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From food fashion to global nutrition security

What started off de-cades ago as a food fashion has developed into a potential way to provide global nut-

rition security, according to academics.

Tiny microgreens, popular am-ong discerning consumers for their nutritional profile and high antioxidant content, could have a big part to play in the future, it is claimed.

As part of a project titled “Food Resilience in the Face of Catastrophic Global Events,” an international team of researchers has found that these vegetables can be grown in a variety of soil-less production systems in small spaces indoors, with or without artificial lighting.

The findings are especially relevant amid a pandemic that has disrupted food supply chains.

With microgreens people can produce fresh and nutritious vegetables even in areas that are considered food deserts, according to team leader Fran-

cesco Di Gioia, assistant professor of vegetable crop science, College of Agricultural Sciences at University of Penns-ylvania in America.

“The current Covid-19 pandemic revealed the vulnerability of our food system and the need to address malnutrition issues and nutrition-security inequality, which could be exacerbated by potential future emergencies or catastrophes,” he said.

“Nutrient-dense microgreens have great potential as an efficient food-resilience resource.”

Microgreens’ nutritional profile is associated with the rich variety of colours, shapes, textural properties and flavours obtained from sprouting a multitude of edible vegetable species, including herbs, herbaceous crops and wild edible species.

With a short growth cycle requiring only minimal inputs of fertiliser, microgreens have great potential to provide essential nutrients and antioxidants, Prof Di Gioia noted.

Using simple agronomic tech-niques, it is possible to produce micro-vegetables that could add-

ress specific dietary needs or micro-nutrient deficiencies, as

well as nutrition-security issues in emergency situations or in challenging environmental con-ditions.

Consumers could produce microgreens at home using simple tools available in a kitchen, the professor pointed out.

A grower also would need seeds, growing trays and a growth medium — which could consist of a common peat or peat and perlite growth mix.

Given all the characteristics of microgreens, scientists at NASA and the European Space Agency also have proposed them as a source of fresh food and essential nutrients for astronauts engaged in long-term space missions.

And because microgreens may be used as functional food to enhance nutrition security under current conditions and during future emergencies or catastrophes, Prof Di Gioia suggested that microgreen pro-duction kits, including seeds, could be prepared and stored, then made available when needed.

“Under such circumstances, a variety of fresh and nutrient-rich microgreens could be grown providing a source of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants in a relatively short time,” he said.

“Or alternatively, kits could be distributed to vulnerable segments of the population as a short-term nutrition-security resource.”

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