Overlooked Vegetables

Community contributed by Glenn I. Teves, UH County Extension Agent.

The August 2011 edition of Consumer Reports featured results of a national survey on how often people ate vegetables, and what kind. Thirty-three vegetables were highlighted. Results show that gender, age, and regional differences dictate what kinds of vegetables are eaten, and how often.

This survey probably has nothing to do with our eating habits in Hawaii, since we’re influenced by both east and west. However, our eating habits are constantly evolving as health challenges dictate what we should be eating. The food experts at Consumer Reports highlighted five overlooked vegetables. I feature three of them plus a few of my own. Most are cooking greens, and they grow well on Molokai in the right season.

The first three are brassicas or mustards. These contain a powerful antioxidant called Glucosinolates, phytonutrients that provide us with unique health benefits because they can be converted into isothiocyanates (ITCs) that have cancer-preventive properties.  Many cultures eat a form of mustards, including African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and Black American Soul Food. Mustards are an essential part of Chinese or local soups.

Pak choy or Pai Tsai, is a mild member of the Chinese mustards. They have white or green swollen stems and large leaves, both dwarf and large types. Stir fried or steamed with a little meat, Pak Choy is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K and also provides calcium, f olate, and potassium.  Joi Choi and Mei Qing Choy are two popular varieties. Closely related is Choy Sum, but eaten more for its swollen stems than leaves. Its southern U.S. counterpart, Collard greens has similar nutrients, as well as fiber. Very popular in the south, varieties include Vates, Georgia, Champion, and Green Glaze. They can tolerate hot weather better than mustard greens.

Mustard greens, also grown in the south, have more of a mustard bite and usually grown in the fall months when the cold weather tames its bite. Popular varieties include Green Wave, Tendergreen, and Southern Giant Curled. Our local version is Kai Choy or Chinese mustard cabbage. Two local varieties sold through the UH Seed Store include Waianae Strain and also Hirayama, a white rust resistant strain developed by Chik Hirayama of Kawela. White rust is a destructive fungus with white pustules on the leaves, and humidity helps it to thrive. Another variety, Bau Sin creates a head like head lettuce. Kai Choy is great steamed with a little meat or seafood, and is an important complement in clear or miso-based soup.

The last group is Swiss chard, a cousin to beets. Both have great greens, and are high in iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin E. They’re also an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K, and a good source of calcium and fiber. Swiss chard is well adapted to our climate, even hot summers. Varieties include Bright Lights, a beautiful mixture of different color stems, Rhubarb or Ruby Red chard, Fordhook Giant, Rainbow, and Lucullus, a flat-stemmed type popular in Europe. They’re like beets but without the big roots. Beets are also an overlooked vegetable, and the whole plant can be eaten. It scavenges for nutrients deep in the ground. Popular varieties include Excalibur, Merlin, Red Ace, Detroit Dark Red, Ruby Queen, striped-root Chioggia, yellow Touchstone Gold, and heirlooms Bull’s Blood, Crosby Egyptian, and  Burpee’s Gold. Also related to Swiss Chard and Beets is Spinach, another great greens. Leafy greens should be a daily part of our diet.
To order seeds of Kai Choy Chinese and other Hawaii developed vegetables, download ctahr.hawaii.edu/seed/Downloads/Seed%20Order%20Form.pdf.


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