Swiss Chard, or simply chard, is a green leafy vegetable native to southern Europe. Particularly, in the sea coasts of Spain and Portugal. It is cultivated from the Cicla and Flavescens Group. The Cicla-group is the perpetual spinach leaf beet. Hence, the reason why it was also called “perpetual spinach” at times. In the Flavescens-group, the leaf stalks are bigger and they’re frequently prepared separately from the blade. The blade ranges from color green to red while the stalks are usually white, though some are red or yellow.
Nonetheless, the Swiss chard is closely related to beets. But, it’s much older than them – since ancient times. As a matter of fact, Aristotle mentioned a red-stalked chard around 350 BC. In 1848, it was listed among the beets. Thus, it provides a tamed-down mixture of the beetroot’s sweetness and earthiness, along with the bitter and vegetal taste of spinach. It can be eaten raw or cooked.
Binomial Name: Beta Vulgaris subsp. Vulgaris
Swiss Chard Trivia
- Although the Swiss chard is a type of beet, its roots are inedible.
- The word “Swiss” was later added to the name chard, in reference to Switzerland, where these chards are extensively cultivated.
- Swiss chard has been an inevitable part of the Mediterranean and Italian cuisines.
- Perhaps, Swiss chard is the king of nicknames. Besides chard and perpetual spinach, it’s also known as spinach beet, silverbeet, seakale beet, crab beet, white beet, strawberry spinach, mangold, bright lights, or Roman kale.
Swiss Chard Buying Guide
- When buying chards, it’s good to know that there are two main types of Swiss chard: red and green. The red ones have dark green leaves with red stalks while the green ones have light green leaves with white stalks. The multicolored ones are only a mix of its differently colored varieties. Nevertheless, the red chards are more flavorful and tender than the green ones.
- Choose the ones that have large crinkly leaves with celery-like stalks. The stalks should be strong enough to hold their crisp leaves high when you stand them vertically. Avoid leaves that are wilting.
- When you slice them, they should have a fresh and moist-looking cut.
- The leaves should be slightly glossy with even coloring. Avoid leaves that are starting to turn yellow or brown. Also, avoid the ones with black spots or holes.
- If possible, buy organic Swiss chards during their peak season. Organic Swiss chards might not be as perfectly shaped as the conventional or GMO ones, but they’re more tender, sweeter, and more nutritious. Not to mention that they’re kinder to the planet too.
- As always, Swiss chards from farmers’ markets are better than the ones in stores. Here, the products are usually organic and you might be able to taste them before you buy them.
Swiss Chard Production & Farming in Texas
Swiss chard is a biennial plant that prefers cool weather for optimal growth. It can tolerate frost but not a hard freeze. Thus in North Texas, it is best planted in the late winter or early spring, and once again in September. Start planting in rich and well-drained soil with a generous amount of compost and/or a well-balanced fertilizer. Swiss chards thrive best in full sun, but partial sun also works fine. These crops take 35-40 days from germination to harvest but younger and tender leaves can be harvested at any time. And when you harvest, do it in the morning when leaves are turgid or filled with water. Then, cut the plant at the base. Overall, just remember that high-fertility soil, adequate water, and cool temperatures are the keys to growing a successful Swiss chard.
Conventional or organically grown, fruits and vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet. However, many of these contain potentially harmful pesticides, even after thorough washing, peeling, or scrubbing. Thus, what we can only do is to be aware of which items are the most or least contaminated.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an American group that focuses on the advocacy of agricultural subsidies, pollutants, and toxic chemicals. They have created the Dirty Dozen List, which is being updated each year to rank fruits and vegetables that contain the highest pesticide contamination based on the samples tested by the USDA and FDA.
Fortunately, Swiss chard is not on the 2020 Dirty Dozen list. But, it’s not on the clean list as well. Generally speaking, leafy greens are susceptible to pests. That’s why they are often grown with high amounts of pesticides. And, it’s not something that can just be washed away with water. Even after a thorough cleaning, residues remain on the crop. Therefore, it would be better to buy organic Swiss chards to reduce your pesticide consumption.
Italy remains to be the leading producer of Swiss chard globally. In the United States, California dominates the production but Utah also features a well-suited soil. The fertile soil and climate of South Texas also suits the crop, but the red variety (Red Swiss Chard) is more prevalently grown than the green ones.
Retail Swiss chard usually comes in loose plastic bags. They are packaged by the bunch or bundle but they’re priced by the weight. But, if you’re planning to buy on wholesale, go to your nearest local producer, and you can get these chards in bushels, cartons, and even crates.
Enjoying Swiss Chards
Due to its strong leaves and crisp stalks, chards are best eaten cooked. But, you can also treat the leaves like kale and consume it raw. However, they won’t taste very good unless you treat them with oil and some acid like lemon juice. Chard leaves also make a great addition to green smoothies! And, if you’re wondering how to utilize those stalks, finely chop them and add them onto warm quiches or wilted salads.
Unlike the other leafy greens, Swiss chards are best stored unwashed. Otherwise, it will deteriorate easily. Thus, it is highly recommended that you wash the Swiss chards prior to usage or cooking. Still, they are best kept in a sealable container like ziplock bags. Yet, keep them loosely wrapped. You can also separate the stalks from the leaves. And, it’ll also help if you squeeze them to remove the air out. Place some paper towels in between the layers so that the extra moisture will be absorbed. Keep them in the refrigerator, with the vegetable drawer being the best spot, where they’ll last for 3-5 days, or you can freeze it if you want to prolong their shelf life for up to a year. Change the paper towels every now and then for fresher chards.
Meanwhile, if you are growing Swiss chards at home and you simply want to stock them in your freezer, thoroughly wash the chards first. Then, separate the stalks from the leaves. You may opt to chop them or leave them whole. Blanch the stalks and leaves separately in boiling water for 2 minutes and transfer them into an ice bath and shock for 1 minute. Drain and pat dry using paper towels. Loosely wrap them in a paper towel-lined ziplock bag and try to remove as much air as possible before putting it in the freezer.
Swiss chards are best eaten cooked. Thus, to ensure even cooking, it’d be best to separate the leaves from its stalks. Just like spinach leaves, chard leaves can hold themselves when cooked in dishes like casseroles, soups, stews, and gratins. They tend to soften a little bit when cooked, providing a milder flavor. Another popular method is to blanch it and use it in lieu of basil for pesto, spinach for ravioli, or cannelloni fillings.
- Carbohydrates: Swiss chard is naturally low in calories and carbohydrates, which comes mostly from the fiber. It is also low in glycemic load.
- Fiber: Swiss chard is a good source of fiber. One 175 g-cup of this provides about 4 grams of fiber, leading to 15% of the reference daily intake.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Swiss chard is loaded with vitamins and minerals. A cup of this vegetable provides three times the RDA of vitamin K, 44% RDA of vitamin A, and 18% RDA of vitamin C. It’s also a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin E, folate, as well as alpha and beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, lutein, and choline. However, it’s best not to add more salt in chards as it already contains 4.5% of RDA for sodium.
- Swiss chard promotes weight loss because of its high water and low sugar content. Thus, it is very low in calories and it’ll help you feel more satisfied and full after eating.
- Swiss chard belongs to the family of cruciferous vegetables, along with cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and others. Studies prove that consuming these kinds of vegetables offers the best cardiovascular health benefits. In addition, it also helps in reducing the risk of cancer.
- The high levels of vitamin K also promote better bone health, especially for postmenopausal women. Thus, it can prevent osteoporosis, while improving the absorption of calcium in our body.
- The high levels of vitamin C acts as an antioxidant. It helps in boosting immunity and repairing cells, which retards the human aging process.
- The high levels of vitamin A promotes healthy vision. It also helps in preventing cancer too.
- The minerals found in Swiss chard lowers the blood pressure by releasing sodium out of the body, helping in the dilation of arteries.
- The antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid in Swiss chard has been proven to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes for diabetic patients.
- The dietary nitrates in Swiss chard have been proven to improve athletic performance through muscle oxygenation.
When Are Swiss Chard in Season in Texas?
To find out when Swiss Chard are in season in Texas, please check the seasonal chart below. Why is this important? We are rarely encouraged to think about the physical lengths our food travels before arriving on the market shelves. And all of this travel comes with a hefty environmental cost that is concealed from the consumer’s eye. One of the most salient benefits to eating seasonally is that you are effectively reducing your carbon footprint and supporting a more geographically sustainable food economy. Check other fruit and veg that’s in season in Texas now.