods. A key part of this is that these mini varieties naturally contain considerably higher levels of vitamins and carotenoids than their mature equivalents – 5 times more in fact. Baby leaf and microgreens alike are packed full with a high concentration of phytochemicals. So yeah, our crops might be small in size but they really do pack a big punch.
In Controlled Environment Agriculture, these little superfoods are supercharged full of extra goodness. Whether it’s baby leaf or microgreens, CEA technologies are consistently growing crops with higher nutritional composition. This is because LED lighting allows customization of the spectral composition to match plant photoreceptors and optimize production, plant morphology, and nutrient content [Morrow, 2008]. Scientific jargon aside, light quality affects many aspects of plant growth, morphology, colour, flavour and nutrition, all of which can be as carefully curated as an Aphex Twin drum pattern.
LED lighting allows customization of the spectral composition to match plant photoreceptors and optimize production, plant morphology, and nutrient content
Superfood: An Origin Story
Our growing story began with microgreens. In the words of scientists, microgreens are crops with a single central stem, harvested at the base of the hypocotyl, upon appearance of the first pair of true leaves and when the cotyledons are fully expanded and still turgid.
For the rest of us, microgreens are those small edible shoots grown from the seeds of various salad vegetables and leafy greens that we tend to get on our plates when we eat out. They can be harvested as early as 1 week after germination and are never usually left to grow longer than 3 weeks. They are small in size, ranging between 1 and 3 inches long, which explains why they were aptly dubbed to be ‘micro’ compared to their fully grown counterparts.
Despite growing in popularity throughout the 1990s, the rise of microgreens is less fondly remembered compared with bigger cultural movements such as Britpop. Nevertheless, while Oasis & Blur battled it out in the charts, microgreens were causing their own cultural waves in the kitchen. Despite their size, their colours, visual textures, aromas and flavours offered something new for chefs to play around with and what’s more they were found to be good for you too (though Bono has never publicly admitted to it).
Superfood to the rescue?
Globally speaking, over 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. In the UK alone, 3 million people suffer from this. A recent study on micronutrient deficiencies in the UK found that females and younger adults are particularly vulnerable to such shortfalls from food sources. The same year, Public Health England published a survey which further exposed the negative repercussions to peoples’ health as a result of poor dietary quality. By and large, the survey found that poor diets are one of the leading causes of disease such as cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Our tiny greens are a perfect food to improve diets and stave off diseases and ailments. For example, Brassica microgreens (rocket, broccoli, radish, cabbage, etc.) are great sources of potassium and calcium as well as iron and zinc. Some studies have even shown that the Brassica vegetables, in particular, contain compounds that may protect against cancer [Herr & Büchler, 2010]. Additionally, varieties of the mustard family (Brassicaceae) were found to be excellent sources of vitamin K, vitamin E, glucosinolates, polyphenols and vitamin C.
The future is green!
At Zero Carbon Farms we are taking a proactive approach in our crops’ nutritional composition and are eagerly exploring various LED solutions for the optimisation of our crops at our Clapham farm. By tailoring our lights and growing conditions of our crops we can hone in on the perfect conditions for growth to maximise flavour, quality, yields and reduce growing time while we’re at it. This isn’t just us saying that; We’ve already done it. Through a data-led, forensic approach we managed to halve the time it takes to grow coriander and boosted the yields while we were at it – Result! Driven by research partnerships with NTU and the expansion of our commercial output, our crops are being pushed to being as nutritious as they can be without needing to mutate them or add any chemicals within our growing process. With the cutting-edge technologies available CEA we are simply allowing our greens to achieve their full potential!