Similar to spinach and beets with a flavor that is bitter, pungent and slightly salty, Swiss chard is truly one of the vegetable valedictorians with its exceptionally impressive list of health promoting nutrients. Although Swiss chard is available throughout the year, its season runs from June through August when it is at its best and in the greatest abundance at your local supermarket.
Swiss chard, along with kale, mustard greens and collard greens, is one of several leafy green vegetables often referred to as "greens". It is a tall leafy green vegetable with a thick, crunchy stalk that comes in white, red or yellow with wide fan-like green leaves. Chard belongs to the same family as beets and spinach and shares a similar taste profile: it has the bitterness of beet greens and the slightly salty flavor of spinach leaves. Both the leaves and stalk of chard are edible, although the stems vary in texture with the white ones being the most tender.
Chard is a tall leafy green vegetable commonly referred to as Swiss chard and scientifically known as Beta vulgaris. Chard has a thick, crunchy stalk to which fan-like wide green leaves are attached. 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, in the market, different colored varieties will be bunched together and labeled "rainbow chard."
Chard belongs to the same family as beets and spinach and shares a similar taste profile: it has the bitterness of beet greens and the slightly salty flavor of spinach leaves. Both the leaves and stalk of chard are edible, although the stems vary in texture with the white ones being the most tender.
Swiss chard isn't native to Switzerland, but the Swiss botanist Koch determined the scientific name of this plant in the 19th century and since then, its name has honored his homeland. The actual homeland of chard lies further south, in the Mediterranean region, and in fact, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle wrote about chard in the fourth century B.C. This is not surprising given the fact that the ancient Greeks, and later the Romans, honored chard for its medicinal properties. Chard got its common name from another Mediterranean vegetable, cardoon, a celery-like plant with thick stalks that resemble those of chard. The French got the two confused and called them both "carde."
Serving size: 100 grams
Both the leaves and the roots of Swiss chard have been the subject of fascinating health studies. The combination of traditional nutrients, phytonutrients (particularly anthocyans), plus fiber in this food seems particularly effective in preventing digestive tract cancers. Several research studies on chard focus specifically on colon cancer, where the incidence of precancerous lesions in animals has been found to be significantly reduced following dietary intake of Swiss chard extracts or fibers. Preliminary animal research also suggests that Swiss chard may confer a protective effect on the kidneys of those with diabetes through reducing serum urea and creatinine levels.
If vegetables got grades for traditional nutrients alone, Swiss chard would be one of the vegetable valedictorians. The vitamin and mineral profile of this leafy green vegetable contains enough "excellents" to ensure its place at the head of the vegetable Dean's List. Our rating system awards Swiss chard with excellent marks for its concentrations of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, vitamin E, and dietary fiber. Swiss chard also emerges as a very good or good source of copper, calcium, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, protein, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, folate, biotin, niacin and pantothenic acid.
How to Select and Store
Choose chard that is held in a chilled display as this will help to ensure that it has a crunchier texture and sweeter taste. Look for leaves that are vivid green in color and that do not display any browning or yellowing. The leaves should not be wilted nor should they have tiny holes. The stalks should look crisp and be unblemished.
To store, place unwashed chard in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. It will keep fresh for several days. If you have large batches of chard, you can blanch the leaves and then freeze them.
Tips for Preparing Swiss Chard:
Wash the chard well to remove any sand or soil that may be hidden in the leaves. One way to do this is to immerse pieces of cut chard in a bowl of cool water, swirling them around to remove any dirt and then quickly rinsing them with cool running water. Trim the bottom end of the stalk. If you find the stalks to be more fibrous than desired, make incisions near the base of the stalk and peel away the fibers, like you would do with celery.Do not cook chard in an aluminum pot since the oxalates contained in the chard will react with the metal and cause the pot to discolor. Since the stalks are thicker in texture, they will take longer to cook than the leaves, so their cooking should be started a few minutes earlier. Chard is one of the vegetables that we recommend quick boiling (as opposed to steaming or healthy sauté) since this helps to free the oxalic acids it contains and makes the chard less bitter and more sweet.