Swiss chard is not just a superstar in Mediterranean cooking, but is also one of the most nutritious vegetables known today. It has distinctly large, dark green leaves, which can be harvested either while they are young and tender or after they've completely matured. The whole plant can be used for salads, while the individual large-sized, mature leaves can be harvested for sautéing and cooking dishes.1
The vegetable is known by many names, including silverbeet, spinach beet, perpetual spinach, mangold, crab beet and seakale beets.2 In South Africa, however, it is simply called spinach.3 It has been around for centuries, but has been confused with beets and other vegetables like cardoon because of their physical similarities.4
Swiss chard is actually a biennial, but is cultivated as an annual crop.5 It's widely grown around the Mediterranean region6 and available at its best from July to November.7 One way to use Swiss chard in the kitchen is for pizzoccheri, a type of flat ribbon pasta enjoyed in Italian cooking.8 The leaves' bitterness fades with cooking, giving you a mildly sweet, refined flavor.9
Health Benefits of Swiss Chard
While Swiss chard has not been as extensively studied as other vegetables like beets and spinach, it's earned its right to be included in healthy diets around the world. It has an impressive phytonutrient profile,10 easily recognized in its vibrant colors — from dark greens to red, purple and a rainbow of colors in its stalks and veins. Phytonutrients are a source of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties and other whole-body benefits.11
Swiss chard is very low in calories, only about 19 calories per 100 grams of fresh, raw leaves. It is also an excellent source of vitamin C, its fresh leaves providing about 30 milligrams per 100 grams.12 Vitamin C helps quench free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS),13 and studies linked the regular consumption of C-rich foods to the maintenance of normal connective tissue,14 prevention of iron deficiency, and for boosting immunity.15
Swiss chard provides you with a myriad of nutrients like iron, manganese, magnesium, choline, copper and potassium. Flavonoid antioxidants, such as epicatechin, kaempferol, quercetin and rutin, are abundant in this leafy green. It can also be counted on to provide B-vitamins such as folate, vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), choline and pantothenic acid. Vitamin B6,16 in particular, is essential for cellular metabolism.17
Swiss Chard Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calcium 51 mg
Studies on Swiss Chard
A study conducted in Montenegro looked at the effects of different fertilization and irrigation treatments on the nutritional profile of Swiss chard. They found that different fertilization methods influenced the levels of phosphorus, protein, chlorophyll and vitamin C in this vegetable. According to the researchers:18
"Swiss chard produced in Montenegro on a sandy clay loam soil with acid reaction contains appreciable amount of minerals, crude fibers, vitamin C, chlorophylls, carotenoids and polyphenols. The nutrient and phytochemical content of chard is equal or superior to other green leafy vegetables which are considered as functional food...
The promotion of higher consumption and production of Swiss chard may represent a natural and sustainable alternative for improving human health."
Swiss Chard Healthy Recipes:
Kale, Swiss Chard, Chicken and Feta Salad Recipe
✓ 1/2 cup cider vinegar
✓ 2 teaspoons honey
✓ 1/2 teaspoon salt
✓ 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
✓ 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (optional)
✓ 1/2 cup olive oil
✓ 1 bunch kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
✓ 1 bunch Swiss chard, torn into bite-sized pieces
✓ 1 pound grilled skinless, boneless chicken breast, sliced
✓ 1 (6 ounce) container crumbled feta cheese, or more to taste
✓ 1/3 cup raisins
✓ 1/3 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
- Whisk the vinegar, honey, salt, pepper and oregano in a bowl until the honey has dissolved. Whisk in the olive oil until evenly blended. Place the kale, Swiss chard, chicken, feta cheese, raisins and walnuts into a bowl. Toss with the dressing to serve.
This recipe makes four to six servings
(Recipe from All Recipes19)
Swiss Chard Fun Facts
Contrary to what its name implies, Swiss chard is not native to Switzerland, although Swiss botanist Karl Heinrich Emil Koch20 did give it its scientific name. Rather, its homeland is found further south, in the Mediterranean region.21 It's been in existence for a long time — Aristotle even wrote about a chard with a red stalk back in 350 BC.22
There is also an interesting anecdote behind the name "chard." This vegetable got this name from another Mediterranean vegetable called cardoon, a celery-like plant with thick stalks resembling those of chard. The French confused the two and called them "carde."23
Not all vegetables can lay claim to the phytonutrient power of Swiss chard, as well as its flexibility in the kitchen. You can add it raw to your salad for a slightly bitter, crunchy taste, or sauté or cook it for that burst of flavors from other ingredients. You can choose from various types, including red stalk chard and the rich, deep greens that are popularly used.
Swiss chard is a healthful source of antioxidants like vitamin C and flavonoids, as well as minerals like potassium, copper and iron. Mediterranean cuisine is right about harnessing the culinary prowess of this traditionally known and celebrated vegetable — you can enjoy it for yourself and consume it for a wealth of health gains.