Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What is Chinese Spinach?

Chinese spinach is not what we consider true spinach but is actually known as an amaranth; that is, plants that come from the genus amaranthus. Although several species in this group are considered weeds, others are used as high-protein grains, leafy vegetables or valued as ornamentals. It is an ancient crop originating in the Americas, with inflorescences and foliage ranging from purple and red to gold.

The amaranth that is known as Chinese spinach is grown for its tender leaves. Depending on the variety, this plant can vary in foliage color, leaf shape, plant height and flavor. The plants grow well in hot weather, preferring a sunny location with plenty of moisture.  Don’t worry about planting too densely; once the seedlings are up and growing, the young plants can be thinned to six inches apart. The plants that have been thinned are edible! When established, the growing tips can be pinch to force the plant to branch and make more new, tender growth.  The tender young leaves and stems are cooked like spinach or used for stir-fry and soup. They are quite high in protein. Chinese Spinach is also known as Calaloo, Hon-toi-moi, Tampala, or hin choy. 

Chinese spinach seeds can be ordered from various seed companies.  When buying the seed from a catalog, look for entries under Amaranthus and make sure "edible for greens" is stated.  As mentioned above, some varieties of amaranthus are grown for grain while others for the leafy greens.