Swiss Chard 101 – The Basics
About Swiss Chard
Whether a plant is labeled as “chard” or “Swiss chard,” it is all actually a variety of Swiss chard. “Chard” is often used just to simplify the name. Despite its name, the plant is not native to Switzerland, but actually to the Mediterranean region.
The first use of Swiss chard as a food is believed to date back about 2,500 years ago. The plant was enjoyed so much that it was carried around the world. Today, it is eaten on all continents and included in many different cuisines. Although it is not one of the common “greens” found in most grocery stores in the United States, it may be found in some stores that carry a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Swiss chard belongs to the Chenopodioideae family of plants. It is closely related to beets and spinach. There are many types of chard, with most having deep green leaves and firm, somewhat crispy stalks that are often used similarly to celery. The leaf size can vary among the different varieties of chard. Also, the stalks and veins in the leaves may range in colors from light green, beige, yellow, orange, pink, and red, to purple. The different colors result from different combinations of phytonutrients in the plants. Whichever variety you choose, you can count on chard having outstanding nutritional content and benefits. For those who are familiar with beet greens, Swiss chard is very similar in structure.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Swiss chard has an exceptionally high nutrient content. According to the website, The World’s Healthiest Foods (https://whfoods.com), Swiss chard falls third in line among their highest rated foods, following spinach (which is second) and broccoli (which is first). This alone says a lot for Swiss chard!
Regarding nutrients, Swiss chard is high in the B-vitamins, including Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, pantothenic acid, folate, and choline. It also contains a lot of Vitamin K, Vitamin E, Vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), Vitamin C, fiber, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc, and even some protein. One cup of cooked Swiss chard has a mere 35 calories.
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Benefits. Swiss chard contains a wide variety of antioxidants including polyphenols, Vitamins C and E, and carotenoids. Such compounds are well-known for helping to protect us from free radical damage that can lead to many chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even cataracts. It has been clearly established that eating a diet rich in antioxidants helps to reduce our risk of developing such conditions.
Swiss chard also contains a wide variety of flavonoid antioxidants, both relatively common and some not commonly found in other leafy greens. Many of these compounds have been widely studied for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and even anti-cancer benefits. For instance, chard varieties with stem colors other than green are rich in numerous betalains, types of flavonoids that have been found to inhibit a variety of pro-inflammatory enzymes along with harmful free radical molecules. However, don’t let this discourage you from enjoying the green-stem varieties of chard, because they too contain some betalains and are rich in their own set of beneficial phytonutrients.
Rich in Vitamin K. Swiss chard is very rich in Vitamin K, with 1 cup of cook chard providing 477% of the recommended daily intake of this important vitamin. Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and other cellular functions. It is also critical for bone health. Research has shown that a low Vitamin K intake is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Conversely, people who eat a lot of Vitamin K-rich foods have a greater bone mineral density and lower rates of osteoporosis. So, the moral to the story is… Eat your greens for better bone health!
One note of caution…If you take blood thinning medication, such as warfarin, you are probably already aware that your intake of leafy green vegetables should be kept relatively stable. Suddenly increasing or decreasing your intake can alter the effectiveness of your medication. If you want to increase your intake of Vitamin K-rich foods, such as Swiss chard, you should first visit with your healthcare provider and be monitored in case your medication dosage needs to be adjusted.
Heart Health. We all know that eating a diet that includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables is good for the heart. It is been shown to reduce the risk factors that can lead to heart disease, such as inflammation, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Swiss chard is an excellent source of potassium and magnesium, both of which have been shown to help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
Furthermore, the fiber in Swiss chard may lower cholesterol levels by binding with bile in the intestinal tract, removing extra cholesterol before it is absorbed back into the bloodstream. Research has long established that people who eat a lot of leafy green vegetables, such as Swiss chard, have a reduced risk of heart disease. One study with over 173,000 participants found that for every serving of leafy green vegetables during the day, subjects had an 11 percent reduction in heart disease risk! Those with 1-1/2 servings per day of leafy greens had a 17 percent less likely risk of developing heart disease when compared with those having the lowest intake of such vegetables. All the more reason to eat your greens!
Lower Insulin Resistance and Blood Sugar. Swiss chard is packed with nutrients that may lower blood sugar levels, including fiber. Fiber helps to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream after a meal, which helps stabilize blood sugar levels. Fiber also helps to reduce insulin resistance, allowing blood glucose to enter cells to provide critical energy for the cells to function properly. Since insulin resistance is associated with an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, it is important to consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, such as Swiss chard, which are known to help promote proper insulin activity.
Furthermore, Swiss chard is high in antioxidants which have been shown to reduce insulin resistance and other diabetes-related complications. A review of 23 studies found that those with the highest intake of green leafy vegetables had a 13 percent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than those with the lowest intake.
How to Select Swiss Chard
Look for chard with stems that are firm and brightly colored. The leaves should be glossy and smooth, without any brown or yellow spots.
How to Store Swiss Chard
Store chard (UNWASHED) wrapped in slightly damp paper towels within an open plastic bag. Place that in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and use it within three days, for best quality. If it is very fresh, it may keep well for up to seven days.
How to Prepare Swiss Chard
Preparing Swiss chard is simple. Just rinse it well with cool water and it’s ready to be used. The leaves and stems may be enjoyed raw, although most people prefer to eat them cooked.
The leaves are tender whereas the stems are a bit more tough. If you plan to use only the tender leaves, remove them from the stems and reserve the stems to be used later. If you want to enjoy both the stems and leaves in a cooked dish, add them toward the end of cooking time. To balance the tenderness between the leaves and stems of your chard, add the stems to your cooking first and allow them to cook a few minutes before adding the leaves.
How to Freeze Swiss Chard
Wash your chard and separate the stems from the leaves. Chop both the leaves and stems into bite-size pieces. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the stems to the water and immediately set a timer for 1 minute. When the timer goes off, immediately add the prepared leaves to the same pot. Immediately set the timer for 1 minute. (This means that the stalks will have boiled for 2 minutes, and the leaves for 1 minute.) When the timer goes off, drain the blanched chard and transfer it to a bowl of ice water. Allow the chard to chill for at least 2 minutes. Drain well and transfer the chard to a freezer container or bag. Label with the date and place it in the freezer. For best quality, use your frozen chard within 6 months.
To use your frozen chard, it may be added to any cooked dish while still frozen. If preferred, it may be thawed overnight in the refrigerator, thawed in a bowl of water, or placed in a colander and thawed under running water. Then, cook it as desired.
Some people prefer to freeze vegetables without blanching them first. Although this can be done with some foods, it is recommended that Swiss chard be blanched before being frozen. This stops the enzyme activity that will cause the chard to deteriorate while being stored in the freezer.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Swiss Chard
* If you’ve never eaten Swiss chard, it is often compared with spinach. It has an earthy, somewhat bitter flavor when eaten raw, and a slightly sweet, milder flavor when cooked.
* Add Swiss chard to soups and stews during the last 15 minutes or so of cooking. It will add color, fiber, and lots of nutritional value to your meal.
* Add some chopped Swiss chard to your favorite pasta dish. It can be tossed with hot, freshly cooked pasta. Or, if you prefer it cooked a little more, add it to the pot of cooking pasta during the last few minutes. Drain it along with the pasta for an easy, nutritional addition to your meal.
* Add Swiss chard in layers of your next lasagna.
* Try adding young Swiss chard leaves to a tossed green salad. The leaves will taste similar to spinach. The stalks will be similar to a tender celery.
* Add some Swiss chard leaves to sandwiches and wraps along with lettuce and other greens.
* The leaves of Swiss chard are tender and can be cooked quickly, like spinach. They may be briefly boiled, blanched, braised, sautéed, steamed or stir-fried.
* Try adding some chopped Swiss chard, along with fresh spinach, to pizza.
* Like spinach, when you cook Swiss chard, what appears to be a large amount when raw will cook down to a relatively little amount. Bear that in mind when preparing Swiss chard. If needed, you could combine it with another green leafy vegetable to help increase the amount of the cooked greens.
* Add some chopped Swiss chard to your next stir-fry.
* Add chopped Swiss chard to your favorite omelet.
* Try adding some Swiss chard on your favorite pizza.
* Add some Swiss chard to your favorite frittata.
* If you make smoothies, try adding some Swiss chard to your favorite smoothie in addition to (or instead of) spinach.
* Swiss chard can be baked into chips the same way you would make kale chips. Start with rinsed and dried leaves. Rub the leaves with a little olive oil, sprinkle them with salt, and spread them out on a dry baking sheet. Bake them at 300°F for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the edges just start to brown. Be careful not to burn them. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool.
* Make simple sautéed Swiss chard by sautéing chopped chard in a small amount of olive oil or vegetable broth along with some garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Add a few tablespoons of liquid at a time, if needed. When tender, drizzle them with a little lemon juice or vinegar of choice and enjoy!
* If you have stalks of mature Swiss chard, the stalks will be a bit tough. They can be sliced and used like celery in many applications.
* It’s important to note that Swiss chard is exceptionally high in Vitamin K. If you take a blood thinner, such as warfarin, you should have been advised to keep a steady intake of Vitamin K-rich foods. Suddenly increasing or decreasing your intake of such foods may alter the effectiveness of your medication. Consult with your healthcare provider if you want to increase your consumption of leafy green vegetables, so your prothrombin time can be monitored. Your medication dosages may need to be adjusted.
* If you have a recipe that calls for chard and you don’t have any or don’t have enough, the following may be used as substitutes: turnip greens, spinach, bok choy, mustard greens, or kale. Note that the leaves of some greens, such as kale, are tougher than those of chard, so they may take a little longer to cook to make them tender.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Swiss Chard
Basil, capers, chili pepper flakes, cilantro, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, lovage, mint, mustard seeds, nutmeg, paprika (smoked and sweet), parsley, pepper, saffron, salt, thyme
Foods That Go Well with Swiss Chard
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, bacon, beans (in general), beef, chicken, chickpeas, duck, eggs, fish, hazelnuts, lentils, pine nuts, pork, sausage, seeds (in general, esp., pumpkin, sesame), tahini, tofu, walnuts
Vegetables: Beets, bell peppers, carrots, chiles, eggplant, fennel, greens (all types), kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, scallions, shallots, sorrel, tomatoes and tomato sauce, zucchini
Fruits: Apples, coconut, currants, lemons (juice and zest), limes (juice and zest), olives, oranges (juice and zest), raisins
Grains and Grain Products: Bread crumbs, bulgur, millet, noodles, pasta, polenta, quinoa, rice, wheat berries
Dairy and Non-Dairy Products: Butter, cheese (esp. blue, cheddar, cottage, feta, goat, Gruyère, mozzarella, Parmesan, pecorino, ricotta), cream, mascarpone, sour cream, yogurt
Other Foods: Mustard (prepared), oil (esp. olive, peanut, sesame), soy sauce, stock, tamari, vinegar (esp. apple cider, balsamic, red wine), Worcestershire sauce
Swiss chard has been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Crepes, curries, egg dishes (i.e., fried, frittatas, omelets, poached, quiche), French cuisine, gratins, pasta dishes (i.e., cannelloni, farfalle, gnocchi, lasagna, ravioli, tortellini), risottos, salads, soups (i.e., chard, lentil, minestrone, potato), stews, stir-fries, stuffed chard
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Swiss Chard
Add Swiss chard to any of the following combinations…
Acorn Squash + Garlic + Gruyère
Balsamic Vinegar + Garlic + Olive Oil + Red Onions
Basil + Eggs + Onions
Cheese (i.e., Parmesan, Ricotta) + Onions
Chickpeas + Eggs + Lemon [in soups]
Chickpeas + Fennel
Chickpeas + Pasta
Chiles + Garlic + Olive Oil + Vinegar
Chiles + Tomatoes
Currants + Pine Nuts + Rice [stuffed chard]
Dill + Leeks
Garlic + Ginger + Soy Sauce
Garlic + Lemon + Olive Oil
Lemon + Mustard
Lemon + Olive Oil + Parmesan Cheese
Lemon + Tahini
Orange + Smoked Paprika
Parmesan Cheese + Polenta + Portobello Mushrooms
Pasta + Ricotta + Tomato Sauce
Pasta + White Beans
Peanuts + Pineapple
Pine Nuts + Raisins
Pine Nuts + Tahini + Yogurt
White Bean Chard Soup https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/white-beanchard-soup-recipe-1973486
Sautéed Swiss Chard https://themom100.com/recipe/sauteed-swiss-chard/
Pickled Swiss Chard Stems https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/pickled-swiss-chard-stems
Swiss Chard and Navy Bean Soup https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Recipes/Salads-and-soups/Swiss-chard-and-navy-bean-soup.aspx
Easy Pasta with Winter Greens https://www.simplyrecipes.com/easy-pasta-with-winter-greens-recipe-5207178
No-Bake Lasagna https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/no_bake_lasagna/
Eggs Nested in Sautéed Chard and Mushrooms https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/eggs_nested_in_sauteed_chard_and_mushrooms/
Spicy Vegetable Tart https://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=201
3-Minute “Quick Boiled” Swiss Chard https://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=100
Garlicky Swiss Chard https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/11324-garlicky-swiss-chard
Simple Sautéed Swiss Chard https://www.healthyseasonalrecipes.com/simple-sauteed-swiss-chard/
29 Swiss Chard Recipes for Never-Boring Greens https://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/swiss-chard-recipes-gallery
10 Tasty Swiss Chard Recipes https://www.acouplecooks.com/swiss-chard-recipes/
20 Swiss Chard Recipes That’ll Make It Your New Favorite Green https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/swiss-chard-recipes/
Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.