Water spinach, despite its name, is neither true spinach nor a close relative of spinach. It’s also unrelated to kale because it doesn’t belong to the brassica family, which also includes mustard and cabbage. Instead, water spinach belongs to the same genus as the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) and the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae).
The water spinach is an important staple food, it has a high nutritional value, and it is the second most commonly eaten food after rice in Việt Nam.
Type of Water Spinach
There are two major cultivars of water spinach which are; Ching Quat, often referred to as “green stem” water spinach. Ching Quat is a plant that often grows in moist soils and has narrow leaves and white blossoms. Pak Quat, also known as “white stem” water spinach, has arrow-shaped leaves and pink blooms. It is grown in water, much like rice.
Other names for water spinach include water convolvulus, swamp cabbage (English); kankon, you-sai (Japanese); ong tsoi, weng cai (Cantonese); toongsin tsai (Mandarin); kang kong (Filipino, Malaysian); rau muống (Việtnamese); pak bung (Thai); batata acquatica, cancon (Portuguese).
The upper part of the stem with the foliage is bundled and sold for human consumption, while the rest of the plant is fed to livestock. Although it is frequently sautéed with fish sauce and garlic in the Việtnamese kitchen, the shreds of stems that have been soaked in water until they are curly and crispy are also widely consumed raw.
The stems have a mildly earthy and grassy flavour when eaten raw, but are primarily valued for their texture and nutritional content. The shreds are typically served as a garnish to noodle soup such as bún bò Huế for guests who want to add more crunch and fibre to their meal.
A lot of fibre and vitamins C and A are present in water spinach. In addition, it is widely believed that because to the high calcium content, it is beneficial for those who have osteoporosis and low blood pressure. Additionally, water spinach is advantageous for those who have anaemia, and pregnant women consume it to lower their risk of constipation.
Is Raw Water Spinach Safe to Eat?
Shredded spinach is popularly consumed raw among locals throughout Việt Nam. However, there is a significant risk of parasite infection because the vegetable is produced in aquatic conditions. Water spinach in particular has a high risk of containing a giant intestinal fluke parasite known as Fasciolopsis buski, which can easily enter the body when consumed raw or untreated. This parasite enters the intestinal wall and causes indigestion, allergies, and abdominal pain.
The intake of raw vegetables that have been irrigated with sewage is linked to an increased risk of diarrhoeal illness. The use of untreated wastewater to irrigate vegetables has been linked to outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, and shigellosis.
Risk of Polluted Water Spinach
The locals grow water spinach in areas of numerous major Vietnamese cities that could be contaminated by the household or industrial waste. There is a significant chance that the water spinach grown in ponds and lakes will be polluted by feces.
Because these waters frequently include containing a wide range of pollutants, including heavy metals from numerous human activities, many people run the danger of being intoxicated.
Safe to Consume
Even though water spinach is packed with nutrients, it is important to eat it appropriately to protect your health. Consuming cooked water spinach is the safest method. Additionally, it pays to look for reputable growers or producers.