Archive for August, 2009

Dazzle Diners with Edible Flowers

August 17, 2009

Vista Valley Country Club, Garlic FlowerFresh Origins grows a diverse variety of edible flowers. With their vibrant colors, textures, scents and flavors, these dazzling beauties are gaining in popularity as a highly creative culinary ingredient. Used in anything from salads, and soups, to main entrees and desserts, these splashes of color are truly breathtaking!

Although we often don’t think about it, eating an edible flower is not all that uncommon. Some of our favorite vegetable dishes are actually edible flowers; broccoli for example is a huge cluster of flower buds. The artichoke is a large individual unopened edible flower. Capers and cauliflower are other examples. The very expensive spice, saffron is the pollen collected from the inside of a crocus flower. Fennel pollen is a very unique flavoring ingredient, and fried squash blossoms are a tasty but often overlooked part of a common vegetable plant.

Herb flowers present another important way to enjoy edible flowers. Arugula blossoms have a strong nutty flavor, while basil blossoms are richly aromatic. Despite their small size, most herb flowers have a concentrated range of flavors. Lavender flowers are not only beautiful with their delicate color and long straight stems, they impart great aromas and a distinctive taste. Edible flowers of herb plants generally have a more intense flavor compared to the leaves and provide an additional dimension of visual enhancement.

Fresh Origins offers many varieties of edible flowers such as pansy, batchelor’s buttons, calendula, marigold, chrysanthemum, snapdragon, carnation, dahlia, nasturtium, viola, and others. The availability of these edible flowers can depend upon the season and weather conditions.

In addition to the more common edible flower varieties, Fresh Origins has developed and introduced several new types. Our MicroFlowersTM are a line of the tiniest edible flowers. These little gems are perfect for fine pastries and other delicate dessert presentations. They can be scattered over just about any type of food and can also be used in cocktails.

Another innovation from Fresh Origins is the FireStixTM. This exciting and versatile edible flower is actually an amaranth blossom. FireStixTM is a vibrant and unique edible flower that is both eye catching and durable. It can add height and flair to a diverse range of culinary presentations. Our SparklersTMare a related variety having the exotic and unusual appearance of sea coral.

Edible flowers can be used in teas, mixed drinks, added to cheeses and butters, pancakes, vinegars and dressings. They can be a simple yet effective focal point on a plate. Edible flowers are often utilized in cake decorating, or simply as a beautiful addition to salads.

Fresh Origins is pleased to be major producer of edible flowers and continues to introduce exciting varieties of edible flowers to its lineup.

Please contact us for more information.


Microgreens versus Sprouts

August 14, 2009

Microgreens are not the same as sprouts. Some articles about microgreens characterize them as being very much the same as sprouts. There are several important differences. Understanding the different production methods of each can help clear up any confusion between them.

Sprouts are simply germinated seeds. What is eaten consists of the seed, root, stem and pale, underdeveloped leaves. The FDA seeks to regulate all businesses that produce sprouts due to numerous outbreaks of food poisoning (11 recalls/alerts in the past year alone). Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 have been the major causes of sprout-associated illness outbreaks. Commercial sprout processors must follow rigorous FDA Guidelines for production that include multiple laboratory tests of each batch for the presence of pathogenic bacteria, to minimize the threat of food borne illness.

Retail package of sprouts with FDA Warning on container

Soaking seeds in water Sprouting begins Sprouting completed Sprouts ready to use

Sprouts are produced entirely in water. The seed is not actually planted. A high density of seed is placed inside of sprouting equipment or enclosed containers. The seed germinates rapidly due to the high moisture and humidity levels maintained in the enclosures. Seeds can also be sprouted in cloth bags that are repeatedly soaked in water. The sprouting process occurs in dark or very low light conditions. These dark, wet, crowded conditions are ideal for the rapid proliferation of dangerous pathogenic bacteria.

After one day of soaking and a few days of rinsing only in water (2-6 or more times per day to prevent spoilage), the sprouted seeds are ready for consumption. This is long before the expansion of any leaves. These sprouted seeds are generally sold as a tangled mass of very pale roots, stems and leaf buds. Microgreens cannot be grown using these methods.

Microgreens are not grown in water. The seeds are planted and grown in soil or a soil substitute such as peat moss, or other fibrous materials. They are generally grown in high light conditions with low humidity and good air circulation. The seed density is a fraction of what is used in sprout processing so each individual plant has space in which to grow and develop. Most varieties require 1-2 weeks growing time, some 4-6 weeks. After the leaves are fully expanded the microgreens are ready for harvest. They are cut above the soil surface and packed without any roots. Some micro greens are sold while still growing so that they can be cut by the end user.

If the stem is cut leaving root left behind, and it is not produced in water, it is a microgreen, not a sprout. Microgreens that are grown in the brightest light with plenty of space and good ventilation have increased vigor resulting in more color and flavor.

The conditions that are ideal for growing microgreens do not encourage the growth of dangerous pathogens. These growing methods would not work for the production of sprouts.

Various Microgreens ready for harvest

To minimize confusion, it is important to avoid using words like “spouting” or “sprouts” when writing about or describing microgreens. FDA inspectors do not always understand the differences, potentially putting a microgreen grower in the position of explaining them or being shut down. There could be confusion if the grower has described microgreens as being in any way similar to sprouts. The FDA will consider enforcement actions against any party growing sprouts commercially, who does not have effective preventive controls in place, involving extensive microbial testing and FDA oversight.

Microgreens have much stronger, more developed flavors than sprouts making them an ideal garnish with a broad range of leaf shapes, textures and colors.

General Specifications of a Microgreen
A microgreen consists of a central stem having two fully developed cotyledon leaves, and usually one pair of the plant’s true leaves. Differences in the size and leaf configuration are based upon the specific plant variety. For example, Micro Borage is a very large microgreen. At 1″ in height, it has a pair of very large cotyledon leaves and no true leaves. By comparison, Micro Mint has extremely tiny cotyledon leaves and will have 3-4 sets of true leaves at about 1″ in height. More typical in size and leaf configuration for micro greens is Micro Basil at about 1-1 1/2″ in height, having the cotyledon leaves and one set of small true leaves.

Varieties of Microgreens
The seeds used to grow microgreens are the same seeds that are used for full sized herbs, vegetables and greens. *Microgreens are simply seedlings that are harvested before they develop into larger plants.

Commonly grown varieties of microgreens include: Amaranth, Arugula, Beets, Basil, Cabbage, Celery, Chard, Chervil, Cilantro, Cress, Fennel, Kale, Mustard, Parsley, Radish, and Sorrel.

Several varieties can be mixed together after harvest to create a mixture of tastes, textures and colors.

*Microgreens have also been called micro vegetables, however this term more accurately describes very small bite-sized root vegetables such as carrots, onions and radishes.

What is a MicroGreen?

August 13, 2009
Micro Carrot-  Chef Timothy Ralphs- Top of the Cove, La Joll

Micro Carrot- Chef Timothy Ralphs- Top of the Cove, La Jolla

Microgreens (micro greens) are a tiny form of edible greens produced from the seeds of vegetables, herbs or other plants. They range in size from one to two inches long, including the stem and leaves. Microgreens can have surprisingly intense flavors considering their small size, though not as strong as mature greens and herbs.

Microgreens are used as a garnish and flavor accent primarily in fine dining restaurants. These restaurants place a strong emphasis on both the creative presentation and flavor of their dishes. Microgreens’ delicate, fresh appearance adds beauty and dimension combined with a range of distinct flavor elements.

Dubbed one of 2008’s culinary buzzwords by National Public Radio, microgreens are a popular food trend. Used by chefs to stimulate and enhance the dining experience, microgreens infuse taste and innovation to their culinary creations.

The National Restaurant Association released its list of top food and beverage trends for 2009. The list, comprised of survey results from over 1600 chefs, shows microgreens at number 5 in the produce category.

Microgreens have been produced in the United States since about the mid 1990’s beginning in Southern California. Initially, there were very few varieties offered. The basic types; Arugula, Basil, Beets, Kale, Cilantro and a mixture called Rainbow Mix. They are now being grown in most areas of the country with an increasing number of varieties being produced.

A form of microgreens sold in a specialized growing medium; cellulose (paper) pulp has been produced in Europe since about 2002.