Tangled Branches: Satiated

riveting tales of how we sustain ourselves

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Flavor of Beets and Chard

With the onset of colder weather we've noticed a major change in the chard in the garden. It now tastes good. I planted chard for the first time this spring and we kinda sorta liked it, just as long as it was a relatively minor ingredient and heavily flavored with something acidic or spicy. It was the earthy taste, the same one present in beets, that put us off. But now...now that earthiness has faded into the background and it just has a sweet leafy flavor. I could almost imagine eating it in a salad.

So it's probably something to do with the weather (or decrease in sunlight?), but why? Well, I'm not there yet, but I've learned the reason for the earthy taste. A chemical known as geosmin is to blame. It's also partly responsible for stinky municipal water. But it is uncertain whether the geosmin inherently belongs to beets/chard, or if it comes from microbes in the soil.

Folk wisdom tells us that many vegetables taste better when harvested in cooler weather and increased sweetness is almost always mentioned, but so far I've been unable to find any scientific studies to back this up. So perhaps the plants are producing/storing more sugar and that masks the taste of other flavor compounds? Or if the earthy flavor is due to microbial activity in the soil, perhaps that activity decreases in colder weather? Or both?

I also learned this morning that the red and yellow colors of beets/chard are due to a somewhat rare class of compounds known as betalains. Somewhat rare because they are only known to occur in a handful of plant species. There are up to 28 different betalains responsible for the various flamboyant colors of 'Bright Lights' chard. And those lovely colors would be reason enough to grow it even if it does sometimes taste of geosmin.


posted by Entangled at 9:43 AM


Anonymous mss @ Zanthan Gardens said...

Geosmin, huh? I hate that flavor. I'm surprised I like chard but I have found I like it best after a few frosty nights. And then...it's transformed! I begin to crave it. It's supposed to be very health-giving. And not only does it overwinter here in Austin easily, it stands up to the heat pretty well too.

November 21, 2008 8:24:00 PM EST  
Blogger Entangled said...

MSS: I don't like that flavor either. I managed to tame it enough in cooking that we could eat the chard in the spring and early summer, but wow! after the cold weather set in it was totally different. We didn't harvest any during the height of the summer - it was kind of bug-eaten and we had other vegetables to keep us happy. The leaves froze during our recent cold snap, but I hope it will resprout if the weather warms up.

November 24, 2008 7:42:00 AM EST  

Post a Comment

<< Tangled Branches: Satiated, main page