by Denise Sullivan, Nutrition & Health Education Specialist, MU Extension-Jackson County
Swiss chard is another leafy green that sometimes gets overlooked in the produce section or farmer’s markets. Chard is actually a member of the beet family (Beta vulgaris) that does not produce a root. The leaves are similar to beet greens, but have more crinkly, ribbed sections, more closely resembling kale. The center rib of the plant can have a range of colors from white to red depending on the variety. White stalks are commonly known as ‘silver chard,’ red varieties are commonly called ‘rhubarb chard,’ while ‘rainbow chard’ can have red, yellow, orange, or pale green center ribs.
Chard is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region near Sicily and was a popular food even before the days of the Roman Empire. It eventually grew in popularity across Europe, and was once grown in the south of France, where the center rib alone was enjoyed as a highlight of the Christmas Eve meal. Until the 1850’s, Swiss chard was considered a specialty plant produced mainly for European markets. After the Civil War, the United States began increasing production of the crop.
Most commercially grown chard comes from California, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Hawaii. Swiss chard is a biennial plant but is typically cultivated as an annual and can be easily grown in the mid-west in early spring and early fall. It prefers cool temperatures as high temperatures slow down leaf production. Chard tolerates heat better than spinach does and rarely bolts like spinach is prone to do. Chard grows best in full sun, although it tolerates partial shade and likes fertile, well-worked soil with good drainage. It can even be grown as an ornamental within flower beds or pots, which I have done.
Chard is a unique green because both the leaf and the colorful stalk can be cooked and enjoyed, unlike kale, where the tough center rib is usually discarded prior to preparation and consumption. The bright colors of Swiss chard bring a variety of nutritional benefits, including vitamins A, C, and K in addition to minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber. The mild, sweet, earthy taste with a touch of bitterness provides a unique flavor profile. The bitterness is reduced with cooking and can be complemented with herbs or a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking. Younger, more tender leaves are less bitter and can be blended into salad greens for a contrast in both flavor and texture. Both the leaf and the rib are utilized in this delicious summer frittata.
Swiss Chard and Squash Frittata
(makes 4 servings)
1 lb. rainbow chard
1 summer squash, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chopped onions
2 tsp. olive oil
3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil (optional)
1/4 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Ground black pepper
grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Recipe adapted from Tufts University, analyzed by verywellfit.com