New Zealand Spinach
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New Zealand spinach is a bushy, fast-growing perennial with fuzzy, triangular leaves. Because of the succulent-like nature of the leaves, New Zealand spinach is occasionally referred to as ‘ice plant’. Its flavor is very similar to common spinach when young, but becomes bitter and acrid when fully mature.
New Zealand spinach is available during the late summer months.
New Zealand spinach, botanically known as Tetragonia tetragonioides, is not a relative of common spinach as the name may suggest. Instead, it is classified in a genus all its own, and is in the Aizoaceae family, commonly named ice-plant or fig-marigold family. Also known as Maori spinach for the native people of New Zealand, this perennial plant thrives in the heat, whereas common spinach does not. For over two hundred years, Tetragonia was the only exported vegetable native to Australia or New Zealand.
Nutritionally similar to traditional spinach, New Zealand spinach offers high quantities of vitamin A and C. New Zealand spinach has a balance of calcium to phosphorous levels that makes it ideal for calcium absorption in the body. Low in protein, carbohydrates and calories, New Zealand spinach is a a great addition to a balanced diet.
New Zealand spinach can be used like common spinach in a variety of applications; raw, sautéed, steamed, or braised. This leafy vegetable is often foraged locally, where it thrives. Make salads or use as a bed for meats and fish. Sauté and combine with cheeses and herbs to stuff chicken or pork. Add leaves to soups or stews or add cooked New Zealand spinach to lasagnas.
New Zealand spinach contains a high level of oxalic acid which can inhibits the body’s ability to absorb other nutrients, and should be avoided by those prone to developing kidney stones. Cooking can reduce and sometimes rid the vegetable of oxalic acid.
New Zealand spinach was first introduced to the world in the 1700s by Captain Cook after exploring the coasts of New Zealand. It was discovered, though not as widely used by the native Maori who inhabit the island country. Captain Cook’s crew found that the new plant was effective at fighting the symptoms of scurvy and later taken aboard for the crew of the Endeavor. New Zealand spinach was eventually taken back to England where it was introduced by explorer and botanist Sir Joseph Banks in 1772. Native to New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and some areas of South America, it is very robust, growing well in drought or in coastal saline-rich soils, unaffected by bugs or pests. New Zealand spinach is also planted as an effective ground cover, for its ability to grow low to the ground and its attractive look. Common spinach tends to bolt, or wilt in the heat; New Zealand spinach thrives in hot conditions.
Recipes that include New Zealand Spinach. One is easiest, three is harder.
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