This question is one that often causes much discussion amongst gardeners and foodies alike and is a regular topic of discussion at our stall. Technically there is no difference between silverbeet and chard with both having the Latin sub family name of Beta vulgaris.
Generally speaking whether we refer to these greens as silverbeet or chard is dictated by where we are raised. In Australia the greens from the Beta vulgaris family are most commonly called silverbeet, while in the States it is known as chard. The greens that we refer to as silverbeet grow as a cluster. The stems are broad and white and the leaves are fan like and have deep green crumbled leaves. The most common variety is Fordhook Giant, with Silver Ribs being another commonly grown silverbeet.
Many gardeners often differentiate between silverbeet and Swiss chard although they are the same species. Naming silverbeet as the green with white stems and calling the green with coloured stems and veins (crimson, red and yellow) as Swiss chard or coloured chard.
Silverbeet or chard is a very popular green with highly nutritious and flavourful leaves and stalks. Like many leafy green vegetables, silverbeet or chard are rich in an array of minerals and vitamins; high levels of magnesium, calcium, vitamin K, iron, potassium, vitamin A, zinc, copper, vitamin C, dietary fiber, and vitamin E. It is generally eaten cooked as the leaves and stalk have quite a thick texture. However young tender leaves are sometimes eaten raw.
Silverbeet or chard however is not the same as spinach. Spinach often referred to as English spinach has the Latin sub family name of Spinacia oleracea. It grows less vigorously and has smaller leaves than silverbeet. It is also softer and has a green stem rather than a large thick white or coloured stem. Spinach is a very versatile green and can be eaten both raw or cooked as the leaves are very tender. Spinach also has a different nutritional profile to silverbeet, containing more calcium and beta-carotene, around a third more iron, and folate.
Just to add more confusion to this discussion some states in Australia have in the past referred to silverbeet as spinach. Traditionally in NSW silverbeet has been referred to as spinach which is technically incorrect. While this misnaming is not as common as it once was it does still occur.
Silverbeet and spinach also require slightly different growing conditions. Silverbeet, in temperate parts of Australia, can be sown and grown during most times of the year, in cooler areas it is generally sown from Spring to Autumn. Silverbeet is reasonably frost tolerant although in our extremely cold region growth can be stunted and the stalks damaged by our continuous frost season. (over 100 frost days a year) Spinach on the other hand, is far less heat tolerant than silverbeet or chard requiring a cool soil for germination and is only planted in late autumn and winter and in very cold areas, early spring. Spinach generally has a far shorter picking season than silverbeet. Both silverbeet and spinach require a rich well drained soil high in phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium and of course plenty of compost. The most common varieties of spinach grown are Bloomsdale and Winter Giant.
Another green also referred to as a spinach is New Zealand spinach or Warrigal greens a native green in, New Zealand and Australia. It is not from either the spinach or silverbeet / chard family, coming from the Tetragonia genus. The plant is a ground cover and will form a thick carpet. The leaves are 3 –15 cm long, triangular in shape, and bright green. This leaf shape is similar to spinach hence the reference in the name. However the leaves are thick, and covered with tiny rounded fleshy lumps that look like waterdrops. It grows best in saline soils on the coast.
No matter what name we know these greens by they are highly nutritious and great greens to have in the garden. currently we are selling English spinach on our weekly stall at the Provisions courtyard; and in the coming weeks we will also have some lovely chard (silverbeet) including couloured chard.
See you there.
Bronwyn Richards has cared for animals and has been growing vegetables successfully all her adult life. She is principle gardener for Wynlen House Farm