Saturday, 27 July 2013

Empty heart vegetable, Ipomoea aquatica, 空心菜,

I sowed three different Taiwanese vegetables in my garden. One had big seeds. It started to grow, but died soon. I wondered why, since other two seemed to grow reasonably, although slowly, since the month of May was very cold in Central Europe (Finland was basking in hot weather all the time). When I learned more about this plant, I understood why it died. Second sowing gave better results since the weather has been hot and sunny.

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Its name give part of the answer. In latin it is called Ipomea aquatica (variety reptans). As you know "aquatica" refers to water, it needs loads of water to grow. It also loves sunshine. I could provide only water, no sun. Other names for it are Water spinach, 空心菜, kong xin cai (or kong shing tsai). "Kong shing tsai" means "empty heart vegetable" or "hollow stem vegetable". Indeed, the stem is hollow as you can see in the photo.

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Ipomea aquatica grows in very moist soil or in water. The leaves vary from very narrow long ones to arrow head shaped ones. Colour is light green. It is common everywhere in East and Southeast Asia. It requires little, if any care. It became very important food during the Second World War.

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It has been introduced to North America, where it grows too well and have become an environmental problem especially in Florida. It is designated officially as "noxious weed".

There are studies that indicate that it is beneficial in controlling blood sugar, thus working against diabetes. it inhibits intestinal absorption of glucose. In Taiwan it is also common knowledge, that it prevents catching flu. Stir frying with garlic is how I prepare Ipomea aquatica. Try to add chilli.

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The recommendation is to eat Ipomea aquatica at least 3 times a week and you hardly ever catch a cold. Nutritional values (100 gram serving): 30 kcal, 2,7 g protein, 60 mg calcium, 2,5 mg iron, 2,9 mg vitamin A and 45 mg vitamin C. Sounds good. And tastes good, better than spinach.

As a bonus here are some photos from Taiwanese vegetable market. Photos are taken in a small town Ruisui in the east coast south from Hualien (major tourist center).

In the first one upper left hand corner you can see hollow stem veggies.
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