These Malaysians are growing vegetables on shoe racks and other small spaces

Hoo just has to walk to his living room or kitchen to get a fresh supply of vegetables. Photos: Rannie Hoo

When the government announced the implementation of a second movement control order (MCO) in five states and three federal territories on Monday, many people went out to stock up on food items like meats and vegetables.

But marketing executive Rannie Hoo Yong Kian, 30, didn’t have to worry about getting enough supply of leafy greens.

Whenever Hoo needs some vegetables, he merely has to walk to his living room or kitchen to harvest some microgreens, which include his favourites like sunflower shoots, pea shoots, radish and pak choy.

Microgreens pack a punch when it comes to nutritional values. Photo: prostooleh/Freepik

Some seedlings in a few plastic boxes have just begun to sprout. Other containers, arranged on a shoe rack in the kitchen, have fully grown crops.

“My little vegetables grow well in these places because my home gets lots of sunlight. It takes between a week and 14 days to harvest microgreens. These greens are about one to three inches (2.5-7.6cm) in height.

“Because I plant vegetables at home, there isn’t a real urgency to go out shopping for greens often. This is especially important as the government works hard to flatten the curve of Covid-19 cases in our country, ” said Hoo who lives in Puchong, Selangor.

He is among many Malaysians who are moving towards a healthier lifestyle by consuming nutritious food high in protein and fibre. Hoo has increased his intake of greens, and especially likes salads loaded with microgreens.

“Even though microgreens are minute in size, they pack a punch in taste. Some are nutty and spicy, while other varieties are sweet and mildly earthy. Basil microgreens have a lemony flavour while sunflower microgreens release a nutty and sweet taste.

“They make excellent additions to my daily meals. I can either stir-fry them or add them in salads, ” explained Hoo, who consumes microgreens four to five times a week.

Microgreens pack a punch when it comes to nutritional values. Photo: prostooleh/Freepik

Microgreens are miniature versions of vegetables. They are mainly the leaves and stems of growing vegetables or herb plants. Also known as vegetable confetti, microgreens have been gaining popularity among chefs and home cooks because they are flavourful, nutritious and easy to cultivate.


Microgreen cultivation is also a popular trend on Instagram, with avid home gardeners happily sharing tips, videos and the latest photos of their thriving greens. On Facebook, it’s easy to find people posting microgreen recipe ideas and step-by-step videos on how to grow them at home.


The tiny edible plants have also caught celebrities’ attention – supermodel Elle Macpherson, 55, reportedly said micro sprouts were her latest obsession while TV host and producer Oprah Winfrey shared a simple microgreen salad on her Instagram page.

Edible aesthetics


Hoo’s interest in planting microgreens at home began last March during the first MCO. Like many people, he had to work from home during the pandemic.

Some of the microgreens that Hoo cultivates on his shoe rack.

“Since I had some extra time on my hands, I was inspired to grow veggies. I chose to plant microgreens because they are high in nutrients. It is important to maintain a balanced diet to strengthen our immune system, which is vital during the pandemic, ” said Hoo, who works for a pharmaceutical company in Kuala Lumpur.


The Johor-born bachelor then began reading about microgreens and surfed the Internet for ideas on how to plant them in a limited space.


“The Internet is a wonderful source of information. With a few clicks of the mouse, I came across various articles on the benefits of microgreens.


"There are also many tutorials on how to plant microgreens on social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, ” said Hoo, who purchases seedlings and growing tray containers from plant nurseries and e-shopping platforms.


Most often, microgreens are eaten raw as an entire plant (root, seed and shoot). To avoid contamination issues, Hoo explained that the microgreens should be in a place with adequate ventilation.


“Ensure the growing medium isn’t too soggy and not overcrowded. Alternatively, you may spray diluted hydrogen peroxide daily to prevent mould from growing. Hydrogen peroxide is eco-friendly and can be found at any local pharmacy, ” advised Hoo.


In the last 12 months, Hoo has cultivated over 10 types of microgreens. Another plus point of the plants, he says, is they have added a burst of colour and beauty to his home.


“They grow well in little decorative pots and glass jars. They are portable and can brighten up any part of the home, be it the living room, kitchen, porch or balcony.”

Packing a punch


While microgreens have become a current trend, these humble plants have been around for decades. As early as the 1980s, microgreens were on restaurant menus in San Francisco, the United States, in wraps and sandwiches, and used as a garnish on pizzas, soups and omelettes.


Chai uses various microgreens to add more flavour and zest to her dishes. Photo: Isadora Chai

Malaysian chef Isadora Chai says chefs love micro herbs as a garnishing component.


“At our restaurant, we have select varieties grown and tailored to our requirements, which vary according to our evolving menus, ” said Chai, who helms the French fine-dining restaurant Bistro à Table.


She uses various microgreens to add more flavour and zest to dishes.


“For garnishing, we use red amaranth and mizuna. Baby basil and baby coriander are also used instead of their adult varieties.


“In our salads, we add baby mache, red Russian kale and curly green kale. Komatsuna is quite pungent and intense, and we use it as a wasabi or horseradish substitute.”

Microgreens also saw a boost in popularity about a decade ago, when researchers discovered their high nutritional content. Some studies have found that microgreens contain four to six times higher amounts of vitamins and antioxidants than their adult versions.


Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia senior lecturer and nutritionist Dr Wong Jyh Eiin said microgreens are rich in vitamins C, E, beta–carotenes and a host of minerals. They are also rich in health-promoting phytonutrients such as phenolic antioxidants, anthocyanins, glucosinolates and carotenoids.


“Microgreens are getting popular because these young vegetables are nutrient-dense and some may contain higher nutrient concentrations than their mature counterparts. In addition, microgreens are easy to grow and can be farmed at home or within a limited time, space and resources, ” she said.


The Nutrition Society of Malaysia’s assistant honorary secretary added that microgreens are considered a form of vegetable, and they can add delicate flavours, textures and nutrients to a healthy diet.


“In general, we should aim to consume at least three servings of vegetables a day. However, there is no specific recommendation on the amount of microgreens that a person should eat, ” said Dr Wong.

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