Farmers’ Market Find: New Zealand Spinach

published Aug 31, 2009
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

We encountered a new (to us) green at the Echo Park farmers’ market last week: New Zealand spinach. Have you tried this?

Like Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides) is not actually a true spinach, but it is similar when cooked and is considered a “summer spinach” because it thrives in hot, dry weather.

As the common name implies, the plant is native to New Zealand and Australia, where it grows on coastal dunes and bluffs. Other names for it include Warrigal greens, sea spinach, tetragon, Botany Bay spinach, and Cook’s cabbage.

High in Vitamins A and C, it was discovered and eaten by Captain Cook and his crew to combat scurvy during their South Seas expedition. Botanist Joseph Banks brought the seeds back to London’s Kew Gardens in 1771. New Zealand spinach now grows in countries like England, France, Japan, Chile, Argentina, and the U.S. (It is considered an invasive plant in some states like California and Florida.)

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

According to some sources, New Zealand spinach must be blanched before eating due to its high levels of oxalic acid, but we have read plenty of accounts of people consuming it raw in salads. It probably comes down to personal taste and sensitivity. Personally, we did find the fleshy, succulent-like leaves a bit too prickly and acidic to eat raw. Blanching or sautéeing it mellowed out the texture and acidity, and it tasted much like spinach.

We will likely use New Zealand spinach just like regular spinach, but we’re also curious to try these Warrigal-specific recipes from Down Under:

Aussie Alfredo with Warrigal Greens, from Kate’s Global Kitchen
Warrigal and Sea Parsley [Lovage] Pesto, from The Cook and the Chef
Warrigal Greens, from ABC Central Coast NSW

(Images: Emily Ho)