One of my favorite things about going out to dinner at a nice restaurant is the creativity that goes into plating the dish. I remember during college working at nice seafood restaurant and we garnished every plate with kale leaves. Parsley is another popular garnish of days past. Garnishes are no longer just for admiring. Flowers, sprouts, and microgreens are gracing dinner plates across North America.
Edible flowers are basically what they sound like – flowers that you can eat. They are usually pretty small and popular edible flowers include nasturtium, chamomile, chives, pansy, calendula, lavender, rose, and squash blossom (there are many more). Flavors range from bitter to sweet and somewhere in between. Before you decide to consume any flowers, its best to consult people in the know. We like to use a local resource at Colorado State University - http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07237.html.
The difference between sprouts and microgreens is basically that sprouts are eaten in entirety (i.e. root and all) whereas microgreens are grown in soil and cut close to the base but not pulled from their roots. Sprouts have gotten a bit of a bad rap in the last decade due to people getting sick eating sprouts that were contaminated with bacteria. Given the growing conditions of sprouts, bacteria is a real concern. Fewer problems have been associated with microgreens.
One of the awesome things about microgreens is that they pack a lot of nutrition into a tiny little package. These greens are harvested as babies – usually only about a few weeks old. Research has shown that when compared to mature leaves of the same plant, microgreens have higher nutritional densities, packing about four to six times the nutrients. This is true for antioxidant vitamins like vitamins C, E, and beta- carotene as well as other phytonutrients.
Although minor in size, microgreens provide major flavor, texture, and color. Use them as an edible garnish, in salads, on sandwiches or toss in smoothies. Experiment with growing your own. Many microgreens can be grown indoors year round. Start with the seed and consider any of the following: arugula, broccoli, cabbage, clover, radish, kale, mustard, spinach, peas, beet greens – get creative. There are many farms throughout Colorado that sell microgreens to the public. Check your local farmer's market or grocery store too and you're likely to find them gracing the produce section.