Will a new type of product receive micrograin light?

Sarah Johnson with a microgreen tray. Credit: Colorado State University

Microgreens. These are leafy green vegetables that are relatively new to the dining room, but research by the University of Colorado team shows that they will welcome the company at the table.

“You've probably heard about sprouts and baby greens,” says lead researcher and registered nutritionist Sarah Ardanuy Johnson, associate professor and director of the Laboratory for Functional Food and Human Health at the CSU Department of Food Science and Nutrition. "It's somewhere in the middle."

Microgreen is the young and tender leafy greens of most vegetables, grains, herbs and flowers that are harvested when their first leaves appear. Their rapid maturity in a few weeks and their proximity to controlled agriculture (also known as household) means that they use very little water and can be quickly collected. This makes them a model of sustainability: they can be grown indoors, year-round, in cities and rural settlements, in greenhouses, warehouses, vertical farms, and even in homes.

“I came across microgreens and had never heard of them before,” said Johnson, who first studied environmental sciences and ecology as a student before she realized that her true academic passion was in nutrition and Science of Food, “The need for our food to be more sustainable is greater than ever. I like the idea that they can be grown in urban environments, indoors in cities and towns. "We can no longer just grow everything in the soil outside, and we need to conserve those natural resources that we still have."

Nutritional benefits

Johnson described them as leafy greens, which strikes. They carry fewer food safety concerns than sprouts, because they are grown in an environment with less moisture, and, unlike sprouts, microgreen roots are removed during harvesting. In nutritional terms, they have been shown to have higher concentrations of phytochemicals and nutrients such as beta-carotene (which can be converted to vitamin A) than mature plants.

"Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness worldwide," Johnson said, explaining that microgreen can be a key source of food to prevent nutritional deficiencies and promote global health and environmental sustainability. “This potential is pretty cool.”

But she and her fellow researchers wanted to find out whether microgreens are acceptable to consumers, and possible factors of how much consumers love or dislike them. They sought to understand whether the appearance, taste, and other factors of microgreen are attractive additions to people's plates. Answer? Signs indicate that more and more people are showing a micro green taste.

The results of the study were published in March in Journal of Food ScienceJohnson's team interviewed 99 people about their reactions to six different types of microgreen: arugula, broccoli, bull beets, red cabbage, red pomegranate amaranth and pea vinegar. Micrograins were grown at the CSU Horticulture Center. Participants who did not know in advance that they would try to answer various questions about things such as taste, aroma, texture and appearance.

Beyond the side dish: will a new type of product receive micrograin light?

Images of microgreen species evaluated in the consumer acceptance and perception test: arugula (A), broccoli (B), bull beet (C), red cabbage (D), red pomegranate amaranth (E) and mustache peas (F). Credit: Colorado State University


“Some people call them“ vegetable confetti ”or“ funfetti ”because they are small, colorful and fragrant,” Johnson said, adding that they have historically been used as a side dish or side dish in restaurants.

Reds – beets, cabbage and amaranth – received the highest marks for appearance, but broccoli, Red cabbageand tendril peas received the highest ratings overall. Arugula was rated the lowest on average, probably because of its pungent and bitter taste, although many people liked the taste. Overall, microgreens, which were highly rated for appearance, taste, and texture, also received lower ratings for factors such as astringency, bitterness, heat, and sourness. Food neophobia or the fear of trying new foods has also proven to be an important factor in consumer satisfaction.

“But they all liked them well enough, so people said they would consume and buy them,” Johnson said. “I feel that they should be used more as vegetables, and not just as a side dish. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to do this research. ”

Growing demand

In fact, this was one of her key goals when launching the study: can the attractiveness of microgreen lead to greater popularity, greater demand, increased production and an increase in the number of grocery stores carrying them? Such products can be expensive due to layout and packaging.

“But people's thinking is changing,” Johnson said. “People don’t want to buy what will end up in a landfill. They are looking for something that could benefit their health and the environment. ”

Participants said the factors they would consider when purchasing a microgreen include familiarity and knowledge, cost, access / availability and freshness / shelf life.

For a research project, Johnson teamed up with Stephen Newman, a professor and horticulture specialist at the CSU Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. Johnson found him online in his quest to find an employee with experience in greenhouse crops; Newman provided leafy greens grown at the Horticulture Center in campus canteens. The Newman team grew the microgreens used in the study, with the help of the Johnson team, in a classic example of the type of interdisciplinary study that grows in the CSU.

“It was a fun project with fruitful results,” Newman said. “That is how transdisciplinary research should work.”

Beyond the side dish: will a new type of product receive micrograin light?

Credit: Colorado State University

Other partners

Research co-author Marisa Bunning, a professor of food science and a food safety specialist, has become a fan of microgreens and now grows them at home. Laura Bellows, an associate professor with experience in public health and health behavior, has helped evaluate consumer acceptance factors, such as food neophobia.

Other members of Johnson's team included Hanan Isvayri, a former Dr. Newman; first author Kiri Michell, one of Johnson's graduate students; graduate student Michelle Dings; undergraduate Lauren Grabos; Associate Professors Michelle Foster and Tiffany Weir of the Department of Food Sciences and Human Nutrition; Associate Professors Adam Heuberger and Mark Uchanski, Associate Professor Jessica Prenny and Professor Henry Thompson from the Department of Gardening and Landscape Architecture; and associate professor Sangita Rao of the Department of Clinical Sciences.

Experts say that by 2050 more than 10 billion people will be fed in the world, which makes it more important than ever to think about ways to produce and grow nutritious food, as well as sustainable diversification of food supplies.

"Small but powerful"

“It was very exciting, interdisciplinary research“And I'm glad I was able to participate and help lead him,” Mitchell said. “I look forward to further research on these small but powerful green plants and their role in our food supply and human health.”

“I don’t know that we could conduct an in-depth multidisciplinary study without the painstaking work and leadership of Kiri,” Johnson said. "But it was really a team effort."

Mitchell noted that in the dining room Foundry on the CSU campus, microgreen was used in some dishes and there is even a viewing window where students can see how they grow.

Great cooperation is aimed at promoting research in the field of microgreens, as well as expanding knowledge about microgreens and their integration into global food system. The group is conducting additional studies, such as studying the feasibility, tolerability and potential health effects of daily consumption of microgreen at a higher dose (two cups per day, which is a typical serving size for green leafy vegetables) and comparing the nutritional value of microgreen with the price of their more mature counterparts.

Researchers hope to extend the shelf life of nutritious vegetables

Additional Information:
Kiri A. Michell et al. Microgreens: consumer sensory perception and adoption of an emerging functional food culture, Journal of Food Science (2020). DOI: 10.1111 / 1750-3841.15075

Beyond the side dish: will a new type of product receive micrograin light? (2020, April 1)
retrieved April 2, 2020
from https://phys.org/news/2020-04-garnish-microgreen.html

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