When it comes to cooking, sometimes it’s the small things that make the difference.
The people behind The Micro Empire - husband and wife team, David and Rachael Larson, both originally from New Zealand - know all about that.
Their Midlothian-based “premium microgreens” business, which was set up during lockdown, involves growing millions of plants.
The crop may be huge, but the produce is dinky. They don’t need acres of land, just some green energy.
“Our indoor vertical farm is based out of an annex on our property in rural Midlothian that is climate controlled and solar powered”, explains Rachael, 32.
They recently joined Edinburgh’s Farmers Market, where they have a Saturday stall from 9am-2pm, selling their Lilliputian micro salad leaves. This runs alongside the online and wholesale delivery side of their business. It’s a long way from their backgrounds in IT.
“We have both always loved fine dining and gourmet cooking. We had been looking to go into business together and were keen to grow something from scratch and create something that was local”, says Rachael. “ We did a lot of research into growing techniques and equipment requirements before slowly starting out. We both had small business experience from previous roles so that made the set up a little easier”.
They supply the capital’s restaurants, but also home gourmands, many of whom have refined their skills over lockdown.
They can choose from red Aztec amaranth, micro kale, micro cabbage, micro broccoli, nasturtium leaves, micro lemon balm and other tiny shoots, all of them baby versions of the full sized plants and grown from seeds that have been sourced in the UK. The micro leeks have a “mild onion taste with a hint of cucumber” and work best with grilled cheese, while they say that micro kale has 40 times the nutrients of adult kale, and micro red cabbage is rich in vitamin C and amino acids.
They also offer edible seasonal flowers, for those who want to make their dishes more Instagram worthy.
However their most familiar and most popular product is probably pea shoots, with their feathery and curly tendrils and peppery flavour.
“They’re our most popular item for home cooks”, says Rachael. “ They are a wonderful alternative to spinach and can be added to popular brunch options like eggs Benedict or used in salads or a stir fry”.
As well as nasturtiums and micro leeks, restaurants are most interested in The Micro Empire’s hardest and slowest plant to grow - the “temperamental” red-veined sorrel. According to Rachael, this is “popular with chefs and gourmet cooks for its distinctive appearance and tangy citrus taste”.
For the biggest flavour punch, Rachael recommends that amateurs start with micro coriander, as it works with curries, Mexican dishes or soups.
To meet demand for these tiny sprigs, they’re hoping to expand their empire.
“The lockdown has meant that we’ve had a little more time on our hands to streamline our processes. That means that as restaurants do re-open this month, we can meet the increased demand”, says Rachael. “Expansion is the number one thing for us currently. We would like to grow our space soon and also our team”.
From small seeds.