Red Aztec Spinach/Huauzontle - Heat-loving spinach flavors
Very few plants equal this for a summer spinach crop, as heat only produces more leaves. Full sun and triple-digit temperatures don’t faze this relative of quinoa, lamb’s quarter, purslane, and amaranth. Only the first cold snap will stop it in its tracks.
Huauzontle (wah-zont-lay) is a type of quelite – the wild greens of Mesoamerica that are highly valued for their robust growth and high nutrition. In warm soil, the seeds have been known to sprout in 48 hours!
Thought to be native to Mexico, its cultivation is documented to pre-Columbian Aztec use and has also been found in archaeological records all the way north and east into southern Appalachian cave-dwelling tribes.
It was important and valuable enough as a food crop to the Aztecs that it was accepted as a tribute or tax payment by the Aztec government – records show 160,000 bushels of huauzontle were paid in one year.
Today its range extends from Canada to southern Mexico and all throughout the US.
Harvest the young red tinted green leaves at the top of the plant for their unique spinach and broccoli undertones with slightly peppery notes and an herbaceous aroma. Continual harvesting encourages more growth, and two or three plants can easily keep a family in summer salads. The younger leaves are best for fresh use, while the mature leaves taste better after cooking.
Once the flower clusters start appearing, switch to the buds by stripping them off of the stems and using like broccoli florets – fresh, steamed, or blanched. Buds have a mint note among the more broccoli-centric flavor.
If you let the flowers set seeds and save them, you’ll find they have a nuttier, sweeter flavor than quinoa and don’t require rinsing to remove the bitterness.
Lower leaves turn bright red as they mature and hold their color in cooking (only 30-60 seconds in boiling water). Seed-heads can be stir-fried and the seeds can be used for red tortillas or sprouts (red sprouts!)
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Planted directly into the garden with good germination and was transplanted to space apart without any problems. We were not prepared for how large this variety grew, over six feet tall and 3-4 feet in width. Plants were very healthy with an abundance of foliage. Taste test had mixed results with some Master Gardeners liking it; having a good rich spinach taste slightly sweet, others did not. If we grew this again we would limit it to about six plants. It does grow well here in Virginia Beach, VA.
This plant has super maximum germination, super fast growth, and tastes delicious! My plants are 5 weeks old and 18 inches tall and 18 across. And the color is nothing like the photo. Mine is the most incredible greenish-red color! I am in the tropics, so perhaps it's because of the heat. Let me know if you want photos. I used it to make pesto with a little basil. Yum! And why does it look almost identical to Amaranth?
Because they are of the same family, same as quinoa. This is a staple in Mexican cooking, but it is normally cooked when young and green. I have never seen it cooked once it turns red. Will have to try that some day.