Choosing Chard

The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about chard in the fourth century B.C. The ancient Greeks, and later the Romans, used chard for its medicinal properties. It was prized by Mediterranean cooks for flavoring soups and rice dishes. It became a popular vegetable in Sicily and in Provence, especially in Nice. It was grown abundantly around the Rhône valley because it can withstand cold weather, and is harvested up until the frost. Chard began to be grown in England and America in the 1830s. Gideon Smith of Baltimore announced receiving seeds from Europe in a letter dated Oct. 30, 1829, and later reported plantings, published in The American Farmer. Horticulturist Robert Buist promoted chard in the Philadelphia area prior to the Civil War. As late as the 1850s, chard remained a specialty plant, found only in the largest eastern markets. Broader cultivation came after the Civil War. Young plants were sometimes consumed raw as a salad. In the 19th century, chefs often separated the mid rib from the leaves and prepared it like asparagus. The leaves were dressed like spinach. Chard was enjoyed during mid-summer, when spinach and kale did not prosper.

Chard is scientifically known as Beta vulgaris cicla. It is a variety of the same species as beets and belongs to the same family of and belongs to the same family of Amaranthaceae-Chenopodiaceae as spinach, palak, epazote, lamb’s quarters, quinoa, purslane, tumbleweed, goosefoot, and amaranth. It shares a similar taste with a flavor that is bitter, pungent, and slightly salty.

Chard got its common name from another Mediterranean vegetable, cardoon, a celery-like plant with thick stalks that resemble those of chard. The French called them both “carde.” Although never grown much in Switzerland, these greens were called “Swiss Chard” to differentiate them from cardoons which were also called chard. Cardoons are no longer called chard, so the “Swiss” part is now redundant. In English, chard is also known as white beet, strawberry spinach, seakale beet, leaf beet, Sicilian beet, spinach beet, Chilean beet, Roman kale, and silverbeet. In Italian, the words bietole and biete are both used to refer interchangeably to chard and beet greens (Beta vulgaris Crassa). Technically, biete da costa is chard, so named because it originally thrived in the saline soil along the coasts, while biete da orta are beet greens, so named because they were always a cultivated vegetable garden plant. Costa also refers to the thick central stem ribs of the chard, usually used to make soups, and sometimes refers to the whole plant. The French blettes or bettes comes from the Latin blitum, deriving from the Greek, while the Spanish word for chard, acelgas, comes from the Arabic word al-silq, meaning chard.

Chard is a tall, leafy, green vegetable with a thick, crunchy stalk and fan-like green leaves. The leaves may either be smooth or curly, depending upon the variety, and feature lighter-colored ribs running throughout. The stalk, which can measure almost two feet in length, comes in a variety of colors including white, red, yellow, and orange. Sometimes different colored varieties are bunched together and labeled “rainbow chard.” Although chard is available throughout the year, its peak season runs from June through August when it is at its best and in the greatest abundance at your local supermarket. In the United States it planted by seed either in March, or May. Because the small root bulb is left in the ground when the leaves are cropped, chard refoliates, so repeated harvesting is possible throughout the six-month growing season.

Chard is an excellent source of bone-building vitamin K, manganese, and magnesium; antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E; heart-healthy potassium; and energy-producing iron. It is a very good source of bone-healthy copper and calcium; energy-producing riboflavin and vitamin B6; muscle-building protein, and heart-healthy fiber. In addition, chard is a good source of energy-producing phosphorus, thiamine, pantothenic acid, biotin, and niacin; immune-supportive zinc; and heart-healthy folate. The phytonutrients in chard are recognizable in its vibrant colors, including the rich, dark greens in its leaves and the rainbow of reds, purples, and yellows in its stalks and veins. Virtually all of these phytonutrients provide antioxidant benefits, anti-inflammatory benefits, or both.

Chard can help you:

  1. Regulate blood sugar: A flavonoid in chard, syringic acid, can inhibit alpha-glucosidase, an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugars. When this enzyme is inhibited, fewer carbohydrates are broken down and blood sugar is able to remain more steady, particularly following a meal. In addition to its syringic acid, chard contains a very good amount of fiber (over 3.5 grams per cooked cup) and a very good amount of protein (nearly 3.5 grams per cooked cup). Fiber and protein-rich foods are an excellent way to help stabilize blood sugar levels, because they help regulate the speed of digestion and keep food moving at the right pace through your digestive tract. Chard may also help pancreatic beta cells regenerate. Beta cells produce insulin, which regulates your blood sugar. Chard may also help protect your liver from damage from diabetes.
  2. Fight oxidative damage: Chard is an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene, and the mineral manganese, and a good source of the mineral zinc. It also contains at least three dozen phytonutrient antioxidants, including carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin; flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol; and epoxyxanthophylls. Many of these antioxidant phytonutrients provide chard with its colorful stems, stalks, and leaf veins. Like beets, chard contains betalains, including reddish-purple betacyanin pigments as well as yellowish betaxanthin pigments. The reddish-purple stems and leaf veins of chard contain at least 9 betacyanin pigments, including betanin, isobetanin, betanidin, and isobetanidin. The yellow stems and veins contain at least 19 betaxanthin pigments, including histamine, betaxanthin, alanine−betaxanthin, tyramine-betaxanthin, and 3-methoxytyramine—betaxanthin. Many of the betalain pigments in chard provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support. The detox support provided by betalains includes support of some especially important Phase 2 detox steps involving glutathione.
  3. Fight chronic inflammation: Many of the antioxidants in chard also act as anti-inflammatory agents, sometimes by altering the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes; other times, by preventing the production of pro-inflammatory messaging molecules. Because chronic inflammation coupled with excessive oxidative stress increases your risk of  obesity, atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and several forms of arthritis, chard may very likely help lower your risk of these health problems.
  4. Build strong bones: With its very good supply of calcium, its excellent supply of magnesium, and the vitamin K it provides in amounts six to eight times higher than the Daily Value (in just one boiled cup), chard provides excellent bone support.

Nutrients in 1 Cup of Cooked Chard

Nutrient

Amount

DV

vitamin K

572.77 mcg

716.0%

vitamin A

10717.00 IU

214.3%

vitamin C

31.50 mg

52.5%

magnesium

150.50 mg

37.6%

manganese

0.58 mg

29.0%

potassium

960.75 mg

27.4%

iron

3.96 mg

22.0%

vitamin E

3.31 mg

16.6%

fiber

3.67 g

14.7%

copper

0.29 mg

14.5%

choline

50.23 mg

11.8%

calcium

101.50 mg

10.2%

tryptophan

0.03 g

9.4%

vitamin B2

0.15 mg

8.8%

vitamin B6

0.15 mg

7.5%

protein

3.29 g

6.6%

phosphorus

57.75 mg

5.8%

vitamin B1

0.06 mg

4.0%

folate

15.75 mcg

3.9%

zinc

0.58 mg

3.9%

biotin

10.50 mcg

3.5%

vitamin B3

0.63 mg

3.1%

vitamin B5

0.29 mg

2.9%

Calories

35

1.8%

Choosing chard from a chilled display will help to ensure that it has a crunchier texture and sweeter taste. Look for leaves that are vivid green, with no browning, yellowing, wilting, or holes. The stalks should look crisp and be unblemished. Do not wash chard before storing, as water encourages spoilage. Place chard in a sealed container with as little air as possible. Place it in the refrigerator, where it will keep fresh for up to 5 days. If you have large batches of chard, you can blanch the leaves and then freeze them.

To prepare, rinse chard under cold running water. Do not soak chard, as this will result in the loss of water-soluble nutrients to the water. Remove any area of the leaves that may be brown, slimy, or have holes. Stack the leaves and slice into 1-inch slices until you reach the stems. Cut stems into 1/2-inch slices, discarding the bottom 1-inch portion.

To cook chard:

  • Steam chard in a steamer. Add thick ribs to the steamer a few minutes before the green parts of the leaves. The leaves will cook in 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Steam chard with thin ribs whole in the microwave with the water that remains on its leaves after washing. This should take 1 to 2 minutes. Microwaves vary in intensity, so be sure to check your chard frequently until you have determined how long it takes to cook in your microwave.
  • Saute chard over medium heat until it is tender. This should only take a few minutes. Chard can also be sauteed in a little olive oil with garlic.
  • If you have problems with oxalic acid, you can boil chard to free up acids and allow them to leach into the boiling water; this brings out a sweeter taste from the chard. Discard the boiling water after cooking; do not drink it or use it for stock because of its acid content. Use a large pot (3 quart) with lots of water and bring to a rapid boil. Add chard to the boiling water. If stems are more than 1-inch wide, cook them for 2 minutes before adding the leaves. If less than 1 inch in width you can boil the leaves and stems together for 3 minutes. Begin timing as soon as you place the chard in the pot if you are using 1 pound or less of chard. If you are cooking large quantities of chard bring the water back to a boil before beginning timing the 3 minutes. Do not cover the pot when cooking chard. Leaving the pot uncovered helps to release more of the acids with the rising steam.
  • Add chard to soups or casseroles.
  • Use chard in place of or in addition to spinach when preparing lasagna.
  • Toss penne pasta with lemon juice, garlic, and cooked chard.
  • Add cooked chard to scrambles and frittatas.
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