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The leaves of Malabar spinach are dark green, heart-shaped, and have a slightly glossy appearance. When most spinach varieties are turning bitter in the hot summer months, Malabar spinach is thriving. The leaves are thicker than spinach and have a mild taste of citrus and pepper. Younger leaves are tender in texture and flavor.
Malabar spinach is available year-round due to its tropical growing environment.
Malabar spinach, botanically known as Basella alba, is also well known as Ceylon spinach, Indian spinach and Basella. Malabar spinach is not technically spinach, nor is it botanically related to spinach, though it can be used as a substitute for spinach in dishes and salads. Malabar spinach is used most widely in the tropics of India and Asia where it is known as ‘huang ti cai’ in China, which translates into ‘Emperor’s vegetable’.
Malabar spinach is considered a succulent, meaning it stores water in its leaves, giving it good levels of mucilage. Mucilage is very detoxifying and soothing to the body while digesting and offers healing properties.
This spinach look-a-like can be substituted for the leafy green in many dishes and in salads. Cooked Malabar spinach doesn’t wilt as fast as common spinach and it tends to develop more of a spinach taste when cooked. This tropical leafy vegetable acts as a thickening agent in soups due to its mucilaginous (moist and sticky) qualities. It can be sautéed as a vegetable or eaten raw. Overcooked leaves can become slimy.
Juice from the leaves of Malabar spinach is used in Nepal as a treatment for inflammation of the nose and throat. Studies done by the National Institutes of Health have found that the total body stores of vitamin A in Bangladeshi men are increased when Malabar spinach is consumed on a daily basis.
The tropical leafy vine is a perennial in the tropics and is grown as an annual in cooler climates. It is extremely frost-sensitive. Native to Asia and Africa, it thrives in the heat and tends to grow best in temperatures over 90°F. In its dormant state during cooler temperatures it will still grow, but much slower. Malabar spinach is grown in Australia and in the Continental US as an annual; however, in Puerto Rico and Hawaii it grows as a perennial.
Recipes that include Malabar Spinach. One is easiest, three is harder.
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