All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Tsuruna / New Zealand spinach

Tetragonia tetragonioides

For years, I have tried to grow this vegetable and repeatedly failed (our unheated greenhouse seems not hot enough or the growing period in our region is too short). I always thought it was tsurumurasaki (Malabar/Indian spinach; Basella alba), which resembles tsurna in taste and texture, and wondered why it didn't climb up the support as Malabar spinach always did at my parents' garden in Japan. One day, upon noticing its English name (New Zealand spinach) when I saw it at a Chinese grocery store, I looked it up and found out that there were tsuruna and tsurumurasaki, and these two vegetables were totally different plants despite all the similar properties they share. The life is full of discoveries. 

Tsuruna grows horizontally, and nowadays it is said to be more actively used as an ornamental groundcover instead of as a vegetable in Japan. Some sources say that it grows wild (possibly escaped from cultivation) in sandy areas along the coast from the southern part of Hokkaido onward to the south and was traditionally used as stomach disease remedy. Perhaps I regarded this plant as a weed when I lived in Japan. I have no recollection of seeing or recognizing it as a vegetable or medicinal herb.

Tsuruna's common English name, New Zealand spinach, comes from its 18th century introduction to England; Captain Cook (1728-1779) brought it back from New Zealand. Although many people say it is similar to spinach, the leaves and stems are much thicker and juicier, and it is more nutritious. It also produces thick, viscous fluid when cooked -- yes, a sign of health benefits that come from mucin, which is also found in satoimo baby taro root, renkon lotus root, nagaimo Chinese yam, kombu seaweed, okra, natto fermented soybeans, etc. Mucin in respiratory and digestive organs protect cells from external stimulation such as dryness, digestive enzymes, microbes and pH level changes.

Tsuruna is also rich in β-carotene (2700 μg/100 g), Vitamin B (0.38 mg), Vitamin C (22 mg),  Vitamin K (310 μg), niacin (1.0 mg), pantothenic acid (0.46 mg), potassium (300 mg), iron  (3.0 mg), magnesium (35 mg), and mangan (0.81 mg). Moreover, it contains Vitamin E, which, together with carotene, is believed to be effective against cancer and aging.  Vitamin K helps to promote bone formation. It also often functions as a coenzyme to coagulate blood or prevent bleeding.

In our area (Pacific Northwest), tsuruna is available at Asian (Chinese, Vietnamese) grocery stores. It tends to spoil faster than many other leafy greens, so always buy a very fresh bunch and finish it up quickly.

15 kcal/100 g; 93.8% water, 1.8% protein, 0.1% fat, 2.8% carbohydrate, 1.3% ash

Recipes with tsuruna

Try tsuruna in the following recipes

(Last updated: September 10, 2019)

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