Chard Is a Vegetable Valedictorian in the Class of Leafy Greens

bhofack2/ iStock / Getty Images Plus
bhofack2/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

A member of the beet family, chard is grown for its leaves rather than its roots. Chard goes by many names, such as Swiss chard, leaf beet, seakettle beet and spinach beet. Its wide, crunchy stalk comes in a variety of colors, including white, red, yellow and orange, and its leaves are deep green and either smooth or curly. When different-colored varieties are bunched together, they often are referred to as “rainbow chard.” Chard’s flavor is mild yet earthy and sweet with slightly bitter undertones. Compared to other popular greens, it is stronger in flavor and sturdier in texture than spinach, but milder than mustard, turnip and beet greens.

When chard is harvested early, the young and tender leaves can be eaten raw, adding a beet-like flavor to salads and sandwiches. Mature chard can be sautéed, steamed, simmered or boiled. Because stalks of mature chard are slightly tough and must be cooked longer than leaves, they often are prepared separately and combined before serving. The stalks also can be served alone, stuffed and baked, or used to add a crisp texture to stir-fries and soups. Cooked chard leaves add flavor, texture and nutrition to soups, risottos and egg dishes, such as omelets or frittatas, or as a filling in ravioli or vegetarian lasagna. For a simple, savory side dish, lightly season and sauté the leaves and stalks with flavorful ingredients, such as olive oil, garlic, wine and lemon juice.

Nutrition Profile of Chard

Chard boasts an impressive nutrition profile. Like other leafy greens, its nutrients are more concentrated after cooking. One cup of cooked chard contains 35 calories and delivers about 700 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of vitamin K, 210 percent DV of vitamin A, 45 percent DV of vitamin C, 20 percent DV of potassium, 20 percent DV of iron, 15 percent DV of fiber and 10 percent DV of calcium. It also contains 313 milligrams of sodium (13 percent DV in one cup, which may be a consideration for individuals watching sodium intake).

In addition to containing the carotenoids zeaxanthin and lutein, this vegetable is a source of phytonutrients called betalains, also found in beets. Chard’s antioxidants and phytonutrients may offer protection against oxidative stress and inflammation-associated diseases.

Foodservice Chard Advice

Chard is available year-round, but its peak season lasts from June through August. Fresh young chard — such as red, green and gold baby chard — is sold alone or in mixes with other baby greens. It is available in bulk bags, prewashed and ready to serve. The leaves should be crisp with no browning, holes or bruised spots, and stalks should be unblemished.

Mature chard is typically sold by the head or in bunches, such as rainbow chard. Mature chard can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days, and baby chard can last slightly longer. The stalks of mature chard can be stored longer if separated from the leaves. Large batches of the vegetable’s leaves can be blanched and frozen for later use, but stalks do not freeze well.

2 Chard Recipes

Betsy Hornick
Betsy Hornick, MS, RDN, is manager of acquisitions and development at Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.