What Is Chard?

Looking for a healthy green to add to your steady rotation of spinach, kale and arugula? chard is versatile and loaded with nutrients. Learn more about chard, its distinctive array of colors that sets it apart from other greens, and why you should be eating it.

Chard is often overshadowed by other leafy greens like spinach and kale despite the array of eye-catching colors displayed in its stems and in the veins of its leaves. Also known as just plain chard, this cruciferous vegetable and member of the beet family shares traits with spinach and kale and has qualities that you would look for in a vegetable: widely available, quick cooking time and excellent nutritional value. Read on for more answers to the question, what is chard?

What is chard?

Chard is a leafy green vegetable that's part of the Chenopodiaceae family (a subfamily of the Amaranthaceae plant family, but in layman's terms, the beet family). Its large and crinkly leaves are attached to a thick, crunchy, fibrous stem.

Though sometimes called Swiss chard, (it was named by Swiss botanist Karl Heinrich Emil Koch), chard is native to Sicily. It belongs to the same family as beets and spinach and is considered a type of beet without an edible root.

You may also find chard under different names: chard, stem chard, silverbeet, spinach beet, leaf beet, white beet and seakale beet, to name a few. You can find chard as a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, but it also has gained popularity across Europe and in North America.

Chard on a designed background
Getty Images / Maren Caruso

What are the different types of chard?

Chard comes in several varieties, differing from one another by their stem color and leaf vein color. Despite the stem color fading with cooking, all chard varieties have deep green leaves. Depending on your location, you may find the following types in your local grocery stores and farmers' markets with these signifying characteristics, according to the USDA and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

  • Fordhook Giant: greenish-white stalks
  • Lucullus: white stalks
  • Bright Lights: stems with shades of yellow, orange, white and fuchsia
  • Ruby chard: darker green leaves with deep red veins and bright red stalks
  • Rhubarb chard: darker green leaves with reddish stalks (often mistaken as rhubarb)
  • Rainbow chard: various colored stalks bundled and sold together (pink, orange, red, purple, white with red stripes and ivory with pink stripes, according to the Food Lover's Companion by Herbst and Herbst.)

When is chard in season?

With its colorful stalks, chard may catch your eye during the summer months, but you may also find it available between late March and late fall. Chard may also be available all year round in your local grocery store, depending on where you live. The plants can grow in excess of 2 feet tall, and the bundles in the grocery store may measure more than a foot from stem-base to leaf-tip, with the leaves alone taking up more than 6 inches of the length.

When choosing these vegetables, look for bright, vibrant, blemish-free leaves without withered edges, discoloration or brown spots.

What does chard taste like?

Similar to spinach, most varieties of chard are earthy and pleasantly bitter when eaten raw. While it is not as bitter as kale, the bitterness in chard also diminishes as the leaves are cooked, giving them a milder and sweeter flavor and tender texture. The exception lies in the ruby and rhubarb varieties, which carry a slightly stronger flavor than others.

On the other hand, the stalk has a different profile. It may remind you of the texture of celery and the flavor of earthier beets. Since the flavors differ between the leaves and the stalk, you may want to remove the leaves from the stem and cook them separately. This stalk is also thicker than the leaves and so will take longer to cook. Nevertheless, all varieties may be easily used in recipes that call for greens.

What are the health benefits of chard?

Chard is a low-calorie vegetable, providing just about 7 calories for every cup, uncooked. Cooking chard makes it more dense, offering 3 grams fiber per cup of cooked greens. Chard also has plenty of essential nutrients providing a range of health benefits.

When cooked, chard is a good source of iron, an important nutrient for making hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Additionally, one chard leaf contains nearly four times your daily requirement of vitamin K, an essential nutrient for blood clotting.

Chard is also rich in vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that supports healthy vision, the immune system and overall growth and development. Vitamin A is not the only nutrient in chard that supports eye health. Lutein, a pigment found in vegetables and fruits that gives them their deep green, yellow and orange hues, is present in high concentrations in the leafy green. Research has associated it with a decreased risk of age-related macular degeneration.

Like many leafy greens, chard is a good source of potassium. This mineral is highly concentrated in the chard's stem. Potassium plays an important role in supporting healthy heart, kidney and muscle function. A diet that is high in potassium may also be linked to lower blood pressure and risk of heart disease.

You can also find magnesium in chard: it's a vital mineral that plays a role in blood sugar control and blood pressure regulation, which can help keep your heart healthy and lower your risk of developing diabetes.

Like other dark leafy greens, chard boasts an abundance of antioxidants, which are compounds in foods like plants that may offer health benefits. Chard's deep lush green pigment comes from the compounds apigenin and betalains, which have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

How to use chard

Chard is a versatile vegetable like kale and spinach. Baby chard leaves are perfect for salads, with their tender texture.

Mature leaves are tougher in texture and best for sautéed and braised dishes, but they are also perfect for soups, pastas, stews, egg dishes, quiches, casseroles, tortillas and frittatas.

Like the mature leaves, the chard stems are also ideal for sautéing or stir-frying. (Learn more about how to cook chard.)

Bottom line

If you want to shake up your typical eating routine, try swapping kale and spinach for chard. When you eat chard, you get to enjoy both the leafy greens and sturdier stalks that offer a delicious combination of flavor and texture. Plus, their colorful leaves and stems come in a variety of striking colors that everyone around your table will love. Browse our collection of chard recipes for meal inspiration.

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