Monday, October 22, 2012


It is universally accepted that eating vegetables in recommended quantities regularly can ensure good health as most of them are rich in many nutrients as well dietary fiber. However with meat products predominating the diet of people in many affluent countries vegetable consumption has fallen dramatically during the last 4-5 decades endangering the health of the population giving rise to a number diseases which can reduce the quality of life and some being fatal. Kids are generally averse to eating vegetables, the main reason being the typical smell and flavor associated with each vegetable. Once the eating habits are established during early stages of life, it becomes impossible to change them unless late realization dawns on them regarding the crucial role vegetables play in longevity and trouble free old age living. Probably the enormous promotion of sugar and fat rich foods during younger days make the kids addicts to these instant pleasure providing foods, leaving no space for scientifically established nutritious items like fruits and vegetables.

What is astonishing is the craze for sprouts in the diet under the impression they are the ultimate sources of good nutrition! There was a time when sprouts were an indispensable part of high quality food preparations whether in the family dining room or in public eating places. Of course sprouts can be as nutritious as the seeds used for producing the sprouts but to infer that they are superior to the seeds may be some what far fetched. After all the basic reservoir of nutrients present in a seed is utilized for germination and there has to be some depletion of carbohydrates, proteins and fat present in the seed for the germination process. If one claims that sprouts are more easily digested, it may be true. A normal human being has all the paraphernalia within the body system to assimilate any edible material without depending on the enzymes present in the seed. Some reports indicate that during germination there is significant increase in some vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, alpha carotene, tocopherol etc but such increased vitamins can be obtained even by mere soaking the seeds for a few hours in water. Another advantage claimed for sprouting is that due to chelation many minerals become more bio-available while nutrition inhibitors like phytins are reduced.

Miniaturization of fruits and vegetables through biotechnological means has been going on in many countries and Baby corn is an excellent example. Bonsai system of gardening is a well established way of making the plant a dwarf through "training", requiring enormous patience. The purpose of Bonsai is to enjoy the pleasure of growing large plants without actually allowing them to grow naturally without any restriction. Thus there is this human tendency to see many things appearing big in nature as mini versions while there are also enthusiasts who enjoy jumbo sized versions of natural plant crops. Also to be borne in mind is the general perception that good quality, especially in vegetables, is linked to their tenderness. Tea leaves are plucked when the "two leaves and the bud" appear because maximum flavor is provided at this stage. Same is true with almost all vegetables, be it Okhra, Beans, Squash, Spinach, Knol Kol or Drumstick. Over mature vegetables invariably are more fibrous and less tastier. For farmers it is a dilemma as to when their produce needs to be harvested to be acceptable without allowing them to grow further to get a higher yield.

While sprouting is fairly popular with many consumers, a new trend is emerging where seeds after germination are allowed to grow further for a week or two till they become 1-2 inches tall with first flush of leaves and harvesting the same for use in food preparations. Decreasing popularity of sprouts lately is attributed to frequent food poisoning episodes caused by contamination with Salmonella and E.coli 0157:H7, deadly pathogens with high mortality potential. Last year there were at least a dozen recalls in the US and more than 50 people were reported to have perished due to such contamination cases. Seed, root and undeveloped leaves form the sprout and contamination mostly comes from poor quality of soaking water and unsatisfactory hygienic conditions prevailing in germination chambers. Many reputed restaurants world over have removed sprouts from their menu because of the potential threat from pathogenic contamination. Compared to sprouts which are produced in moisture medium, 7-14 days old baby plants are grown by regular planting of seeds in specially prepared beds or containers and boxes or indoors. Harvesting is done by sniping the stem at a point just above the soil which avoids carrying any contaminants into the final product. Called Microgreens, this new version of popular vegetables and herbs are becoming increasingly popular as it is perceived that they are more tasty, flavorful and have better textural characteristics loved by most consumers. Most popular Microgreens being marketed are raised from Mustard, Kale, Endive, Arugula, Beet greens, Spinach, Basil, Celery, Cress, Dill and Fennel.

The advantages of these tiny leaves present in Microgreens, less than 14 days old, can be many. According to food connoisseurs they make excellent garnishes to salads, sandwiches and soups and whether they're spinach, pea, beet or purple mustard, microgreens are supposed to pack even more nutrients that their adult versions. According to USDA scientists who have conducted the first scientific analysis of nutrients in 25 different Microgreens, especially with regard to vitamins and other phytochemicals, there is some substance in the claim that they are rich in many vitamins. The contents of vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene in the leaves of Microgreenst leaves were almost four to six times more compared to the mature leaves of the same plant. Wide variations were observed in nutrition levels and a vegetable like red cabbage was highest in vitamin C while the green daikon radish microgreens had the most vitamin E. This is an emerging area where further studies are needed to confirm many claims of superior nutrition for Microgreens. Interestingly most consumers rate the Microgreens for their special eating quality, nutrition taking a back seat in their calculations.


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