World's 'first true red' spinach variety released
The USDA has released what it claims to be the "world's first true red spinach variety", called USDA Red.
The USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) developed the variety, which is the result of traditional breeding.
The ARS said that while there are leafy vegetables often called red spinach, these are not true spinach (Spinacia oleracea). They are actually red-leaf amaranths (Amaranthus spp.) or other plants such as Red Goosefoot (Blitum rubrum).
There are currently some true red spinaches on the market, but the red color is limited to the leaves' veins. The red-veined spinach variety Bordeaux is a parent of USDA Red.
Spinach consumption (and production) in the U.S. dropped from 2.3 pounds per person to 1.6 pounds in 2006 following an E. coli outbreak in 2006, and it has never fully recovered.
"A true red spinach like USDA Red will bring excitement to the spinach market and could help attract people back to eating spinach," ARS research geneticist Beiquan Mou, who developed the new variety.
"It can be used as baby or ''teen'' leaf in salad bags, as bunched products, and in spring mixes for fresh-market consumption. The red color in spring mixes is currently provided by red lettuce, radicchio or chard. Red spinach will give processors another choice."
Red spinach "a true super food"
The red color of USDA Red comes from the phytonutrient betacyanin rather than the more common anthocyanin. Betacyanin is a potent antioxidant that has been shown to significantly reduce oxidative stress in patients and may even help in preventing chronic pathologies, inflammation, and cancer, according to the scientific literature.
The antioxidant capacity of USDA Red was 42–53% higher than other spinach cultivars in five tests conducted over three years.
"Betacyanin adds another benefit to a plant already loaded with phytonutrients, making spinach a true 'super food'," Mou added.
USDA Red - which also works frozen or canned - is a semi-flat type of spinach with a medium growth rate and semi-erect leaves. Its leaves are spade-shaped with round-pointed tips and purple-red veins and petioles. Compared with other spinach varieties, it has moderate resistance to bolting.
ARS has applied for a Plant Variety Protection certificate for USDA Red. The agency is also seeking a partner to license the production of seeds for the market.
"Ultimately, consumers will benefit from having access to new vegetable products that are exciting and good for them," Mou said.
The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting the U.S. It claims that each dollar invested in agricultural research results in US$20 of economic impact.
Spinach is one of the most desirable leafy vegetables with high levels of beta-carotene (provitamin A), lutein, folate, vitamin C, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and potassium.